BEING AUTHENTIC OVER BEING PRETTY

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JOPIE SANCHEZ

In the past six years that I’ve been doing hair and makeup, I often get asked what my favorite job experiences are.

I have several memorable moments, and I was thinking of sharing some of the more apparent ones from time to time.

Hair and makeup isn’t exactly the kind of thing personalized in discussions. It’s a visual field and any lasting impact on an audience is based on what is seen. People think of it and take it in as whatever is on the surface, without realizing that there are stories behind the output.

Ergo, most assume that the experiences that have left an impact on me are attached to whoever celebrity or artista I was able to work on. This flusters me because they are all just faces—all beautiful, but just canvases for me to work on. Nothing leaves me dumbfounded more than the question of “Sinong artista na naayusan mo?”


I don’t really remember things based on how famous people are, unless their work has awed me at one point or another. I guess the people I fangirl over aren’t the usual icons. I find this to be an asset working on film because it makes me more productive. Perhaps it is also something I conditioned myself to adopt in the name of efficiency.

Working in film does have its own thrall though. An allure apart from the typical rubbing elbows with celebrities that people think of. Maybe it’s the film buff in me, but nothing quite compares to working on a film set.

Working in film has its own allure. Sometimes it involves doing intensive research that allows you to delve deep into culture.

The first film I ever worked on was back in 2014 for Cinemalaya’s 10th year. It was called K’Na the Dreamweaver by Ida Anita del Mundo.

Apart from being the first film I ever worked on, it was my first time to actually be away from Manila for a prolonged time because of work. We were on location in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato for two weeks. We would shoot almost everyday, with a one day break in between.

I met Ida for a project through another good friend. I was just starting hair and makeup then and we did a small company AVP about health and wellness.

One time she posted about a trip to Lake Sebu, to which I commented about how I have always wanted to go there since high school. So, when she came up with her script for K’Na, which made it to Cinemalaya X, it was a no-brainer that she asked me to be part of the crew.

I would have done the job for free. But of course I didn’t tell them that because two weeks without pay for a freelancer is like prepping the noose from which you hang from. I got paid anyway. (Yay!)

Yet, here we go with the cliché — no amount of money could compensate for the enriching experience. Which, it truly was.

K’Na was a period film based on the T’Boli tribe of Mindanao.

While prepping for it, I had to do actual research in libraries and museums because there wasn’t a lot of material online for reference. I enjoyed researching. I liked knowing that whatever I was going to do would actually matter with how the story would unfold. I liked being liable for how authentic something would feel onscreen.

This matters because one of my pet peeves when watching a film is how true it stays to the story. I get frustrated when people choose to be pretty over looking authentic in films. I’ve long since managed my expectations, but as much as possible, this is what I aim for as a hairstylist and makeup artist.

I had to come up with a tattoo based on textile patterns and existing images from pre-colonial Philippines.

Prior to the actual shoot, I had to learn how hair is traditionally styled for the T’Boli. We also familiarized ourselves with the hairpiece or suwat for women and turban or putong the men would wear; when they are worn, and how. Hair and makeup worked side by side with the wardrobe and costumes department to make sure everything stayed true to the T’Boli culture.

Single women would have hair parted down the middle and framing their face while the rest would have hair tied in a special knot. Once they get married, all of their hair is pulled back into the knot.

I had so much trouble following how the knot is done, that I spent time practicing on our room curtains after we settled in. Everyone else was busy and nobody had hair long enough to practice on.

Makeup was generally no makeup, makeup. Except for the wedding day scene.

Apparently, T’Boli women put on special makeup for celebrations.

They put red dots on their cheeks and color their lips with berry stains and draw a black line out of charcoal down the center of the lower lip.

It was something new to me, to discover these traditional concepts of beauty. It made me wonder about all the other tribes existing in the Philippines and what their idea of beauty is.

The challenge to all of us at the Art Department was how to translate that on screen with whatever was available to us. From sourcing out costumes and materials that would come closest to what was originally used and building structures from scratch. I was so proud to be part of that department and to have worked with people who had the same intent in making sure we stayed true to the culture.

That experience taught me that no matter how jaded I was with how often authenticity is overlooked with local films, there is hope and it really depends on the people you work with. After that I make it a point to choose to work with people who share my same sentiment when it comes to filming.

Substantial work opens us up to new ways of thinking and accomplishing things. You come out of it more knowledgeable and able. It makes you better. Better at what you do. Better as a person.

Those are the kind of job experiences I file under favorites.

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