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By Emily Bontrager
In the 1990’s, Sandra Jo Johnston started working as a makeup artist on both movie and TV productions.
Sandra grew up outside of Memphis, Missouri and she graduated from Scotland County High School in 1979. She continued her education and attended the Kirksville College of Cosmetology.
Her parents are Jerry Johnston, who passed away in 2007 and Darlene Johnston of Memphis, Missouri.
In 1985, Sandra decided to move to Nashville, Tennessee where she still resides. When she first moved to Nashville, Sandra did not know anyone in the area.
“I ended up working in a salon for a while, but I wanted to do something different and not work behind the chair. I saw the Nashville Network and thought ‘Oh, they have hair and makeup people and that sounds fun,’” Sandra said.
Sandra eventually ended up working in theaters as a makeup artist.
“I did a lot of theater at the beginning and that’s how I got my name out there. I did the opera for 12 years,” Sandra explained.
“It was fun and there was a lot of character stuff. It gave me an appreciation of the opera and of people taking care of their voices.”
As she started getting her name out to more people, Sandra started working on film sets.
As a freelance makeup artist, Sandra has worked with lead actors, commentators, and background actors on multiple TV and movie sets.
Some of the TV networks she has worked on in the past have been NBC Sports, CNN, CBS, and Fox.
She has worked as a makeup artist for the CBS New Year’s Eve Show, the 2017 Stanley Cup, the St. Louis Cardinals 2013 World Series, the 2022 CMT Music Awards, the 56th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, and many other projects.
“I like the variety of people that I meet and the variety of projects that I work on. It’s nice to work with the big sports, because they have so much energy at the World Series and the Stanley Cup. They’ve worked hard as both teams to get there and you just feel that energy between the team and the fans,” Sandra said.
Some of the big movie productions Sandra has worked on have included The Help, The Mist, Walk the Line, and Big Fish.
Sandra has also worked as a makeup artist on Killers of the Flower Moon, which was just released this year. The film was directed and produced by Martin Scorsese and the lead cast includes Lily Gladstone, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Robert De Niro.
“I day played on it, meaning that you do background. So, all the townspeople you see and all the people in the courtroom, we did all those,” Sandra said.
“The cool thing about doing the background on that particular film was it’s a true story, and they filmed where that happened in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.”
Sandra’s job requires her to travel to movie and tv sets across the United States. Some of the places that Sandra has traveled to have been Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Kentucky.
Being a makeup artist can take up a lot of your time. Makeup artists are on the movie sets anywhere from a few weeks, a month, or even longer. It all depends on how big the movie is and how many scenes need to be filmed.
“When you work, it’s not like a 9 to 5 job. You are still going until the thing is finished for the day. You can never plan anything,” Sandra laughed.
One of the most recent movies that Sandra has worked on was Miller’s Girl, written and directed by Jade Halley Bartlett. On the film set, Sandra was the Department Head of Makeup and applied the makeup for the lead cast.
“As department head you are talking to the director to see what he wants and you are talking to the costume designer to see what color palette she and the production designer are going to put out there,” Sandra said.
The lead actors in this movie included Jenna Ortega, who is well known for Wednesday, which was released on Netflix and Martin Freeman, who has starred in the tv series Sherlock and The Hobbit trilogy.
“They are both as sweet as could be. Martin is fun to work with and he has that British sense of humor,” Sandra laughed.
Sandra has worked as the head makeup artist a few times before and is also credited as a key makeup artist, assistant makeup artist, and makeup artist on IMDb’s website.
One of Sandra’s favorite types of movies to work on as a makeup artist is period movies.
“You are in those sets and the cars are all period and the people with the hair and the outfits and it takes you back. You start wondering, what was I doing or what were my relatives doing in that time period,” Sandra explained.
Like every other industry, the movie scene is changing. Sandra has some advice for those who are thinking about getting into the business.
“I’m not sure how AI is going to change the business, so if you are thinking of getting in the business, I would definitely keep your eye on that. Definitely take some classes to know what it can and can’t do because movies may end up being made strictly into a computer,” Sandra said.
Sandra has really enjoyed her time working as a makeup artist and has met a lot of friends along the way. You can look up all of her work on imdb. com under her name Sandy Jo Johnston. Sandra will be working on the upcoming CBS New Year’s Eve Nashville Big Bash. Be on the lookout for more of her work in the future.