Freelance makeup artist Jade Brunes approaches her busiest time of the year  Halloween  while following her love for specialty makeup

Calamity Jade

When native Calgarian Jade Brunes walked onto the set of the independent film Battle Earth in September 2012, she had no idea that the experience would be life changing.

Brunes was there as a favour to a friend who worked with the small production company Rambunxious Entertainment. She spent her first day as a general production assistant, holding lights, running errands, moving gear and helping out wherever she was needed.

The next day, however, things changed. The lead makeup artist’s assistant cancelled at the last minute, and Brunes was asked to take her place despite having no experience with professional makeup. The job was a big one: a full alien prosthetic that took roughly four hours to complete.

Brunes was immediately hooked.

Calamity-Jade IMG 8476WEBJade Brunes, right, works on an alien prosthetic for the independent film Battle Earth in 2012. Her first experience with professional makeup, it made her want to pursue it as a career.

Photo courtesy of Jade Brunes“The whole time I was like, ‘This is a job? People do this?’” Brunes recalled. “I thought it only happened in Hollywood.”

That weekend marked the start of Brunes’ interest in professional makeup, and her career snowballed from there. She spent the next four months teaching herself with the help of YouTube videos, then she applied to makeup school the following January. “I thought, if I’m going to take this seriously, I need to jump right in,” she said.

Brunes earned her master makeup artistry diploma from Numa International Institute of Makeup and Design in Calgary, attending evening classes while still working full-time as an environmental consultant for the engineering firm Tetra Tech. Almost exactly a year after she worked on Battle Earth, she went back to Rambunxious Entertainment, this time as their lead makeup artist.

“After her experience with us on Battle Earth, she pursued her education and really built quite the portfolio,” said Ryan Hatt, co-owner of Rambunxious. “The guys I work with, we were all very impressed and we thought it was just a logical step to go with her.”

Calamity Jade Brunes applies finishing touches on the lead actor in The Hitchhiker, a black and white 1960;s thriller shot in Lethbridge, Alta. She was the key makeup artist during the shoot, which wrapped up in early October.

Photo courtesy of Stacey Ainscough, Stacey Rae ImagesNow 31, Brunes can’t believe how far she has come in such a short time.

“The last two years have been unreal,” she said. “A lot of people my age in the industry already have 10-plus years’ experience, so that’s another reason why I’ve been so driven and motivated — I need to play catch-up.”

Alongside her full-time job with Tetra Tech, Brunes picks up as much freelance makeup work as she can under her professional name, Calamity Jade. She chose that moniker because she liked the contrast of “calamity” against the stillness and serenity suggested by her given name.

While she says that most artists tend to specialize in one type of makeup, she handles everything from film projects, fashion shows and weddings to face paint and prosthetics. She also gains exposure by working conventions and expos around southern Alberta.

Hatt is impressed by Brunes’ progress. “It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I don’t know where she finds the time. She’s done really well for herself and she’s an inspiration to other people.”

While her schedule is always packed, Brunes says this time of year is her busiest.

“I started getting emails and phone calls for Halloween jobs in June,” she said. “I was booked solid well before summer was over.”

According to Brunes, “booked solid” means different things for her than it might for someone else. “It’s basically every waking hour around my job,” she said. “I work Monday to Friday, eight to five, and anything other than that is fair game.”

Calamity-Jade IMG 8236WEBIn her home studio, Brunes prepares client Tracy Slobodian’s face with a white base coat for a “sugar skull,” a look inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead.

Photo by Madison FarkasWhile Brunes is working toward acquiring her own professional studio space, this Halloween she’s working out of a makeshift studio in her Prestwick home. The extra cash that comes from Halloween jobs might be mini0mal, but the spike in exposure she gets is well worth the hectic hours.

“It’s not my source of income, so I’m not freaking out about making a ton of money, even during Halloween,” she said. “I get more satisfaction about seeing how stoked the clients are than about making money.”

While Brunes’ focus for the time being is exposure rather than money, her ultimate goal is to get into TV and film makeup, which she says is the only way she could turn her passion into a viable full-time career. She has already applied and been accepted to IATSE, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

Brunes now has what is called “permit status,” a transition stage during which she is on call for short-notice work with the big-name film and TV productions that come through Calgary when full members aren’t available. She has to complete 60 days of union work before she becomes a full member, which is her goal.

Calamity-JadeBrunes’ “Calamity Jade” logos adorn her 1985 Buick LeSabre funeral coach. Brunes is a member of a hearse club, and also uses the vehicle to transport her makeup equipment.

Photo by Madison Farkas“The hours are still crazy, but it’s steady full-time work, and the money is really good,” she said. “Eventually I see myself transitioning out of my full-time job and into that.”

Being a union member will also give her access to the wage protection, health care and other benefits. The challenge, Brunes says, is that IATSE’s standards are high and the application process is rigorous. She already had to go through theoretical and practical tests to get her permit status. “Something like only 10 per cent of applicants make it,” she said. “They want the best of the best.”

Brunes also wants to become a full member because the Calgary Economic Development recently broke ground on a new film and television studio. It is scheduled for completion in 2016.

“Once that opens, they’re predicting millions of dollars in projects,” Brunes said. “Film will be booming around here in the next few years, so I want to get in now and get used to it.”

Michael Gibney, IATSE’s motion picture business agent, says Calgary’s film industry will benefit hugely from the new studio.

Calamity-Jade Brunes turns a fan into the Star Wars villain Darth Maul at the 2014 Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. Brunes says she is looking forward to returning to the Expo as an exhibitor next year.

Photo courtesy of Jade Brunes“Right now, we mostly do westerns — farmland, mountains, that kind of thing,” Gibney said. “It’s outdoors-based. With an indoor studio, not only do we increase the length of our season, but we can take different types of shows.”

Brunes is getting into the business at a time when Calgary’s film and TV industry is on a definite upswing.

“We had one of our busiest seasons ever in 2014 and 2015 looks to be as good or better,” Gibney added.

Brunes wants to dispel the myth that makeup is an easy career. “I always say to people, do not get into the makeup industry if you have a faint heart,” she said. “The hours are insane, the competition’s heavy and the conditions can be really rough.”

This is especially true on independent film sets, where Brunes has worked long night shifts in below freezing temperatures, but she says weddings and fashion shows can be just as harrowing. “If you work only 12 hours a day in the makeup industry, it’s a good day, and if you can’t handle that, you’ll bail out pretty fast.”

For Brunes, though, the challenges come with the joy of doing something she loves. “I can be 18 hours on a set and totally exhausted but having a blast, or I can spend eight hours in my cubicle wanting to bang my head against the desk.”

She may have fallen into it accidentally, but in professional makeup, Jade Brunes has found a career that allows her to focus on her passion. Her next step is to complete the requirements to full IATSE membership and turn what was once a hobby into a full-time job. 

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