The most important thing you need to know about the make-up industry

The most important thing you need to know about the make-up industry

Joe Nazzaro interviewing Sheelagh Wells at IMATs Toronto 2013

So you want to be a make-up artist? Well I have some advice for you: make friends, make lots and lots of friends.

Meet Sheelagh Wells. She’s one of the most well-known make-up artists in the UK, having worked on more Doctor Who episodes than any other make-up artist in the history of the series. And chances are that if you ever get to work with her, she’ll be someone in your life you’ll never forget. Why? Sheelagh Wells won’t be your co-worker; she’ll be your friend.

I was lucky enough to sit in on an interview with Sheelagh at IMATS in Toronto and she confirmed what I already know from all my years in the advertising industry: technical skills will get you through the door, but people skills will keep those doors open.

When she started on the Doctor Who series at the BBC, she never knew what each day would hold. She would work on lots of creature in lots of different environments. But her “roll with the punches” attitude kept her on staff for years until she became a trusted friend to many of the lead actors.

Flash back to the early 1970s. Sheelagh is on the set of a Doctor Who episode called “Planet of the Spiders”. And the actress playing Sarah Jane Smith, Elisabeth Sladen, is deathly afraid of spiders. Even though the ones on set were prosthetic, Liz was still terrified. So who do they call in to help calm her fears and get through the shot? Sheelagh of course.

For the rest of Liz’s spider-filled scenes, Sheelagh knelt below the camera holding Liz’s hands. And what’s even more telling about Sheelagh’s dedication is that she was scared the whole time too. But the shoot was saved, the episode was amazing and it was certainly a moment in Doctor Who history that the crew will always remember.

Fast forward to 2004. The planning for Doctor Who’s triumphant return is in full swing, and the BBC need reliable crew and talented artists for what promises to be a busy and exciting run. They enlist the help of Neill Gorton of Millenium FX to head up the SFX department…

And of course, who does Neill turn to for the makeup department? The one person who he knows can do the job well and is sure to get along with everyone on set. His only choice is Sheelagh Wells. She was someone Neill could work with collaboratively and trust for such an important position.

Sheelagh has worked on countless productions over the years, but her return to the Doctor Who series just proves that years of experience and a mountain of skill can only get you so far. It’s the way you treat people that leaves a lasting impression. And in Sheelagh’s own words: “There are so many things we do that has nothing to do with make-up. It has to do with people.”