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How Do You Become A Hairstylist For The TV & Movie Industries?

July 17th 2017
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On July 16th, the 7th season of HBO’s “Game Of Thrones” series returns to our screens. The hairstyles of the Khaleesi, Sansa Stark and Margaery Tyrell – created by Kevin Alexander – will once again inspire one and all. Is your ambition to work in television or movies too? Here, professionals in these industries explain how to become an on-set hairstylist and what skills you’ll need…

Who’s Behind These Famous Hairstyles?

The Raphaelite undulations of Margaery Tyrell, the aristocratic braided chignons of Cersei Lannister and the galactic blonde of Daenerys Targaryen are certainly enough to awaken a calling for hairstyling. For young hairdressers, rubbing shoulders with actors and expressing their creativity are all strong draws towards the on-set hairstyling trade.

nic collinsmua hairdressing Downton Abbey
Credit: @Niccollinsmua

Nobody has forgotten Jennifer Aniston’s highlights in “Friends”, Betty Draper’s 1950s’ bob in “Mad Men”, Eva Longoria’s silky chocolate brown hair in “Desperate Housewives”, Edith Crawley’s wavy bob in “Downton Abbey”, or Carrie Bradshaw’s wavy locks in “Sex And The City”. Behind these iconic hairstyles are prominent and passionate professionals, such as Gabor Heiligenberg, Theraesa Rivers, Nic Collins, and Mandy Lyons.

How To Get Into The Industry

The television and movie industries are not easily accessible. To do so, there is neither a set path nor a miracle formula. Nic Collins, the hairstylist for the “Downton Abbey” and “Grantchester” series, studied at the London College of Fashion, specializing in Hair and Make-up for Theater. At the same time, she was apprenticed to television channel ITV. In contrast, Gabor Heiligenberg, who was Eva Longoria’s hairdresser in “Desperate Housewives”, landed in Los Angeles with his diploma, his dream and a good deal of nerve. He let people know who he was and what he wanted. Eight months later, he got a job on the shoot of Prince’s “Emancipation” album. As for Kevin Alexander, he began his career in a salon and then continued as an assistant hairstylist on short TV series, before working on the sets of the films “Casino Royale” and “The Chronicles Of Narnia”.

Gabor Heiligenberg Hairdresser Desesperate Housewives
Credit: Gabor Heiligenberg

Learn From The Greatest

All these experts acknowledge that they improved from having contact with masters of the trade. Before “Desperate Housewives”, Gabor Heiligenberg especially remembers preparing for his assistant hairstylist test with Adele Taylor, a famous on-set hairstylist in the 1950/60s who notably worked on TV shows “Mission Impossible” and “Star Trek”. Throughout my career I have worked with some amazingly talented hairdressers, barbers, colorists and stylists who have been at the top of their game. I am endlessly inspired by their technical craft and detail,” confirms Nic Collins, who has just trained in the craft of barbering.

nic collinsmua hairdressing Downton Abbey itv
Credit: @itv

What Attributes Are Needed To Become An On-set Hairstylist?

1 – Mastering Specialized Techniques

Being a hairstylist for cinema or television requires mastering specific kinds of expertise, especially with regard to wigs and accessories. With experience also comes knowledge about the effects of spotlights on color rendering.

Onscreen, if you go too silver, it will look gray. If you go too gold, it will look yellow”, says Kevin Alexander.

Being a hairdresser for a movie or a TV series also involves knowing how to be clever in creating unusual effects. Kevin has therefore used oils, make-up powder and finger styling to give the fighters in the series a grunge look.

2 – Top Teamwork

Being an on-set hairstylist is not a job for those who prefer being alone. Instead, it requires teamwork skills. The hairstylist often consults with the director beforehand, as well as the customer and, above all, the actor. “Unless the script actually called for whatever hairstyle, the hairstyle was up to the actor and hairdresser. But nine times out of ten, the actor knows what they want and it’s my job to deliver on that, says Gabor Heiligenberg. As for some “Game of Thrones” scenes, they required no less than 30 hairdressers collaborating together!nic collinsmua hairdressing Downton Abbey itv

3 – Long Days

If the job of on-set hairstylist seems glamorous, be careful not to fool yourself. Behind the scenes, the days are often long. Coming in at 6.30am to prepare the tools, wigs and accessories, hairstylists barely have an hour to put together their creations before shooting begins. They then stay on set for a dozen or so hours to make any necessary adjustments. Then, at the end of the day, they have to take off the wigs and untie the chignons, before starting all over again the next day. In the evening, Nic Collins still watches videos of series on which she worked as an exercise in self-criticism, which she deems necessary to improving her tradecraft.

Professional Advice

1 – Feed Your Inspiration

Styling for movies and TV series requires you to enter a universe and be creative. Curiosity and knowledge of general culture are therefore necessary attributes. I always have a preparation period before we start shooting where I breakdown the script, list the characters, their storylines and scenes, and gather as much information as possible. For period styling, my obsession can often be with how the styles were created. What happens when these characters get out of bed, what’s their lifestyle? How do they dress, do they even own a brush or comb, who’s styling their hair? All these questions can help decide styles and application,” explains Nic Collins. The hairstylist talks about still looking for inspiration on social networks, in art galleries and books. For “Game Of Thrones”, Kevin Alexander’s inspirations ranged from pre-Raphaelite paintings through to ancient civilizations, via traditional Indian hairstyles and even Galliano fashion shows.

hairdressing game of throne s7

2 – Boldness & Perseverance

Hairstylists who dream of embracing this career are many, but you must realize that those who make it all the way are few. Realistically, there is little hope of a hairstyling job on the next successful TV series simply falling into your lap from heaven. Gabor Heiligenberg urges amateurs to give themselves the means to achieve their dream: If you want this, go for it. Get your license. Tell EVERYONE. Get to where the action is: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Tokyo, wherever . Look online for local student films and get involved. “

The final word goes to Nic Collins, who offers some common sense advice: to touch the stars, “always aim high!”