What It Takes: A Film About Makeup Artists

Between reality television and carefully curated celebrity Instagram postings, it’s easy to see why makeup artistry tends to be overly glamorized. But what can’t be seen through the filtered lens of social media is how often grueling the climb to the top can be. What does it truly take to be a makeup artist in LA’s fast-paced film and entertainment industry? That’s precisely what makeup artist and director, Amber Talerico chronicles in What It Takes, a newly released documentary about breaking into the industry as a new artist. Following the success of her L.A. premiere last month, Amber gave Glamlust  the scoop on the film.

Glamlust: Give us a synopsis of What It Takes.

Amber Talarico: What It Takes is an inspirational documentary about becoming a successful makeup artist in the film and fashion industry. I share my journey of the ups and downs I have faced throughout my career, along with over 20 award winning makeup artists who also share their stories, advice, and inspiration.                                               

Talarico and cinematographer, Yusef Arafat interviewing actor David Dastmalchian
BTS: Talarico sits down with American Horror Story makeup department head, Eryn Kruger Mekash (right) and Key FX makeup artist, Mike Mekash

What inspired you to document your journey as a makeup artist?

AT: I wanted to create a film that showcased exactly what we go through as artists. 4 years ago, I was seeing so many artists who were getting into this industry for the wrong reasons, and on the flip side, some artists who were already working in the industry LEAVING for the wrong reasons. Some of these reasons being that they weren’t making enough money, that they weren’t working with a celebrity within the first 3 years of their career, and so on. Someone even told me that they expected to make $50k/year right after graduating from makeup school! So, I wanted to create a film that documented the reality behind what you have to do in order to get to those places. Some artists are lucky, of course, but the majority go through a lot of struggle and hardship. Another reason was to give an inside look for those who do not work in this industry that look at anyone who wants to be a makeup artist with nothing but doubt.



“I think there is always a struggle, no matter how successful you become.”

Amber Talarico


GL: How did you put together the resources to make the film?

AT: Well, I didn’t have all the resources at first, that is for sure!  In the beginning, I did a lot of research on other documentaries. I made notes on which documentaries I liked and the style I wanted to stick with; Morgan Spurlock’s films “Hair,” and “Mansome,” as well as “20 Feet from Stardom” were all a general outline I went with. Those three really caught my eye the most out of the few dozens I watched. After a couple years of researching and minimal filming, I took a documentary course online and continued educating myself as a documentarian by attending seminars, workshops, and countless webinars. I took business courses and webinars, too! I also had an amazing group of friends who shared so much of their knowledge and information! Equipment was no easy task, which I also was lucky to utilize many close friends for.

Taking a selfie break: director Amber Talarico (LEFT), producer Kenneth Alexander (CENTER), & camera operator, Amro Helmy (RIGHT) after INTERVIEWING FX artist, Stevie Bettles.

Can you tell us a little bit about the process of getting the film distributed?

AT: We currently don’t have distribution, which is purposeful at the moment. I want to make sure I weigh out the options 100%. I want to do a lot with this film, and some ideas I have are integrating workshops, makeup demos, screening events, etc. As of now, our plan is to self distribute by having screenings via Tugg (www.tugg.com), in which anyone can host a screening in any city nationwide. As a production, we will most likely have about 25-30 major cities that we screen in for our screening tour. After we have a screening tour, we will sell DVDs and seek traditional distribution. This is all just a plan, though. Nothing is set in stone yet. As of now, anyone interested in seeing the film should keep up with us on our website www.whatittakesfilm.com, where all the screening info will be indefinitely.

GL: The film chronicles the many challenges of working in this industry, particularly as a new artist. Do you still go through some of these struggles, or have things gotten easier for you?

AT: Yes, I still go through these struggles. However, I am glad to say that the struggles have evened out quite a bit. I think there is always a struggle, no matter how successful you become. But, I am able to say that I can pay my rent now and live comfortably without worrying about it each month. Which I am incredibly thankful to say!

GL: One thing I appreciated about this documentary was how honest it was! Did you find it hard at times to be so candid on camera?

AT: Absolutely. I was so nervous before the premiere of this film for that reason exactly. It was never my idea to have ME as the subject (ha!) My original plan for the first 2 years was to follow 5 different people and I was always supposed to be behind the camera. It was brought to my attention by my editor that we should make it about my journey since I was more accessible as well as willing to show the true reality of it all. I actually hate being in front of the camera, so it was particularly hard for me.

“And the winner is…!” AMBER and producer, Kenneth Alexander sending out winner prizes for their first ever makeup challenge.

GL: What do you hope viewers take away from WIT?

AT: I hope they become inspired by this film! If there are any artists out there who doubt themselves…who think they are the only ones who go through the turmoil of climbing that ladder: Not getting called back for a job, jobs falling through the night before they are supposed to happen, not being paid the full amount you were quoted, having payments decline left and right because you are waiting on that $500 gig that still hasn’t sent you a check for over 6 months. It happens to us all, and I want anyone who is going through that to see this film and keep their head up before considering to give up. No matter what stage they are at.

GL:  Lastly, what is one piece of advice that you would give to new artists who are moving to L.A. to pursue their careers?

AT: Do your research before you make the move! Make connections before, too. I did both of those and I was lucky to have some major gigs pretty much once I made the move. I came out to LA with only $500 and an air mattress. I’ve been here for 5 years now, and I am so thankful that I did research and made connections before I moved. Also, remind yourself every day why you moved. It’ll keep you on your toes and less willing to pack your bags up and go back home when the times are tough. 


Photos courtesy of Amber Talarico.

Keep up with Amber and What It Takes on social media for film updates and more:

Instagram: @amberico / whatit_takesfilm
Twitter: @amtalarico / @whatit_takes


Until next time…stay glamorous! xo

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