Capitol Communicator is featuring “Best Crew,” a profile series by Eli Meir Kaplan, a Washington, D.C.-based commercial photographer and director. The series “Best Crew” features talent behind the scenes of photo, film and video productions. This profile features makeup stylist Jasmen Davis.
Jasmen, how long have you been in business and how did you get started?
I’ve been in business for 19 years which sounds crazy but it’s true! My first job out of college was working at a magazine as a beauty editor. Whenever we had our photo shoots for the issue, I spent time on set interviewing the hair and makeup artists, asking them about their process, inspiration and the products that they used. I found their jobs fascinating and it led me to take a makeup artist course at a school nearby. I took classes after work and it taught me the basics of doing a full face, sanitation, and building a kit. After the course I started doing wedding makeup for friends as a hobby. Fast forward a few years, I was laid off from a full-time writing job and I started to wonder what I wanted to do next. Should I look for another writing job or just completely pivot? The idea of being a full-time makeup artist kept popping into my head and getting me excited so I printed up some business cards and just sort of took on a new identity. I attended any networking event I could find in the area, and when anyone asked what I did for work, I’d just say “I’m a makeup artist.” Honestly around that time so many people pointed me towards contacts they knew who were photographers, DPs, models, actors, etc. One friend worked for a production company and their current MUA was on maternity leave so they were looking to find another makeup artist to fill in for some shoots. That was my first job working on a commercial shoot and after that I was hooked on working in TV and film. Also funny enough the makeup artist that I filled in for ended up being a great friend and mentor that helped me get into the union.
Who are some of your clients and why do they love working with you?
There are a few production companies that I’ve worked with for several years as well as numerous networks depending on the project. I think they like working with me because I’m uber professional with an easy-going personality. I’m known for a very clean style of makeup which lends to most commercial work. I also think I provide a little comic relief from time to time.
What is your most invaluable tool?
My most invaluable tool in my makeup kit would be RCMA no color powder. Also being flexible!
What gear/kit purchase have you made that you wish you didn’t?
Probably something impulsively bought at a tradeshow, haha. Over the years I’ve learned to come with a list of what I actually need for my kit. Although I’m always inspired by any new tools that actually make my work easier/faster and lightens the weight of my kit.
Who has inspired you along the way?
I’m constantly inspired by so many artists and creatives that I get to work with on a daily basis. My mentor – although she’d hate that I’m calling her that! – was very pivotal in taking things more pro in my career. While at lunch on set one day, I was explaining how I was having a hard time getting into the union and a friend/colleague suggested I talk to Gozi Young. He literally texted her right there and she said, have her call me! She met with me over brunch and we went over my union submission packet. It was helpful having an extra eye from someone more seasoned in the industry. I keyed on my first union film with her and we’ve worked on several projects since then. I learn so much from her just by watching how she takes initiative, communicates with other artists, and she always builds an amazing team, bringing out the strengths in everyone. She’s the best!
What do you love about the work you do?
I love that my work is never dull. I get to travel and see unique locations all the time, learn about new businesses, have fun experiences, eat good food, meet interesting people and on top of that I get paid to do makeup!
What was a favorite production you’ve worked on and what made it special?
I’m grateful to say that there are so many and it’s hard to just choose one. But one production that stands out is working on the film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in Pittsburgh. We had hundreds of background actors and we were filming in the middle of the night in a cold, muddy field. It took a while to set up a bigger scene where Viola Davis is singing with a band and all the background actors had to be placed. I was a bit uncomfortable and had forgotten my set chair and was exhausted. One of those moments where you really question why you do what you do. When production was ready to start rolling, the entire set came alive. It was truly magical. I was watching the monitor, taking in all of the details, all the makeups we had done hours ago, all the costumes…just all of the pieces coming together. When the first shot of that scene was completed, everyone exploded in applause and it’s a moment that I won’t forget.
What advice would you give to others who are starting out in your field?
Network and create with people on your level that you can grow with. Many people that I work with now, I’ve worked with for years and we all started in the same place, working on indies for $100/day and spending nights on stranger’s sofas. Those early experiences taught me how to work with other departments, how to break down scripts and how to keep continuity organized. You can make mistakes and it’s not the end of the world. Plus as an artist you learn which products to use and what looks great on camera/film (and what melts). It’s also been fun to watch others that I started out with work on some amazing projects and build amazing careers.
What are your top-five favorite movies?
Ooh this is hard. I’ll always have a soft spot for 90s movies like Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, Clueless, My Best Friend’s Wedding, etc, purely for the nostalgia, fashion and crazy story lines. I also love psychological thrillers (Get Out), documentaries (20 Feet From Stardom), anything from A24, and films that create stronger stories for women and people of color (like If Beale Street Could Talk, which is also beautifully shot).
IMAGES: Photographer Eli Meir Kaplan photos of Jasmen Davis taken near Clipper Mill in Baltimore, MD.