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Picture Perfect: How to Break Into Doing Nails for Print and TV

Follow the steps outlined by agent Crystal Wright and you may join out industry’s most elite group by becoming one of the tech who makes celebrities and models look perfect before they step in front of the camera.

The next day the client called and vented to me for half-hour about how unprofessional the manicurist was to bring her daughter on the shoot. The client will never confront the artist at the shoot—that’s what bookers and agency owners are for. I assured them that this would never happen again and dropped the artist from my roster.

Finding an Agent

Finding an agent is the goal of my freelance artists. Why? An agent takes much of the headache out of negotiating fees, collecting monies due, and marketing. Furthermore, agents usually have access to the best jobs and are in touch with the creative decision-makers on an hourly basis. Clients like calling agencies for several reasons. They believe that agents do the weeding out for them. Since an agent won’t represent someone who isn’t going to produce revenues, clients feel pretty secure that the artists they hire from agencies have experience on the set and nice books that they can present to their clients.

Remember, everyone has a client and a boss. The art director at the advertising agency may want to hire you, but first, his client, the brand manager at 7-Up, for instance, has got to say yes. The agency will ensure that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together into a perfect presentation. Your portfolio is sent to the client looking pristine, resume attached and a promo intact. It’s the recipe for a $500 per day booking to manicure a set of nails for a commercial or print job.

Hair, makeup, and styling agencies work just like modeling agencies. The cost of all that negotiation, marketing, and access to clients that you might not get on your own is about 15%-20% of each dollar that you make plus expenses. Expenses in this case amount to messenger bills, FedEx, promo cards, and these days, a web page. You’ll need at least two custom portfolios as well, at about $160 each.

Approaching agencies for representation is like learning to dance. At first it can feel like you have two left feet, but once you’ve got the steps down, look out! Today’s market is full of agencies. There are over 25 in California, 65 or more in New York, 7 in Miami and a sprinkling of 3-5 in most major cities throughout the U.S. and abroad. Agencies want to see pictures. However, if you don’t have any photos, but you do have the gift of gab and/or a resume, then pick up the phone and go for it! Something like this usually works; “Hi, I’m a manicurist with (your salon name). I have a very flexible schedule and a kit that’s ready to go. I’d like to do some freelance work outside of the salon and was wondering when I could schedule an appointment to come in and meet with you.” Close the deal. Don’t pick up the phone to call an agency unless you know what you want and what you plan to say.

At the same time, if you get a booker on the phone who sounds like she’s tearing her hair out, give her an out. Acknowledge that she sounds really busy and ask when would be a better time to call back. The key here is to call back exactly at that time. When you get the booker on the phone, say, “Hi, this is (you), the manicurist, you told me to call you back today.” Now the bill’s in her court.

Since agencies want pictures, what do you do now? When Julia Palmer wanted to get her foot in the door at the Four Seasons, she offered the management staff free manicures. She’s been there for eight years. “The key to success is dependability” says Julia “When the concierge pages me, I must respond in 10 minutes or I could lose the job. Mine is not the only phone number she has in her Rolodex. They need people who they can count on. The biggest complaint I hear from the staff at the Four Seasons about new people that they try out is attitude. I’m here to tell you, a bad attitude is the best way to find yourself removed from the computer at the Four Seasons.”

Can you work without an agent? Yes and no. Manicurists work without agents all the time. Julia Palmer started her freelance business by forging a relationship with the concierge at some of the upscale hotels in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. She set her rate and negotiated her fees. But when she got a call from Janet Jackson’s people to work on her latest video, “It Doesn’t Really Matter,” and the management tried to low-ball her day rate, she was glad that she could tell them to “Call my agent.”

“It’s she best job I’ve had to date,” says Julia, “but when I told management that my rate was $650 a day they said, ‘Oh, we’ll never pay that.’ I even went down to $450 a day to meet the rate of someone else that they said they’ve worked with. The situation just got worse. They called and said they wanted me to work for less. I just said no.

“There are times when you have to stand your ground,” she continues. “After the video started, I got a call. Janet wasn’t happy with who she was working with and wanted me. This time I turned the booking over to my agency. They got me the rate I wanted, plus overtime. I worked for three days and made over $3,000.”

How Much Can I Earn?

Rates vary from one job to another. But, in general, here’s what you can expect. Editorial rates (amounts paid to artists for work on magazines) are typically $150 per day for one million plus circulation publications like Vogue, Elle, and Essence, to $350 per day for lower circulation publications. The greater the exposure, the less you get paid. Why? Simple. Magazines sit face out on newsstands and editors of high-profile publications know that their magazine pages in you book can boost an artist’s day rate just by their mere presence. At the agency, we waited with bated breath for the release of the July 2000 issue of InStyle magazine with Halle Berry on the cover. Our hair stylist Neeko is her personal favorite. Not everyone has an Instyle cover in his or her portfolio. That cover empowers us to raise the artist’s rate by another $500 per day for commercial jobs. When the client asks how we can ask fro that kind of money (Neeko makes in excess of $3,000 per day as a hairstylist.), we say, “Just look an his book. Look who he works with. Don’t you want someone on your team that works with this caliber of talent?” Then you just wait. Sometimes the client will say yes. Other times they’ll want to negotiate.

A manicurist can expect to make $350-$600 per day on TV commercials and print ads for the first 10 hours. There after they are paid time-and-a-half for the first two hours and double overtime for the remaining hours. Music videos are usually based on a 12-hour day.

What’s commercial? Just about anything that isn’t editorial, including TV commercials, advertising print jobs, music videos, and catalogues.

Getting Started

Just about everyone in the business tests or assists to get started. Tests are free. As I mentioned earlier, a test is a collaboration between a hair, makeup, fashion stylist, photographer and manicurist who all come together for a photo shoot that will produce pictures that each person can put in their portfolio with the intent of generation paid work for themselves. Test! It’s the way to get pictures. The goal at the test shoot should be to get 12-15 great photos in your book that you can send or take around on appointments to get work. The process usually takes anywhere from six months of biweekly testing to two years of sporadic testing.

Assisting is an effective way to get experience on photo shoots. Often a key manicurist will have several people to prepare in a short period of time and needs help to ensure that everyone can be ready for the camera on time. Agencies maintain assistant lists. The key is to ask to be a part of it and call weekly to find out what’s going on. The creative websites I mentioned earlier also list the names and phone numbers of my hairstylists, makeup artists, and manicurists who don’t have agencies. They too can be called about assistant work. The key to assisting is persistence and follow-up. If someone tells you to call him or her back on Wednesday, don’t wait until Friday. Call on Wednesday and show your reliability.

After a few successes, you may wonder if it’s time to quit your day job. Julia Palmer says no. “Listen, freelance work in nails is growing and it’s a lot of fun, but I wouldn’t quit my day job in the salon just yet. You don’t get booked every day and when it’s editorial you’re getting paid $150. When the magazines and production companies start hiring us as often as they do makeup artist and hairstylist, then I’ll be on the set every day. Until then, I have the best of both worlds, I get to work on the set and I get to work at some of the finest hotels with some of the most amazing people in the world,” she says. Good Luck!


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