Film & TV

What Is a Film Hairstylist? How to Become a Hairstylist for Movies and TV

Written by MasterClass

May 23, 2019 • 3 min read

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Jodie Foster Teaches Filmmaking

From Princess Leia’s side buns to Dorothy’s pigtails, hairstyles are some of the most memorable and iconic elements of television and film. Professional film hairstylists are the talented artists responsible for creating these striking looks.

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What Is a Film Hairstylist?

A film hairstylist is the person in charge of creating character hairstyle designs and styling actors’ hair on set. Film hairstylists work in both film and television and are an integral part of the entertainment industry.

How Hair Designs Are Created for Films

The job of a leading hollywood hairstylist starts in pre-production, by creating and designing the hairstyles for the film. The key hairstylist, the person in charge of the hair department, works with the director, production designer, and key makeup artist to create original designs that fit into the overall visual pastiche of the film.

  • Read the script. The screenplay will indicate important details like time period and location, as well as giving insights into a character’s appearance and personality that can inform subsequent design choices.
  • Look at reference images. Once a hair stylist has read through the script thoroughly, they’ll start combing through reference images of hairstyles from the applicable era and location. If the film is a genre like sci-fi or fantasy, this might involve looking at other films to emulate common design choices from the genre.
  • Creating original designs. Once you’ve done your homework, it’s time to create your original designs. You’ll want to reference pictures of the actors in the film to make sure that your tailoring hairstyles to the relevant actors’ facial structure and coloring.

What Does a Key Hairstylist Do?

The key hairstylist is in charge of the entire hair department, and reports directly to the production designer. The key hairstylist starts working full-time on designs long before other hairstylists join the crew and are on set every day for the duration of the shoot. Once they’ve done their work designing, their onset responsibilities include:

  • Supervising a team of hair stylists and delegating design responsibilities.
  • Executing the hair styling for one or two principal actors themselves.
  • Working with the key makeup artist in maintaining an organized and professional hair and makeup trailer.

What Do Film Hairstylists Do?

The key hairstylist oversees the hair department and delegates responsibilities to individual hairstylists. The duties of other stylists in the hair department include:

  • Work with the key hair stylist to learn all hair designs prior to shooting.
  • Cut and style the actors’ hair on shoot days.
  • Maintain all wigs and bald caps in the hair and makeup trailer.
  • Ensure that no products, wigs, or prosthetic caps damage the actors’ natural hair or skin.
  • Provide hair care or skin care tips that may help the actors during a shoot.

Qualifications needed for Film Hairstyling

Like most jobs in the film industry, there are many ways into the world of film hair styling. That being said, most professional film hairstylists have some or all of the following qualifications:

  • Cosmetology License. Most states require a license to cut, color, and style hair. Attending a licensed cosmetology or beauty school will give you the technical skills, like how to properly shampoo and blow dry, required to take state licensing exams to then be able to work in the hair industry. Keep in mind that licensing requirements vary from state to state, so becoming licensed in California or New York, where the majority of films are produced, is crucial to becoming a film hairstylist.
  • Production Experience. Many aspiring film and television hair and makeup professionals get their first professional experience on low budget movies or even student films. You can start as an entry level production assistant on larger films to get additional on-set experience.
  • Build a Portfolio. Up-and-coming hair stylists should build a portfolio of photographs or film clips documenting a wide array of looks they’ve designed for a variety of shorts, feature films, or tv shows they’ve worked on. Portfolios should be constantly updated to showcase new work. Many film hairstylists work part-time in hair salons to maintain their skills when not on set.
  • Network. The hair and makeup department is a fun and social place—it’s where the cast gathers and socializes as they’re getting styled before a shoot. Being a friendly and pleasant presence on set is a key part of being a good and successful film hairstylist. It helps keep morale up, and builds relationships with others in your field who might want to work with you again or would recommend you to other hiring producers.

Learn more about film crew roles and responsibilities in Jodie Foster’s MasterClass.