Behind the scenes at a movie set
Behind the scenes at a movie set

Even though cameras have started to roll and the Film City is back in business, strapped with strict COVID precautions and social distancing norms, the actors as well as the crew members are still struggling to embrace the new normal. “Working long hours trapped inside PPE suits and donning face shields, masks, and surgical gloves amid unfavourable weather conditions, while following social distancing norms is no easy task, especially for people involved in close-contact professions like that of the makeup artists, involving confined spaces like vanity rooms,” says Ashish Moitra, a freelance hair and makeup artist.

The Producers Guild’s guidelines for filming amid COVID-19 have made it mandatory for all hair and makeup artists to wear these PPE gears. The guidelines stress on the disinfection of all makeup products and tools before use and having a separate makeup artist for each actor. Even the Makeup Artist’s Association, in a separate set of guidelines, has made it mandatory for all makeup artists to carry individual kits of products and tools for each person on the set, as the nature of certain makeup products does not allow sanitisation without compromising the quality.

This is a huge extra expense for those artists who are dealing with more than one actor on the set, as a lot of the good products are priced fairly high and the onus of buying and maintaining these kits is solely upon the makeup artists. “A MAC powder comes for Rs.3800 for 20 grams, I am now supposed to carry two or three of such products!” says Ashish

Prohibition against using hands during the process followed by countless touch-ups leads to immense product wastage as well. Added to these are the heavy custom duties, tedious maintenance, and the risk of expiration of their products. “However, the actors are now more educated about the whole process. Some of them are also carrying their own makeup kits,” says Rashmi Shastri, a celebrity hair and makeup professional.

Moreover, many makeup artists have lost their assistants, who unable to pay the heavy rent during the lockdown have gone back to their native states. This has led to an acute shortage of staff, the ones who are available are asking for higher salaries. However, HMUs are now getting assistants over social media also. “There are new people entering the field almost every day. I also get a lot of messages on Instagram from freshers asking for assisting jobs,” says Kajol Mulani, a hairstyle and makeup professional.

As most HMUs work as freelancers, getting previous dues cleared is also becoming a challenge. Tanvi Chemburkar, another celebrity makeup artist explains: “A lot of invoices (for finished projects) have been stuck in transit due to the lockdown, which is why several artists cannot get previous payments on time too. Everyone is trying their luck by asking us for a COVID discount, but eventually most productions are paying us the same costs that they would have paid us otherwise too.”

Even the production houses, who have incurred huge losses during this period, are not able to offer financial support to the makeup artists. Some productions today are negotiating 30 to 40% of the asking price too.

Cost cutting by the production houses essentially means job cuts as well. “If the number of people working on a set was 50-60 before, it is now been cut down to a meager 5 or 6 slowing down the entire process,” adds Rashmi.

However, the production houses are at dire straits as well. “Each PPE kit costs an estimate of Rs 800, which are disposable and cannot be reused. Hence, they need to account for at least two such kits per person on the set, added to the costs of all COVID tests and reports, sanitization, and prolonged shooting process. Some productions with enough budgets are even purchasing health insurance for the artists who are present on the set, whilst paying for their accommodation on some locations,” revealed a freelance production manager on condition of anonymity.

But according to Joel Smith, the founder of Film Farming Production house, these are difficult times and everyone needs to put their best foot forward. “These are times where everybody needs money; even actors aren’t getting paid as they used to get paid, for the production houses do not have that much money right now. Artists are not demanding anything; we try to offer a budget and people just accept them,” he says.

Also, the clients, who in most cases are high-profile celebrities, need feel safe in their gloved hands. “Institutions like Barbicide (producer of Beauty Salon and Barber shop disinfectors) have also started providing COVID-19 Infection Control Certificates. Through this, they inform the artists about the transmission and mitigation measures of the virus,” Rashmi says. She has recently got her certificate. Although it isn’t mandated by the policies of film city, some artists have acquired theirs to provide a sense of reassurance to their customers.

Then there is the general paranoia, especially with the social stigma getting attached to Covid patients, which is adding to the mental stress. “We have stopped eating as a team on a set, everybody is eating food from home, standing away from each other, trying consciously not to sit on chairs. More than catching the disease, people are worried that if they catch it, they will be sent home to recover. After such a long stint of zero work, nobody wants to be out of here, as people look forward to coming back to the sets again,” says Kajol.

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