Film, television, fashion: You name it and Kim Kimble has done it in her 30-plus years as a hair stylist in Hollywood — but even through the good times, she never gave up her backup plan.
Until the pandemic.
“I had a salon where I could work if I had to, and I closed it,” she said. “So now I don’t even have that.”
Kimble and a world of Hollywood hair stylists, makeup artists and manicurists have been idled by the actors and screenwriters strikes, in an era of declining rates as they were still rebuilding their livelihoods from the painful months of the coronavirus shutdowns.
They aren’t alone, of course, as writers and actors walk picket lines in their contract disputes with studios and streaming services. Crew and support staff on all sides of the entertainment equation — production, promotion, assistants — are also out of work from coast to coast.
“For three, four, five months before the writers went out, studios weren’t willing to greenlight projects, so many of us have been unemployed for a lot longer,” said Linda Dowds, a Los Angeles-based makeup artist in her 60s who has worked in film and television since 1987.
The writers went on strike May 2; the actors followed July 14. It’s unclear how long the strikes will last. In more than a dozen interviews, specialists in wardrobe, hair, makeup and nails said they feared losing homes and health insurance as they scurry for pivots. Even if the studios and streamers reach agreements with the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA sooner rather than later, it will take weeks for productions to ramp back up.
Dowds, who shared an Oscar for her work on “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” said she’s in a “heightened state of anxiety” over the strikes. But she considers herself among the lucky. She spent years working back-to-back projects, allowing her to keep her health insurance for now through the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild.
“But that’s only sustainable for so long,” she said.
The 52-year-old Kimble, who has worked with Beyoncé and Taraji P. Henson and on “Dreamgirls” and “A Wrinkle in Time,” belongs to the same union as Dowds. She has no idea what else she would do.
“Hair is what I love,” said Kimble, in Los Angeles. “There’s really nothing else, you know. And I love this business, so it’s really hard to understand, ‘Where would I go?’”
Makeup artist Matin Maulawizada is based in New York but usually travels the world, working with actors and other celebrities on television sets, red carpets and talk show appearances.
“My work has been erased mostly. Honestly, I don’t have a Plan B,” he said.
The strikes have come after years of lessened pay for their work, he said.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say we make one-tenth for the exact same job we did in 2005,” Maulawizada said. “If you worked with an A-list client you could easily make anywhere between $3,500 to $5,000 for a red carpet. Now you’re lucky if you get $500.”
Celebrity manicurist Julie Kandalec in New York has been working the A-list (Emily Blunt, Storm Reid and Selena Gomez among them) for nearly 13 years. She also teaches entrepreneurial skills for beauty professionals online, a lucrative side hustle that’s helping sustain her. In addition, she works with brands and has maintained a network of contacts outside the Hollywood bubble.
Still, she worries about making rent.
“With the Emmys being pushed, just that alone is hard,” Kandalec said.
Like others, she has maintained salon space over the years while staying busy with red carpet and other work. For some, finding enough salon clients to make a dent in their lost incomes has been a problem.
“I have a salon suite but most of my clients are actors. A lot of them aren’t getting their hair cut regularly right now because they’re not working. I’m doing whatever I can to do house calls and haircuts,” said celebrity stylist and men’s groomer Andrea Pezzillo, 38, in Los Angeles. She, too, teaches online.
A lengthy actors strike would be make or break for the 59-year-old Maulawizada. If it stretches into December, he and his husband, a teacher, will have to sell their house.
He just picked up a day’s work helping prepare Sarah Jessica Parker for a round of Zoom interviews in a collaboration with a French skincare brand to help a women’s mental health organization.
“Many of us used to do beauty and we used to do celebrity but it became much more in demand to only do celebrity. That’s what we have been concentrating on, which has actually worked against us in a way because of times like this,” Maulawizada said. “If I don’t get work in the next month, I’ll be worried about paying my bills.”
He once earned money from brand consulting, but these days “brands are putting more money into influencers than they do actual professionals.”
Maulawizada is particularly concerned about colleagues whose sole focus is on film.
“They don’t have an online personality, an online presence, because they’re working 16 hours a day sitting backstage, watching their monitors to make sure that the actors and actresses look good. And these are the experts of the experts.”
He’s trying to turn that around during the strikes, pitching brands to donate money to professional makeup artists in exchange for social media video posts showing how to use products. He has a couple of brands lined up already.
“It’s money they would usually pay some kid dancing around and doing their makeup on TikTok as opposed to a pro that has been doing Oscar-winning movies but doesn’t have a lot of followers on Instagram,” Maulawizada said.
Glam squadders find themselves in the same dire straits as those doing dozens of other jobs in the entertainment industry.
Whitney Anne Adams is a costumer designer who works mostly feature films.
“Work for me has completely dried up, with nothing on the horizon,” she said. “Besides a small two-month project, I haven’t worked since November 2022 since the slowdown was already beginning last year.”
The only work she has found was a couple of days of background styling on a non-union music video.
“There’s really nothing else to pivot to at this moment,” she said.
Adams, based in Richmond, Virginia, has been dedicating herself to union work, sharing information about grant programs and other resources. She belongs to two union locals, both affiliated with the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees and Motion Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts. It’s the same umbrella organization as union hair stylists and makeup artists.
“We negotiate our contracts next year. We hope that the solidarity they feel from us now will come back at us then,” Adams said of the union workers currently on strike. “We all have very similar needs and we all work side by side. If they don’t get a fair contract it will be really bad for all of us in this industry.”