Conversations with Atlanta's Movers and Shakers, Makeup Artist, Elena Miller
In January, we were fortunate to connect with makeup artist Elena Miller. Elena has experience working in film, theater makeup, effects, bridal, beauty fashion, and editorial.
Atlanta Film and TV: We shared a little bit about who you are, but could you tell us about who Elena Miller is, and what it is that you do in the Atlanta Film and TV community?
Elena Miller:I am a makeup artist who was inducted into the local 798 Union last year, which has opened the world of storytelling to me. During undergrad, I majored in Biology. Science is an integral part of my work as a makeup artist. When I look at faces, I see more than an artist's perspective. I see the facial structure, musculature, bones, zygomatic arch, and the orbital of their eyes. With my knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, I plan how I want to paint a face, which is especially useful when creating a different look, doing prosthetics, or adjusting anatomy or structure. I love it when I am working with an actor or director who allows me to be creative because my ultimate goal is to help them become the character they are portraying.
Elena takes us on her journey of how she started to where she is today.
“I have always been intrigued by the sciences and thought I would become a neurosurgeon. Growing up with ADHD, I was interested in the brain and wanted to understand why mine worked differently. My high school biology teacher, Mrs. Barksy, was incredible. She encouraged me to pursue my interest in the sciences. When I graduated from high school, I decided to attend St. Olaf College, a liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota. After the science building at St. Olaf College, I fell in love and decided to pursue a biology degree. Despite my love for performing and involvement in theater-related activities, I chose a biology degree instead of theater which did not make sense to my mother. She often asked me, ‘Girl, why are you trying to be a doctor? 'You are a storyteller!’ However, I am grateful for the exposure of pursuing a biology degree as it proved that I am capable of anything.
- Elena Miller
After graduating from St.Olaf College, I took a break and moved back home. During the holiday season, I worked at Dick’s Sporting Goods, and across the street from the store was Ulta Beauty. It was then that I decided that I liked makeup. Growing up with two Caucasian lesbians who had revolutionized their peers, I had never watched them do their makeup. I remember wearing eyeliner and mascara to school, and they would ask me if that was the look I was going for and why I was trying to make my eyes look smaller. At the time, I was trying to fit in, but now as a makeup artist, I realize how silly it was. I learned how to apply makeup through OG Beauty YouTubers like Michelle Phan, who described the looks without pushing products. During the early days of YouTube, it was about artistry and not product promotion.
After learning to apply makeup, I bought my first naked palette from Sephora, and everything looked pretty. Once I started working at Ulta, I could indulge my curiosity, artistry, and creativity and justify my spending with my employee discount.
Atlanta Film and TV Growing up, did your parents recognize your love of the arts, and if so how did they nourish your gift to facilitate growth?
Elena Miller: Both my moms have always supported my theater dreams, and to this day, will say, ‘I don’t understand why you got a biology degree. You should have gotten a theater and history degree.’ When I decided to pursue makeup, my mom was kind enough to cosign my student loan so I could attend The Vancouver Film School and study Makeup Design for Film and Television.
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you talk to us about your experience working with the Vancouver Film Industry?
Elena Miller: I love Vancouver and the indie film community because there are many opportunities to grow as filmmakers. The Vancouver film industry is underutilized and often referred to as a 'service town.’ American broadcasters and streamers tend to go to Vancouver to produce their content because it is cheaper and because of the tax credits, but some of the best content is produced in Vancouver.
Atlanta Film and TV: What was the deciding factor to relocate to Atlanta to work in the film industry here?
Elena Miller: As much as I love Vancouver, there was a lack of diversity. It was the same growing up in Minnesota. Both places have diverse communities, but they were not my people. The people did not accept me, or I wasn’t finding them. If I did find them, I was alienated, causing me to be frustrated.
I wanted to move to Atlanta because I knew the type of people would be those I’ve never encountered to be mean or rude. Everyone said the south was where you’ll find people with the ‘Southern Charm.’ There was a time before when I would say that I couldn’t live in the south, and my mom would tell me, ‘don’t go live below the Mason-Dixon line! They live differently down there! However, in 2020 when Georgia was flipped blue, I was like, ‘Oh! Maybe I could live in the south! I do, however, know that most of the state is red, and the cities are blue. Being raised in the Midwest wasn’t like I was trying to be political - because my whole life has been political! When I moved to the south, I asked myself, ‘do I feel safe here? Are there people here who look like me? Are there more people who look like me than those I grew up with?’ I was happy because I could answer all this with a definite ‘Yes!’ I thought, let’s try this and see if it would be a safe place for me to be, a Latina and a woman of lesbians. I was worried about being in the south, but my husband happened to get a job in Atlanta. He’s fully remote, and the headquarters for the company he works for is based here.
I wanted to move to the south because I never desired to move to LA. Everyone would tell me, ‘go to LA! You’re going to love it!’ I would always ask, ‘with what money?” I also knew I didn’t have the Kardashian level of money to fall back on. I understood I could make a lot of money in LA, but we aren’t the ones making it! Also, it was the type of energy I felt from LA people. Some are awesome, and I love those people from LA who are artists. However, some people from LA come to Atlanta and think they’re better than others because they live in a different area code. Honestly, I didn’t want to be around those types of people and knew I had a lot of things I needed to work on within myself. When I finished The Vancouver Film School, there was no way I could move to LA because I would’ve
felt like a little fish in a big pond - and a microorganism in a massive ocean. No one would want to work with me because I had no experience and I didn’t have any connections.
I wanted to move to the south because I never desired to move to LA. Everyone would tell me, ‘go to LA! You’re going to love it!’ I would always ask, ‘with what money?” I also knew I didn’t have the Kardashian level of money to fall back on. I understood I could make a lot of money in LA, but we aren’t the ones making it! Also, it was the type of energy I felt from LA people. Some are awesome, and I love those people from LA who are artists. However, some people from LA come to Atlanta and think they’re better than others because they live in a different area code. Honestly, I didn’t want to be around those types of people and knew I had a lot of things I needed to work on within myself. When I finished The Vancouver Film School, there was no way I could move to LA because I would’ve felt like a little fish in a big pond - and a microorganism in a massive ocean. No one would want to work with me because I had no experience and I didn’t have any connections.
For our full conversation, click here
Atlanta Film and TV: You relocated a few times. What would be some relocation tips you would have for someone who is looking to relocate to Atlanta, GA?
Elena Miller: If you are relocating to Atlanta and are a makeup artist or hairstylist, please reach out to me! Kim Jones, one of the heads of Local 798, helped me to relocate and was gracious enough to give me the name of her realtor. Our process took six weeks, and it happened quickly! I understand this is not the case for everyone, as most people have different budgets and want to live in various locations throughout metro Atlanta. My advice to those relocating to work in the film industry, is to look for centrally located places. Although, this can be challenging because of the cost. Try to live in areas like Buckhead, Inman Park, Edgewood, or the Old Fourth Ward neighborhoods. During the last year and a half, I have driven long distances for work and filming in Macon, Madison, Fayetteville, and Newnan. I couldn’t imagine living in Alpharetta and having to work in Fayetteville; you would spend at least six hours a day in your car! People are hesitant to live close to the city because they think it’s dangerous or expensive, but if you choose to live farther out, you’ll spend that money eventually on your commute. My husband and I pay a lot more, so I don’t have to drive the car as much - and it is worth it!
Atlanta Film and TV: Would you recommend someone coming out of high school to attend a program like yours at The Vancouver Film School?
Elena MillerWhen I attended The Vancouver Film School, I was 26 and had already attended a university. I got my life skills by moving in with my boyfriend, who is now my husband. To attend The Vancouver Film School, you must be 18 and have a high school diploma. While I was there, there was an array of people attending and ranged in age. The level of maturity and the ability to do well in my classes were apparent based on age. It didn't matter if those students were smart. It was about how people prioritize their needs. When you go to college, you can learn how to study better than those who may not have had that opportunity in high school. Your high school may not have focused on test-taking, or maybe your school wasn't great, or maybe you didn't have great teachers, and you might not have learned how to study. Maybe your expectations are different. Most people can coast through high school, but I wasn't one of those people because I struggled and knew that makeup school would be hard. I prepared myself for it not to be easy and was ready to study hard. I was also 26 and had more life experience than many classmates. I honestly believe that attending The Vancouver Film School would be challenging to do right out of high school. There were a few classmates who could do it, and I'm impressed with how far they've come. However, no one who was right out of high school and in my class went directly to work in the film industry. They are all doing something different. It's not to say you can't go straight through makeup school and work in your passion. I have a friend who is 21 and went through makeup school right out of high school and is doing great!
I would encourage someone right out of high school to attend The Vancouver Film School. I would also encourage them to acquire life skills and live on their own. Some people do well in middle and high school with life skills and are independent; I say go for it. But, if you are someone who loves the comforts of home and don't know how to cook, I would suggest giving yourself a couple more years. Work at places like Ulta or Sephora and learn to be a salesperson because the film industry is a business. As a makeup artist, you should know how to sell your skillset to producers and production managers if you want to be hired. You learn a lot when you work at a makeup counter, such as working with the general public. You'll work with people with a range of emotions, including those who may yell at you for no reason, those in bad moods, and those who may have six children running around! These are vital skills you should have when working in the film industry because it will often feel like you have six children running around you when talking with producers! Learning life skills will give you personality and allow you to gain traction. It also provides you with communication skills essential to keep the film industry running. If you don't know how to communicate, don't become a filmmaker because you'll struggle! If you can't express what you want or cannot get your needs met, it will be hard.
Atlanta Film and TV: Out of all the artists you’ve done makeup for who
would you say was your most favorite client and why?
Elena Miller: For NDA purposes, I won’t reveal the name of the artist I worked with. This person is an actress with whom I connected and bonded in various ways. As a teenager, I watched her on a TV show I loved and never thought this person would alter my way of thinking. Nonetheless, I had many great conversations with her in the makeup trailer. She always brought powerful and positive energy to the set and was kind and compassionate. What set her apart from everyone else was that she was aware of what was happening around her. Despite the chaotic environment, she remained calm and professional, on top of her game, and knowledgeable about her role. She knew how to communicate effectively with people, and her ability to treat everyone from the Executive Producer to the Production Assistant with respect made her a pleasure to work with. I am excited about the future of her career, as I believe she will do amazing things for a long time to come, and I know I will be fortunate to work with her again.
Atlanta Film and TV: If I were to interview 18-year old Elena and tell her about all the wonderful things she’d become, what would you least likely believe to be true?
I would tell my 18-year-old self it's okay to be different and unique. Embrace the things about yourself that bring you joy, and keep doing those things. Don't let anyone tell you should either be a doctor or a lawyer. Don't do what you're not passionate about. If you're not ready to make sacrifices, that's okay. You will find your passion. Life is too short to do something that makes you miserable. Within the past year, I lost my sister to suicide and my mom to COVID-19. It's not worth doing things that don't make you happy. I would also tell my 18-year-old self not to worry about going to college to get a biology degree and instead pursue theater. I would say to find my favorite play, stand on the stage, and perform a monologue how I want. Tell my story how I want because no one will be able to tell it the way I can. I'm the only one who knows my story. If I don't write my narrative, someone else will.
- Elena Miller
Atlanta Film and TV: Do you have any G.E.M.S. you would like to share with our readers and viewers?