A Day in the Life of a Hair Department Head

Posted on: Sep 08, 2022

A hair department head working with an actress on set.Photo Credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

By Cat Elliott

For this installment of A Day in the Life, we’re featuring someone whose IMDb page boasts titles like the Netflix series Locke & Key and V Wars, as well as Andrew Semans’ Resurrection. Stefanie Terzo has worked her way up through the industry to become the hair department head for such projects, and she virtually sat down with Casting Networks to provide a window into what the position entails. Keep reading for a look at an average day in Terzo’s life during both pre-production and filming, which includes the changes caused by Covid.

Photo credit: Megan Vincent, courtesy of Stefanie Terzo

It’s nice to virtually meet you, Stefanie, and could you start us off with an overview of what your role entails?

My job is to create the looks for the film or series in regard to hair. That starts with figuring out the tone of the project, as well as the feel of it. For example, is it dark and moody or upbeat? I read the script and attend production meetings to figure out those aspects, and then it’s a matter of creating the specific looks for each character. That is usually a collaboration between the hair, makeup, and wardrobe departments. From there, we’ll bring in the actor and see how they’re feeling about everything before going on to do camera tests. That’s a general overview of what I do, but overall, my role is to bring the vision of the network and filmmakers to life. Maintaining continuity throughout the entire feature or series is a big part of that, as well.

Thanks for sharing that. It’s helpful context for understanding what an average day in your life looks like, starting with when you’re in pre-production on a project.

Those days involve a lot of the production meetings that I mentioned, which typically include the other heads of departments, as well as the directors, producers, and other creatives. Everyone comes together to break down the project, scene by scene. It’s really cool to get a window into everything that is going to play out on screen, whether it be an action sequence with cars or something bloody happening. I’m figuring out the characters’ hair looks along the way, and once that’s decided, I start making wigs or hairpieces if they’re needed. If actors don’t live in town, I’m sending them off to get their hair colored as necessary. I love doing it myself, though, if they’re nearby. That way, I can ensure the color comes out exactly how I imagined it.

I bet that’s preferable to someone else trying to execute your vision.

We can always tweak the color when the actor gets to location, which is totally fine, too. Then I get the actors prepped, which includes finding out what products they like and if they have any allergies or prefer vegan products. That’s the gist of pre-production, getting everything ready so that you’re all set for camera tests. At that time, we’ll typically do a few different looks on each actor. Those get sent off to the powers that be, and they’ll pick which one they like best or greenlight all the looks you’ve done. From there, we can go into principal photography knowing which looks we’ll use for the various scenes.

That’s a perfect segue into my next question. What does an average day look like for you during production?

I’ll start by saying that hair and makeup people are typically first in and last out. We usually get to set 15 to 30 minutes before our first actor arrives, and they come at least 30 minutes before crew call. I begin by looking at the scenes we’ll be shooting, going over the day’s looks and how many changes we may have for the actors from one block to the next. Then our first actor comes in, and we get them ready for their first look. We go to set with them and watch rehearsals to see how the scene works and how their hair is moving. It may sound like a small thing, but it’s important their hair starts the exact same way every take. That way, we can set it for the appropriate position if there’s a pickup shot.

I can only imagine how difficult it would be to maintain continuity with hair.

Right. There’s really never any downtime because we’re constantly watching the monitors during filming, keeping track of what we’re seeing. For example, if there are three takes where the actor’s hair is one way and then it changes on the fourth take, we have to make a note. It’s usually just a matter of letting the continuity person know, even though they most likely caught it. We’ll normally shoot for around six hours before breaking for lunch. In between takes, the actors will have needed touch-ups, and they definitely do after the break. Then we’ll go back to shooting for another six hours before the day is done. After filming wraps, we still need to de-process the actors, which can mean anything from taking out hairpieces to washing fake blood out of their hair. Then it’s a matter of cleaning up and getting everything ready for the next day before going home.

​Wow. That’s a long day! What about Covid? How has it changed the way you work?

There was definitely a learning curve at the beginning of Covid. For example, we at first were wearing white masks underneath face shields, but that created a glare from the light bouncing off the clear plastic that made it hard for us to see. So, then we switched to black masks in order to fix that situation, but there were still a lot of things to figure out. Trying to get rid of flyaway hairs is another good example. You’d see one pop up on an actor in between takes but ran the risk of creating 10 more flyaways from trying to remove it with gloves because of the static they cause. There was a lot of trial and error happening at the beginning, but I’m grateful that none of the productions I worked on had to shut down due to Covid because everyone did their part. And one positive effect of the pandemic was that most productions now allow you to watch the takes on an iPad, rather than having everyone huddle around a monitor at video village. That’s for everyone’s safety, of course, but it also allows us to easily screenshot images to keep track of continuity, which is a big improvement.

Before the interview wrapped, we asked Terzo if she had any advice for those interested in pursuing a career in the hair department. “Never stop learning,” she replied. “Be a team player — everyone has to work together to make the entire thing run smoothly.” Those interested in a further glimpse into Terzo’s work can find her on Instagram as @stefanieterzo, where she posts some behind-the-scenes content.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Originally published on Casting Networks. Written by Cat Elliott.

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