In November of 2012, nascent makeup artist Amber Talarico thought about writing a book that would educate and inspire similarly aspiring artists. Then the project transformed into a documentary film titled What it Takes.

“I asked a director to direct it for me,” Talarico recalled. Later, this friend of hers suggested that she take the position of director herself.

After shooting footage of her working on film sets—plus a few interviews—that lacked a necessary polished quality, mostly due to sound problems, Talarico re-organized the project and started anew in January of 2013. Through the end of 2014, she chipped away at the budding project, shooting interviews and on-set footage with the help of friend Collin Schiffli, a Los Angeles film crew veteran.

She self-financed her initial shooting days. “Any time I could fund it myself, I would give crewmembers $50 for three hours of their time,” said Talarico. ‘People would donate their time—a lot were excited about the project.”

Finally, Talarico attracted proper financing via executive producer Chris Evitt, assistant to Oscar-winning makeup artist Joel Harlow. More equipment and proper crew came in, just as her own funds were running out. “We were at a complete standstill,” Talarico said. “Our executive producer was able to pay for things to be done on a bigger scale. He believes in the project wholeheartedly.”

Sourcing Make-up Brand Sponsorships

A key strategy for producing the film: Talarico brought aboard sponsors such as Kat Vond Beauty, as well as makeup school Makeup Designory, where she had been a student. Other sponsor brands included First Aid Beauty, Hask Hair, BH Cosmetics, European Body Art and Dermaflage. “I reached out to the people that I was most excited about, the products that I believed in,” she said, adding that she worked with lead artist Eric Soto from the Kat Vond organization. “They don’t test on animals. I believe in their product line. Eric and I created a relationship before anything happened with the brand sponsorship.”

In the case of Dermaflage, Talarico’s friend Kerry Herta opened a door with them. “They sponsored product for our events,” Talarico said—screenings and other live events surrounding the project. “If we have an event, I’ll give away product. That’s how we utilize those sponsorships—to create word-of-mouth.”

Amber Talarico (left), director of What it Takes

Talarico was surprised at the doors the financing and sponsorships opened for her film. “I didn’t understand that I could achieve things that a person who went to school for film could achieve,” she said. Her wide personal network came in handy again and again. “I told Cary Ayers at the International Makeup Artist Trade Show, at Joel Harlow’s booth, ‘If you ever need anyone to help around your shop, I’d be more than willing.’ Cary took me aside and said, ‘Hey, I like your ambition. Keep in touch with me.’ He was the first person I told about the film, [and] the first person I interviewed. He played a big hand in spreading the word.”

Learning her filmmaking craft as she endeavored to create her documentary, Talarico interviewed Ayers three times to get the one that she wanted—the first time, the sound wasn’t working completely; the second time there were camera issues. After Ayers, Talarico, with cinematographer Yousef Arafat, interviewed multiple-Emmy Award-winning makeup artist Eryn Krueger Mekash.

Plying Social Media Connections

Soon, Harlow (who won his Best Achievement in Makeup Oscar in 2010 for Star Trek) stumbled upon a blog post that Talarico had written, because Talarico had tagged him on social media. “That’s how he got to read it,” she said. “He messaged me: ‘I really love this concept.’ We started communicating. He’s an intimidating person because of his caliber of work. I was nervous. That was right around the time I felt comfortable saying I was a director.”

Through a connection with Lee Joyner, a creative director from Cinema Makeup School, Talarico was later able to connect with three-time Oscar-winning makeup artist Ve Neill and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences makeup branch governor Leonard Engelman. She also contacted agents through proper channels and additional artists via Facebook. “Half of the people I contacted were through Facebook,” she said. “I reached out to [actor] Doug Jones on Facebook; [artist] Carleigh Herbert came through Facebook.”

Navigating Post-Production

Out of 43 people that Talarico interviewed for What it Takes, 26 of them had either won an Oscar, an Emmy or a Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Award. By the summer of 2016, three and a half years had transpired between the first and last interviews for the film. Many interviews were shot on the RED camera then converted for editing purposes. In post-production, editor Tanner Presswood stitched every interview together in one long cut. What it Takes’ rough cut was over seven hours.

Obviously, much work still needed to be accomplished on the project, Talarico recalled. “In the summer of 2016, Tanner stayed at my apartment for two weeks. We were all trying to make something out of a massive amount of everything. We had to get additional footage into the interviews. We started filming my section in addition to what was already filmed: me working at MUD [Makeup Designory], some calls that I made to family members, some of the footage of me trying to work out my bills, any of the street and city footage. [Tanner] did a really good job of putting all of that together in a really artistic way.”

Talarico continued to work with Presswood even after the editor returned to his native Indiana, where Talarico is also from. “We did Skype sessions or calls with each other,” she said. “I would send him notes. In July of 2016, he did a 45-minute rough cut. At that point, Chris Labao was a second editor here in L.A.; he put all of those interviews into place. The final running time is 66 minutes.”

After holding several screenings, Talarico collected feedback and made edits accordingly. Then, she shot a final added scene in early 2017. “It was at least a year and a half in post-production,” she said. “It was 100-percent done at the end of March, 2017.”

Touring with the Film

Once What it Takes was completed, Talarico’s goal was to get the film in front of as many makeup artists as she could. “Once you start getting momentum, you start seeing different opportunities,” she said. “A lot of people who aren’t even in the industry took to it. A lot of people, surprisingly, asked me, ‘When are you going to make another film?’ That was really flattering and not something I’d really thought about. The goal is to inspire people on any level, really.”

By spring of 2017, Talarico and producer Kenneth Alexander held four screening events where the film was showcased at a theater, also including a cocktail session with a makeup demonstration and Q&A afterwards, with makeup giveaways. “We did this in four cities; we booked it, planned it, organized it, decorated it,” Talarico said. “Fort Wayne, Indiana, Seattle, Portland, and a second L.A. screening at Raleigh Studios. It was like going on tour.”

Currently, Talarico and Alexander are promoting the film on her YouTube channel with a variety of videos and a podcast on iTunes entitled “Making It Up,” discussing freelance ventures as a makeup artist in Hollywood and staying afloat during the hard times. Her blog includes “Artist Feature Fridays,” where an aspiring makeup artist is selected each week. Talarico also conducts monthly webinars, freely available and live streaming on the What it Takes website. MM

What it Takes is available starting September 1, 2017 as an extended DVD and digital download. For information, visit its official website.