Southwest Makeup Institute, the only makeup and special effects school in New Mexico, has a new partnership with IATSE Local 480, preparing students for professions in film and television.
On a Sunday morning in Albuquerque, young women with no small amount of makeup in tow shuffle into the Southwest Makeup Institute. For the next seven hours, they’ll watch a demo, integrating the concepts and practices they’ve learned from the previous week, and try the day’s look on each other, twice—all under the precise but supportive eye of Noël Dalton. To add to the challenge, they’ll do all of this without directly touching each other’s faces—cue sponges, brushes, and heaps of sanitizer—because that’s the new rule on film and TV sets in New Mexico. And that’s precisely what they’re here to learn.
The Southwest Makeup Institute, founded by Dalton, is the only professional makeup and special effects school in New Mexico, and this group of students will be the first to receive the school’s certification under its new partnership with IATSE Local 480, the state’s union representing professional film technicians. As part of the school’s 200-hour certification, students will have the opportunity to work ten “union days,” which means working on-set during any union film or TV show, covering one-third of the thirty union days required to join IATSE. Individuals can also start to petition to join IATSE after working fifteen union days.
We’re training the best of the best. I want people to come through this state, work with our people, and say, ‘I’ve never worked with an entry-level artist who was that good.’
Film and television production in New Mexico has increased exponentially in past few years. In 2018, the streaming giant and ultra producer Netflix purchased a studio in Albuquerque, prompting a surge in productions. Then, in 2019, NBCUniversal signed a deal to develop an abandoned warehouse into a studio with two sound stages. Alicia Keyes, the New Mexico Economic Development Secretary, said the growth and amount of direct production spending are only increasing, “The amount of films that we’re registering right now and what we’re looking into, I think that in five years time we’ll probably be at a billion dollars of spend.”
In 2018, Dalton heard Keyes, then the New Mexico Film Office Director, speaking on the radio about the Netflix studio purchase. Keyes spoke of the need for the film industry to partner with institutions like Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) and the University of New Mexico to ensure a gainfully employable and local workforce for the union, which covers ninety-nine different crafts, including makeup artistry. Dalton, a longtime industry professional and makeup teacher, saw a major opportunity to create a rigorous training program. “It was an ‘aha’ moment,” Dalton said. “Beauty schools will offer a makeup program that’s thrown together. I‘m the only one that’s been teaching this in a specialized way that’s dedicated to the art form and reveres the art form.” While initially Keyes and Dalton didn’t speak of a specific partnership, Dalton says the meeting helped her envision the right path, and lead her to open her school. “I put together a website, figured out the curriculum materials, started interviewing instructors—running and gunning for it.”
The Southwest Makeup Institute enrolled its first official class in March of 2019.
By the end of 2019, Dalton met with Keyes again to share the program she built, and was surprised to learn upon arrival that Keyes had also invited two representatives from IATSE. “I thought I was just going to meet Alicia,” Dalton said. “I wanted to thank her for shooting me in the right direction. But it was a whole pitch! The [union representatives] wanted to see if it was something that would benefit the union and eliminate any gaps in training. They agreed that it sounded great, so I went through several layers of meetings with their training departments and others, and then COVID hit.”
Months of meetings, pitches, and rigorous interviewing seemed lost to the pandemic. IATSE Local 480 had reviewed all of the Institute’s materials, including the curriculum, syllabus, workbooks, and evaluation system. One day in July, however, Dalton received a letter from IATSE granting students in her program ten union days as part of their certification. “It was the single biggest moment of validation in my life. I think I reread it a thousand times.”
Providing union days is a key factor in transitioning students from training to actually working in production jobs. As Keyes said, “That’s why this partnership is fantastic… It provides that bridge so that they can get an opportunity to be on sets and working right away. It’s super exciting for us that [Dalton] now has the school here in New Mexico because New Mexico film and television is really about to explode.” While production slowed down due to the pandemic, the New Mexico Film Office reports that in 2020, twenty-nine films and forty-five television shows will be filmed here, and the direct spend is an estimated $274,993,048. The Harder They Fall, one of the first productions to resume filming this fall, has hired five hundred New Mexico crew members, and over three hundred New Mexico vendors.
The Southwest Institute of Makeup reopened in August with six students—limited due to COVID-19-related capacity restrictions—and a meticulous curriculum. Dalton, who created everything from the curriculum materials to the grading scales, employed a group of instructors with experience in all facets of the industry. “They’re diverse not only in ethnicity and cultural backgrounds but in their experiences, too. They represent every field and career path and also every personality type.”
Dalton’s vision and expectations for her students is one of nonnegotiable excellence. “We’re training the best of the best. I want people to come through this state, work with our people, and say, ‘I’ve never worked with an entry-level artist who was that good.’ That’s what I want to hear about my students. That this is remarkable. I don’t want to settle for anything less than remarkable.”
When visiting the Southwest Institute of Makeup, the fun YouTube tutorials synonymous with the beauty industry are indeed a distant memory. The students here dress in an all-black uniform, and while their love of makeup is clear (Selena Gomez’s new makeup line, Rare Beauty, was big news), respect for their craft takes precedence. There is precision in the application of makeup, timeliness of each task, and sanitization of every tool, which is ever more pressing with new guidelines due to COVID-19.
“We tell students, makeup is a lot more militant than they think,” Dalton said. “We grade people harshly and we’re super strict, but in order to curate the type of artist that we’re curating, it has to be that way.”
Ashley Adair, a student at the Southwest Institute of Makeup who is concurrently enrolled in the film technician program at CNM, said she has been interested in working in makeup from a young age. When Breaking Bad began filming in Albuquerque, one of their locations was at her high school. “Once I saw them doing that,” she said, “I decided that’s the work I want to get into.” While she has learned the fundamentals of film at CNM, she enrolled in Dalton’s program to pursue special effects and makeup. “There wasn’t any other place teaching makeup and special effects directly for film, so that’s really lucky,” she said.
Adair has already worked on a pilot that is being pitched to Amazon Prime and Netflix. “In the long run, I’d love to work on all these productions that are coming into Albuquerque. I know Better Call Saul is going to be filmed in 2021, and Stranger Things is here, too. Just to get my foot in the door for any of those productions would be so cool.”