44. How Film and TV Productions Function During a Pandemic with Scotia Boyd
Updated: Apr 9
Scotia Boyd a film makeup artist with an impressive roaster of working behind the scenes on major production companies like Netflix and Disney, and shows like Titans, Star Trek: Discovery, and Letterkenny.
Scotia has been working in film as a makeup artist for the past eight years in the Toronto area and is originally from Sudbury, Ontario. She is an expert behind the scenes and was an absolute delight to speak with to learn more about her personal history.
In this episode, we discuss how TV and Film production studios are managing under the pandemic, precautions taken, and procedures to keep the sets and cast safe. We also chat about the value of a Union, why it's important to support local Northern Ontario economies, and important things to keep in mind when working on a large set.
Enjoy this awesome episode and make sure to check out one of the latest projects Scotia has worked on, Jupiter's Legacy!
Connect with Scotia Boyd, Professional Makeup Artist
Connect with Alex Leonard, Founder of AL Media
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Scotia, Thanks so much for coming onto The Creative Kind Podcast. For people who aren't familiar with who you are or what you do, can you talk to me a little bit about your profession, and the latest project that you've been working on?
Sure, thanks Alex! I am a film & television makeup artist. I've been working in film as a makeup artist for… I think this will be my eighth year in the Toronto area. I’m in the IATSE International Film Union and I'm currently working on the TV show Titans! My last year was spent working on Jupiter's Legacy and when that finished there was a long break. Due to COVID I had a lot of time off. So the last show I worked on was Jupiter's Legacy and that comes out on May 7. I'm so excited.
Amazing. Congratulations and Jupiter's Legacy that's premiering on Netflix, is that correct?
Yes, on Netflix May 7!
That’s one thing that I find really impressive, that you've had quite a large roster working on different Netflix shows and shows for Disney, right? At what point do you think that things started to kind of take-off and you started to get more and more consistent work? Was it when you joined the union? Was that a big breakthrough to access larger and larger projects?
Definitely. Joining the union is very, very helpful if you can do it. I mean, it wasn’t easy, but - I still did get in pretty young. It was a major, major accomplishment for me to get into the union. That was my goal. I didn't think that it would happen quite so early. But after that, I was like, okay, I'm set, I don't need to worry anymore. I was still getting to know people within the union and you still have to be picked or name hired onto a show, even though you're a member. It doesn't just happen automatically. To get onto different shows a Makeup Designer or Producer would first have to ask you to join their show.
So after I joined the union, which was after about four years in the industry, it took maybe a year or so after that for people to start really getting to know me. There are still many people I haven’t worked with before, but now it’s steady. I've been so lucky in that ever since I started when I was 20, the industry has been booming. Last year for example, even though COVID shut everything down in March and didn't start up again until September, that was the biggest year for film in Toronto ever.
The year before that, which would have been 2019, was the biggest year for film up to that point. I think during that year it did around two billion in Canada, and then it doubled to four billion during the year we shut down for COVID for five months. Now we're set to do four billion again this year. All of those shows that got shut down are now going back to back to make up for lost time. Many shows are set to do two seasons back to back with a month off, which would have normally happened over the course of two years. So they need talent right now like crazy. It's easier now to get into the union than it was even when I started and twenty years ago, they would let only a handful of new members in every few years.
Yeah, that's interesting. I wouldn't have thought it would be such a challenge to get into the union. I know that for a union the more people in it, the stronger it is, right. So yeah, I mean that’s cool as well. When you talk about the power of the relationships that you've built on different series and then going from one show to the next together, have you found that having those relationships has also been a key to your growth? Would you attribute professional and personal growth to building strong relationships in your sector?
100%. The thing is that we work so closely with each other. The days are so long, they're normally 12 hour days minimum, with your team of makeup artists, in crazy locations, so you spend so much time together, and then you're working at stations next to each other in a trailer for months. So people sometimes say it's 50% of your skill as a makeup artist and 50% your personality. As in, do they want to be around you, do you have a positive personality? It can be tough. It sounds silly, but some of the locations that we go to sometimes - and maybe the hardest thing is working exterior night shoots in the winter. It can be really, really tough. People don't think about that because I'm a makeup artist, but it's hard work sometimes. So they want people that are going to be nice to be around. You also have to have a certain personality to work with the cast. You're working on their faces. It’s so personal. They're very vulnerable, because you’re doing their face for camera, and so they have to trust you. And you do have to have a certain personality type and build those relationships. So that either the cast wants to have you around and have you back, or production wants to have you around and know that they can trust you. And it's all word of mouth. We’re contract workers, so every single job, nothing is guaranteed. It's not like you just get hired, and then you work at a company and it takes a lot to fire you. Nobody has to fire you. They just don't have to hire you back. They can say goodbye to you in one or two months and then hire someone else on the next project. And the word of mouth gets around like crazy. I get hired because whoever has hired me in the past will talk to the people that they know, and then they hire me. Everybody knows everyone, it’s a pretty small industry.
Yeah, that's interesting. I want to dive a bit deeper because you’ve talked about the growth in Toronto. I want to come back to that. But when you talk about how you have to make up their faces, I know you do prosthetics as well, in terms of gore and wounds and things like that. Is that still your expertise, or have you moved more into the all-around all kinds of makeup? Does it depend on the series, or do you still do a lot of the graphic stuff as well?
I think it depends on the show that I'm on. So before, a couple of years ago, when I first started out and someone asked me if I wanted to work on a show, I would just say yes because I didn't have very many options. Now that more people are getting to know me and are requesting me, I'm trying to pick shows where I can use my skills more and stay practiced. Some of the shows are very… let's say it's like a cop show or something like that, they’re very basic makeup. So day after day, you're doing normal makeup looks on people that are supposed to be playing everyday people whose makeup doesn't ever change. Just like everyday people, they're not trying new fun things all the time. But now it seems to be all about superhero shows which is really fun and you get to do a lot of cool stuff. But for a while just because of the work that was available I think that the steadiest work was doing those everyday straight makeup looks. There are a lot of amazingly talented people that just focus on prosthetics, and they can be super busy too, but you have to become an expert before you’ll be working full time in prosthetics. For me the steadiest work from the get-go has been more straight makeup. There are always fun things that we get to do though like black eyes, cuts, and effects like that. It’s a little bit of a mix of everything for me at this point.
Nice. That's cool. Yeah, cause I feel like making limbs and all that stuff is a whole other department.
Yeah, and so they do that kind of thing every day. They work mostly in a shop so they're not on set and then they'll come in when they’re needed. Shows don't typically need those heavier prosthetics all of the time. So they'll ask for that if that comes up in a script, and the prosthetics department will come out and do that a couple days a month. Although I could have gone that route in the beginning, I just preferred to be on a show full time and not to be doing day jobs. That’s how I ended up more in the beauty side of things.
Okay, that makes sense. And that makes me think right, because a lot of the shoots that I’m on as a videographer for corporate videos tend to be one-offs or smaller shoots. But you're on massive TV sets for Netflix productions. So when you watch TV has it changed the way you watch or your perception of reality somewhat?
Totally, and it's funny that you say that. It’s funny that you said reality because the one thing that has changed for sure is watching reality TV shows, like, say, The Hills.
Back in the day I was rewatching that and thinking, they definitely had this whole interaction more than once, because if there was a camera there, you would have seen it. I just have a better sense of the camera setups and how they film things. I remember on my very first movie set, we spent like 8 hours doing one scene. The actors were saying the same lines over and over and over and over again. I knew that they would have to say it more than once to get the right take, but they’ll set up the cameras from so many different angles and then film the same thing. First they’ll get the “master shot” which is the wide shot, and then they move the camera closer for each character’s coverage. In the first movie that I did, there were eight main characters playing high school students in an old abandoned house. It was a scary movie. Using two cameras at a time they move the cameras around to cover each of the cast in close ups. Each time everyone would say their lines all over again. Then they move the cameras to focus on two more people. I always pictured that there would just be like however many cameras necessary to get all of the angles at the same time. So it changed reality TV for me because I know you can't fit two cameras, from opposite angles like that, so they obviously reenacted the moment. And another thing I do when watching TV now is I always look at the background actors and I find it kind of funny. They're not allowed to speak during the scene because it would ruin the sound recording, so they just have to mime. They still try to communicate with each other, though, to keep it realistic looking. So they end up mouthing things to each other in the background but really dramatically so they can understand and keep a conversation going. I just find it funny to watch.
Interesting! I'm going to keep an eye out for that.
And when you watch a club scene, where it's meant to be really, really loud and people are dancing and drinking, all of that has to happen silently, so that you can hear the main actors talking to each other. It seems like everybody's having a great time and partying around them but they’re all having to do it without any music or any noise at all.
Yeah, and it probably happens in post, right? All that music and everything's mixed in after in post?
Yeah, that's cool. What would you say as a piece of advice for others? Anyone else that is considering getting into the film sector, who wants to take the professional route that you did as a makeup artist? What do you know now that you kind of wish you knew before you started?
I’m trying to think back. Okay, I think that this is just how life goes in general; If you want something, take that step. Don't wait and don't think that you're not ready yet. There's no harm in just trying. I remember… You have to become a permittee of the Union to be allowed to work on set before you can be invited to become a member. I always thought that even though I had been working in film for a couple of years, I thought, Oh, I don’t have enough experience. I thought that I didn’t have all of the requirements necessary to apply even as permittee. But the industry has just been so busy and so I ended up filling out the application and sending it in. Even without all the requirements that they asked for, I got accepted as a permit, which is the first step - you have to do that. So I would say, right now, it's so busy - you have to have gone to school - but with whatever experience you have, write it down in a way that would apply to working on a film set, and hand in the application. Sometimes I see people come out on shows, and it’s their first time on a show ever. Which is fine of course, everyone starts at some point, but it's a pretty big deal to start out on a big union set. So I would say just go for it. Get all of your stuff in and apply and then once you get on set, pay attention. Listen to what's going on. You can't get too distracted when you're on set, because you'll miss things. No one's going to be holding your hand to guide you about what to do and when. For example, let's say you get hired as a daily makeup artist, you'll probably be doing background makeup first, making sure that all of the extras look good. It’ll be your responsibility to maintain them throughout the day. But you're going to look silly if you're going to touch up a background person that's like 100 feet away from the camera. You don't want to get in anybody's way, but you need to kind of keep an ear out for what the shots are, look at what the camera is seeing, and then go in and work as necessary. You have to be paying attention to do that. Sometimes people just wander off, and think that someone will come and tell them where they’re meant to be. So I would say stay quiet and try to keep an ear out for what's happening on set. It can be really fast-paced, and you just have to kind of be on the sidelines and listen to everything that's going on around you.
That’s really, really good advice. It makes me wonder as well about something I wanted to come back to here. We’ve talked a lot about the union, and as you mentioned you've been with the union for years, but you've been doing things in the film sector for longer than that. So is working in the union the only way? What is the benefit of joining the union? Do you see people on set who aren't part of the Union? How many unions are there in the industry?
Okay, so I'm going to say something that may be offensive to some people and may be controversial, but it’s just how I feel. We actually have two separate unions in Canada, and don’t think it’s the same way in the United States. IATSE, the one that I am a part of, is an international union and it’s the same one as there. Now there are many amazing and talented people that work in the other union here, so I feel scared to say it. But I do think it's silly that we have two unions. I'm very proud to be in the union and I think that in any industry, unions protect workers from being taken advantage of. And basically, the whole point is that all of the workers in a particular industry are standing together and agreeing to a bottom-rate of pay that they'd be willing to work for. You all kind of agree not to undercut each other so that you're being paid a favorable wage. That's the point of a union. But in Canada, we have another union, that is willing to work for less than us.
So NABET is a Canadian only union, essentially.
I believe so. And they're not specific just to film. There’s a film section of it. But they’re involved in other industries as well.
So IATSE does most of the American television, and features. Some Canadian television does come to IATSE as well, I guess it just depends on the budget or the crew. Sometimes producers have already worked with certain crews that are in one of the unions, so they'll pick which union to sign with based on that. The base hourly rate for crews on NABET productions is less than it is in IATSE. You can access the rates if you go online. Maybe it's a good thing because they can unionize the lower budget shows that may not be able to afford to sign with IATSE, but there are still certain standards and rules put into place for those smaller budget shows. So, I guess that's why we have NABET.
Would a large production ever have crew working from both unions?
No, they wouldn’t. It's part of the IATSE rules when the show signs a contract. If you are part of NABET you are allowed to work on IATSE shows but not the other way around, and you can’t be a member of both. As a NABET member you can get one-time permit status for an IATSE show.
Alex 20: 30
It seems complicated.
Haha. Yeah. So basically there are two unions. Then there’s non-union work as well. I think it's definitely in your best interest to join a union or work towards it but most people start off doing non-union work. You make less, and you end up working more because there’s less in the budget and less man-power. You may not get the support that you need because they're just lower budget shows that may not have enough money to hire the full team that you would need. Sometimes you're doing two people's jobs. In the union, for example, they separate hair from makeup, but in non-union they hire one person to do both.
That’s good to know. Thank you for sharing that. And I wanted to kind of take a step back to talk about the sector. You know, at large, you talked about how this year we're already on track to almost double what last year's record was. Yeah, that's, that's Toronto, specifically, right?
I believe so. This is just something that I heard on set. I don't know the exact numbers on this.
Yeah. Okay, we can backtrack on that. But I mean, just roughly speaking, without, you know, putting a number to it. The scale and the speed at which the film and movie sector is growing is just accelerating. So do you see this as a cause? Because of the interest in streaming platforms? Because I know you're working on Netflix shows, do you think that's really spurring it? Or do you think it's just a natural progression of, you know, our reliance on media? Like, what do you think is really causing that growth?
I do think it’s thanks to streaming, and how quickly we take in content these days! You can binge a show now in one or two nights. Production companies are just trying to try to keep up with the demand.
Yeah. Especially during COVID, that's all people are doing. In a way, it is essential, the arts and entertainment. You really do need that stuff in your life. Especially when everybody's stuck at home. It's amazing that film has been able to adapt, even though movie theatres are kind of going down. Film and Television has just kind of adapted in the same way that they did with Blockbuster and streaming initially, and right now it is booming.
So yeah, walk me through right now. Like in terms of COVID precautions, like how was it working on set?I think you mentioned that everyone has to get swabbed daily or something like this, right?
Yeah, we used to have to be tested four times a week and now we get tested three times a week. This is because in the beginning there were issues with the turnaround from the lab. And they needed to make sure they got those tests back consistently to keep us in cadence. In the beginning, it was kind of touch and go. Certain people couldn't show up to work because one of their tests didn’t come back in time, even though we were getting tested three times a week. Now the results come the very next day or that night. And it depends on what department you’re in. For us as makeup artists dealing with the cast, we get tested three times. There are different zones depending on how closely you have to work with cast members. This is because when we film, we are pretending that this is not a pandemic world, so the cast are acting with their masks off.
So basically, everyone gets tested based on how close you have to come into contact with the performers that are not wearing masks. The cast get tested three or four times a week. And makeup artists have to wear full PPE. We basically dress like we're, well, you have to treat it like everybody has COVID. So we wear blue gowns, face shields, and KN95s. And then we just sanitize everything like crazy. We also have separate cast members that we take care of during the day and we don’t switch it up. Pre-Covid on a show we could kind of interchange the cast that we were working on and say like, okay, Scotia, you go to set and watch my actor while I'm in the trailer, doing makeup on the next actor coming in. We would kind of switch eachother off like that. But now we keep everybody separate. We call it micro pods and we try to limit the people that we come into contact with. Because as per the laws of Ontario, if you are within six feet of someone for longer than 15 minutes, you would be considered a close contact and have self-isolate for 14 days, even if you were wearing full PPE. So if you think about a film set and everybody coming together during filming, if one person got COVID, it could shut everything down. Everybody would have to go home for 14 days. So, we've split it up into all these little pods. And you don't go up and talk to someone within six feet of them. Normally, there was a social aspect. You know, you talk to people at work that aren't in your department. Now you just kind of stick to yourself and we’ve divided up the cast between makeup artists. Just in case a performer gets sick, then only one makeup artist would have to isolate, rather than the whole makeup team.
So it doesn't ruin the whole entire production, yeah.
Yeah. Now we take rotating lunches instead of a company lunch break where the entire crew gets together in one room. It's all spaced out, and everything's just sanitized in between. It’s great that we know that we're not spreading COVID at work because everyone's getting tested. So we're getting those negative results back.
Well, that's good. I'm happy to hear that you're able to work amid all of the shutdowns. Okay, before we start wrapping things up here, I want to quickly touch upon your origin story. I know you got started working a lot in the film industry up in North Ontario. So what were some of the first kinds of shoots that you did in the film sector? What was the first project you worked on and was it shot in the North?
The first movie I ever worked on was in Sudbury and I never thought after growing up there that I would be back there to work as a makeup artist.
In the summer two years after I went away to go to makeup school in Toronto, I ended up back in Sudbury to do a movie. I never would have predicted that that would happen, that my first film would be back in North Ontario. They actually have this whole separate tax credit for the arts, not just for film. It's called the North Ontario Heritage Fund. So shows will actually go there for additional tax benefits. And it's so helpful. Yes, they get tax credits from the government, but it brings so much money into the North. It helps all of those Northern Ontario locals that are working, and for the crew that they bring from Toronto, they put them up in local hotels, they're eating at local restaurants, they're going out on the weekends, they're shopping for costumes for the show, and just generally spending at the stores in the area. So it really does bring in so much money to benefit the community. So yes, I started up there. And basically what ended up happening was after a couple of years of working up there assisting makeup artists from Toronto, they eventually hired me to work for them in Toronto. That’s how I got started. My first show was called Lost After Dark. I made $100 a day to work 12 hours. So it was less than minimum wage, but I loved it. To work on my first film set was an amazing experience, I would have done it for free.
It was so cool. Oh, yeah,
It was so much fun.
And I still liked the money at that point. Because,
it was six days a week, for 12 hours. I was working like crazy but it was still a good amount of money for me at that time. So I didn't care.
Thinking back, I think that goes against labour laws in Ontario. But that's why you want to work your way up to union shows.
Totally. Yeah, that's super cool. And on that point - on top of giving back to the economy, filming in Northern Ontario is just beautiful, right?
Absolutely. There are so many draws to bring productions up there.
So just a final few questions here. Where can people connect with you? If they want to look at some of the work you've done or follow you? Or if they just want to reach out to you? Maybe it's a potential producer, who's looking to bring on makeup artists on their team, what's the best way for them to get a hold of you, Scotia?
I do have a website, www.scotiaboyd.com That has my email address on it. And then my Instagram is something that I update all the time with my most recent work. It’s @scotiaboydmakeup on instagram.
Perfect. Okay, awesome. And was there anything else like any other projects that you’d like to mention? Jupiter's legacy. What other things? Is there anything else you want to give air space to? Or is there anything that we haven't had a chance to speak about yet that you were hoping to chat about coming into this?
I am just so excited about Jupiter's legacy! I think everybody should watch that. There was a very large team that put it all together, and it's going to be such a cool show. And then Titans I'm working on right now. I think that will come out at the end of the summer.
That’s on Netflix as well. And that's a new season, though. Right? Like Titans has been out?
Yeah, Titans has been out. This is the third season. I worked a little bit on season two, which is already on Netflix. That's another fun superhero show that you can watch.
Sweet. Okay, and yeah, we'll definitely check those out. And I'll put some reminders in the copy for this when it's published. Awesome.
Thanks so much, Alex.
Of course. And so last question here for you, Scotia. What does creativity mean to you?
I've been thinking about this because I was actually worried about the questions that you might ask me. I still don’t view myself as that creative, even though I'm sure that I am. To me, it's just about honing your skills. No matter what it is you want to do, whether you’re a painter, etc. nobody has those skills naturally. You can be naturally more creative, and maybe you can pick it up more easily than others. But you have to work at it no matter what it is. So for me as a makeup artist, I have to continue to keep learning. I have to keep up with the products that are always changing. There are new techniques, and skills that people are generous enough to teach. So you have to keep going to those courses. You have to keep reading and keep using new products to grow. To me, being a makeup artist didn't come naturally, even though I loved it. You really have to learn and continue to grow every year. And practice.
Nice. That's awesome. All right. Thanks so much, Scotia. It's always a pleasure to chat with you, I really appreciate it. Thanks again. And I just want to acknowledge all the great work that you're doing in the film sector with your makeup artistry. Keep up the great work.
Thanks so much, Alex. Thanks for having me.