Interview with SFX artist Laura Odette Phipps

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How long ago did you train in make-up?

It’s been quite a long road for me to get in to TV and film which is what I do now.   I originally trained at London College of Fashion where I did a two year degree in 2004.  I went straight into retail working as the manager for MAC, Benefit and Sila. During this time, I decided that retail wasn’t really for me so I started working on a lot of short films to gain experience and find out what I really wanted to do.

Back then, we had websites including Mandy, shooting people and talent circle (I don’t particularly advise paying for these – use the free services that are available to you) where you could meet people, work with them on their productions and I more or less learned everything on the job including set etiquette, how to behave professionally, set pressure, reading scripts and more.  I did this whilst working bar jobs at night.

In 2004 / 2008 I decided to re-train with Neill Gorton and on completion decided if I was going to get any work I had to put myself out there. This didn’t come naturally to me as it felt I was bothering people, I felt awkward and I didn’t think I was good enough.  This taught me I had to believe in myself more. I discovered that I wasn’t bothering people – if people don’t know who you are, they won’t be able to hire you.

I built up my portfolio, built my website and prepared my CV.  I then researched production companies and sent out my emails so people found out who I was and starting offering me work.  I’m not going to lie, this took time. I’ve been working for 8 years but only able to go 100% freelance within the last six years and run from one production to next.

silicone mould
silicone mould
silicone mould
Special Effects

How did you find contacts to email in the first place?

One way you can find out this information is PCR – Production casting reports ‘The knowledge’ which lets you know all upcoming productions, which production houses, crew if they know and more for the upcoming year.  This includes contact names and emails for you to contact and put your name out there. Admittedly, I didn’t use this resource and went about things in a different way;

I googled production companies, film making studios and more – Go on to their website and try looking for a contact email address and get in touch.   I have sent hundreds of thousands of emails and for every thousand you send, you get a hundred back. Don’t be disheartened, keep going and eventually people will read the email or a job will come up or sometimes you just send that email at the right time to the right person.

How did you manage to build up our confidence in yourself to reach out to people for work opportunities?

I didn’t always believe in myself, I felt other people were more talented, I lacked confidence but I learned you can turn every negative into a positive.  It pays to be self aware – know your strengths from your weaknesses so you know what you need to build on to put yourself in a stronger position. There is another side where people spend far too much time looking at what other people are doing, getting jealous that other people are working more than them and this is just dead time.  Stop concentrating on what others seem to be doing and start focusing on what you can do to improve your situation.  If you’re not getting the work you want you need to ask why and what you can do to put yourself out there to gain more work.  Could it be that your website isn’t good enough, could you be gaining more experience, maybe you need stronger images.

Your website is SO important if you want to come across as a professional makeup artist.  Make sure it has your strongest images. Also, don’t forget the importance of business cards. I still get mine printed up and leave a little card with everyone I meet.  If your CV / portfolio isn’t strong enough contact a local photographer whose work you like and contact them to ask if they are interested in collaborating to help build both your portfolios.

It’s worth doing low budget / short films where you will gain experience, network and pass paid work onto each other in the future.

life casting
life casting
life casting
life casting

Do you only work in Special Effects Make-up?

No, not at all. I’m a generalist!  I studied Fashion, hair and makeup, wigs and some prosthetics including moulding, life casting, foam, gelatin, latex pieces. I then retrained at Neill Gorton to update my skills and knowledge using up to date materials and application techniques.  I advise which ever part of the industry you work in, stay up to date with new products, application techniques and more. Never stop learning.

If your main focus is SFX, there is some amazing material online and it’s worth checking out people including Stuart Bray, Neill Gorton, Don Lanning, Jordu Schell – Make sure you stay up to date with people who are actually working in the industry rather than influencers.

SFX is a very difficult specialist area to get in to – How did you manage to ‘crack’ it?

Because I had a base in makeup this meant I could turn my hand to many different areas from straight make up for TV and film to special effects.  SFX is about networking and keeping up to date with your skill set. Make sure you keep practicing and perfecting your skill. Take photos of everything you do.  Come up with ideas, create photos and always have something new to share.

Did you assist other artists to make your way up in the industry?

No, no I didn’t! I wet in the weird way!  The normal route is to start off as a trainee, move up to assistant then artist, supervisor then head or department. Because I started in fashion, I did a lot of low budget films, I created work for myself doing photoshoots then music videos.  I then re-trained and started doing daily’s here and there working my way up to supervisor and HOD (Head of department)

What films have you worked on?

Star wars in 2018 making moulds from fibreglass, before that I was key prosthetics for five months on Artemis Veil.  I’ve worked on Dr Who, discovery of witches, royal variety, wonder woman, justice league, life, alien covenant, Christopher Robin, The personal history of David Copperfield plus more.

What’s the best piece of advice you would have to tell yourself 18 years ago?

Believe in yourself a little bit more. Don’t compare yourself to others.  Stop worrying about what everything else is doing. Censor yourself on social media!  I know it can be hard, and I’m gobby with a lot of opinions but it has got me in trouble so I had to learn to shut up.  People will form opinions based on what you write on social media so conduct yourself in a professional manner at all times.  All it takes is for one person to form the wrong opinion of you and you could lose out on a job.

What upcoming jobs do you have?

I’m currently working on an ITV series which will be coming out soon.  On Thursday I’m working with the house of Vans Bowie shoe launch, I have a couple of producing houses run by actors that I’m making a few bits for and then I’m back on the job hunt which involves contacting people, emailing people, letting them know I’m available for work in the hope something comes up.

If you are interested in learning Special Effects with Laura Odette Phipps, please check out our Special Effects Courses.

As always, we are grateful for your comments and questions


Amy and the Sussex Makeup Academy Team

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