A.I. and the Hairstylist

When I sent an email to hairstylist Dean Banowetz, it contained the subject line: “An Interview about A.I.”  and he assumed I meant American Idol, because Banowetz, “The Hollywood Hair Guy,” has been creating hair looks for competition shows like American Idol for 23 years.

But what I wanted to talk about was Artificial Intelligence or A.I., and its impact on the hairdressers who work on-set, styling for film and TV. (Our conversation took place two weeks after the Screen Actors Guild (SAG)-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) theatrical, TV, and streaming strike went into effect.)

“We have had a lot of Town Hall meetings with The Make-Up Artists & Hair Stylists Guild (IATSE Local 706), our official labor union,” Banowetz shared, when I asked how things were progressing. “One of the concerns involves digitizing background actors, paying them for a half day, but using their image and likeness in perpetuity and without additional compensation.” That could also mean that hairstyles, makeup, and wardrobe could be swapped out using A.I.

And that, Banowetz says, is why SAG is working to create an appropriate contract for actors. “It’s important to establish some kind of foundational agreement and governing rules. There are a lot of people who don’t even know what A.I. is, yet, because it doesn’t directly impact them, but it will in the future. Ultimately, there are going to be two types of people: those who use A.I. and those who are left behind.”

Because Banowetz’s focus is competition reality shows, they can’t A.I. that. “It’s a separate contract. When you have a reality component, with real people and a competition, you can’t have A.I. interfere with that. Those live human experiences of rooting for a human being are crucial.”

Camille Friend, an Oscar-nominated hairstylist who visited our Artist Session: Creator Series in Los Angeles, a live photo shoot education and content session,  says she uses A.I. programs to research in preparation for a film. “A.I. is a tool we can use, and I tap into it for learning about different eras, civilizations, and areas of the world,” Friend says. “A.I. is here, it’s not going anywhere, and we must figure out how to co-exist; we have to come up with a new set of rules for a new technology.”

Like Banowetz, Friend says it’s important to think about how A.I. could impact the work done by hair/makeup teams on films. “We don’t know where we’re going to land on it, yet. Yes, A.I.  could change the way that we work, but I do know that we are intimately connected to actors and their process,” Friend adds. “I have heard so many actors say that sitting in the hair and makeup chair is where the character starts for them, and you can’t take that away from our actors.”

Future Proofing for Stylists

In addition to her work on-set, Friend is also an educator; she launched her education program, Hair Scholars, to share her knowledge, and to teach techniques she has been using in her work.

 “I was showing people how to do things they didn’t know how to do or they didn’t get a lot of practice or a lot of exposure to so everywhere I went, I would find myself teaching. When I was working on Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I did a class for my whole department and Marvel paid people to come to class because I needed to make sure people knew what they were doing. But I really enjoyed it and it was a passion for me. That is when Hair Scholars was born.”

Knowing the nuts and bolts of hairdressing is, Friend believes, the way forward and the way for stylists, on set and in the salon, to future proof their careers.

“The bottom line is going to be about skillset,” she says. “As hairstylists and makeup artists we must continue to evolve in our skills.  We have to know all different hair types, textures and lengths.  We need to know how to work with all different skin colors, corrective makeup, special effects makeup. These skills will keep us employed because the better we are, the better jobs are open to us.”

Friend also instructs her students in how to negotiate their deals.  “People who work all the time are working because of the skills they bring to the project, as well as the attitude and energy. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve.”

Banowetz has launched his own education for beauty pros who aspire to work in film and TV.  His Set Hair 101 Boot Camp takes place in a loft space in Hollywood.  During this 3-day program, students learn everything from on set language and lingo, on set etiquette, how to set up their kit, all the way to some very hands-on instruction in wig fitting and design, and even how to work with agencies and/or managers.

“Hairstylist will always be better than A.I. at the foundational and one-on-one aspects of looking at face shape, and-- based on texture and length--determining appropriate styles,” says Banowetz. “Our Boot Camp provides that hands-in-hair instruction.  Plus, A.I. can never replace the human connection and community.”

Using A.I. to Create

Finally, for a beautiful example of how embracing A.I. allows artists to refine images faster and easier, read our online story written by artist Tucker Cinalli. Using A.I., he says, “means you don't have to wait for a big budget, a new tool, a new space, or to make the right connection to create relevant art within your respective realm. The goal is always to build a team because truly everything great is a team effort, but as artists we must remain resourceful, and what A.I. provides to us all, is access.” 

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