The Key Makeup Artist


This Week's Film Crew 101 Guest: 

Mandy Danielle Benton has worked as a Key Makeup Artist on Fear the Walking Dead (Seasons 4-6), Queen of the South (Season 2), The Good Guys, and Dallas (Seasons 1-3). She has Department Headed The Chosen and The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.  She has also worked as a Background Makeup Supervisor on The Son, an Additional Makeup Artist on Dexter, and as a Makeup Artist on some of your favorite reality tv shows including America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance, and American Idol


Listen to the Episode Here: 


The Key Makeup Artist

Also referred to as a "Key Makeup" or "Key," a Key Makeup Artist assists the makeup department head and supports the department as a whole. Depending on the preferences of the head of makeup, tasks for a key could include clerical work, taking pictures of looks and keeping track of continuity, and/or helping achieve makeup looks on talent. During prep, a key makeup artist will ask questions like, “What is the department head going to need?” “What will make their job easier?” These questions will help a Key Makeup Artist clarify expectations with the head of makeup and prepare for a successful shoot.

During filming, the Key Makeup Artist will work with talent to help achieve the makeup looks that the department head has designed for the production. They will also act as a liaison for the makeup department when communicating with assistant directing, hair, costume, special effects, and property departments. There will be times when the makeup department will need to collaborate with these departments to make sure an actor’s look is ready for filming. For example, if a look requires blood that needs to go onto an actor’s wardrobe, the key makeup artist will collaborate with the costume department to achieve the needed look. As each production is different, the makeup department’s involvement with other departments may vary. The key makeup will assist the head of makeup in this capacity until production wraps.


What’s a Key Makeup Artist good at?

Communication: Great key makeup artists clarify expectations about their tasks with the department head and ask the questions necessary to help support the department. It is a good practice to do this early on in the production and as needed throughout the shoot. This helps a key makeup artist ensure that they know how to execute what is required of them.

Teamwork: As makeup is often easier to change than other aspects of production, being adaptable with the vision you have as a makeup artist will help you better collaborate with other departments on set.

Attention to detail:   Attention to detail is a must when working to achieve your department head’s vision with a makeup look. Additionally, watch the monitor in order to ensure that the makeup looks are in line with the film’s continuity. It is also good practice to be prepared at all times to jump in and do a touch-up if needed. This attention to detail will help you advance in this position.

Being self-motivated: It’s important for a key makeup to stay focused on the tasks that are required of them personally, but when those tasks are completed, think ahead about what the department head will be needing next. Then, take the appropriate initiative to meet those needs. It requires people-skills, a positive attitude, and a strong work ethic to take this initiative.

“Reading the Room”:  A key makeup artist spends a lot of time around people and works closely with talent. It is important to remain aware of your surroundings when working on set and in the makeup trailer. Knowing how to read the emotions of and anticipate the needs of those around you will help you assist the department and maintain professionalism on set.


Who does a Key Makeup Artist work with?

1st AD 

2nd AD  

Makeup Department Head 

3rd Makeup Artist

Costume Department

Hair Department

Props Department 

Special Effects


How do I become a Key Makeup Artist?

Attending makeup school as well as working at a makeup counter can help you build your knowledge of beauty and special effects makeup. Employers for this role will be looking for someone who has a wide range of knowledge about makeup, knows how to work with makeup on different skin types and skin tones, communicates well, and is a team player.


What is the salary range?

Salaries vary depending on the production budget. Nationwide, the salary for makeup artists in the film industry is $37K-$124K per year. 

Union: IATSE 484. For more information on salaries and joining the union, visit


What is in the Key Makeup Artist’s kit box? 

Range of foundations for all skin tones

Range of eye shadows, eyeliners, mascaras, blushes

Range of press powders for touch-ups

Range of lipsticks and lip liners

Effects kit


Each production will require different tools and makeup in your kit. Have a broad range of quality makeup on hand to choose from when beginning a production.

Kit box rate can often be negotiated with the production.



Position Terminology

Look:  Term refers to the makeup design that is unique to a character in a film. The looks for a film are designed by the makeup department head.

Continuity: In regard to makeup continuity, refers to the integrity of a character’s makeup as it changes throughout a film, even though the film is shot out of sequence.

“No-makeup show”: This is a term referring to a production that aims to achieve a natural, no-makeup look for its talent with makeup. It does not mean that the show will not use makeup for its talent.

Day player:  A day player is a crew member hired without a long-term contract for specific days when the department will need extra assistance. For instance, the makeup department may bring on a day player to work on a day when a lot of background actors will need makeup.


Learn More: 

Learn more about Mandy Danielle Benton:

Learn more about Toni Marlo:


Learn more about filming in Oklahoma:

Oklahoma Look Book 2019


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