‘It’s our duty to dismantle film’s gender pay gap for women of the future’

Hair, make-up and prosthetics designer Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou, known for her work on Rocketman, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Mummy and more, reveals how her experience of gender inequality in her industry has made her a passionate advocate for women in film

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in the industry for thirty years. I started as a trainee at Thames Television, but left nine years later to carve out a career in film. I cut my teeth on films like Notting Hill and Wimbledon.

Once I started designing, the first film to really make an impact on me was the BAFTA award-winning film An Education, directed by Lone Scherfig and starring Carey Mulligan. Right from the outset, the film resonated with me because it reminded me of my own steely determination. The film was progressive because it shone a light on women’s issues whilst also acknowledging the naivety of youth, which gave it a human edge.

Next came Made in Dagenham, starring Sally Hawkins in the lead role of Rita, the unforgiving strike leader who took Ford to the wall. Dagenham was bittersweet because it served as a reminder that despite the efforts of women throughout history, a gender pay gap still exists in many industries, including my own.

Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou on the Rocketman set
Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou on the Rocketman set
Lizzie tends to Taron Egerton on the Rocketman set

Growing up, my dad always told me never to let a man tell me I wasn’t equal, a belief I carried through into adulthood. Like Rita O’Grady, I have always fought for equal pay with my male colleagues and that’s not something I’m going to stop any time soon.

It’s not always easy though – producers follow a rule that you have to disclose your earnings from your last project, so it’s sometimes a struggle to get the same pay as men, especially when you haven’t earned the same as your male counterparts in the past.

The most important aspects of our job as hair, make-up and prosthetics happen away from the camera. It starts with months of preparation which involves numerous meetings with the director and producers, the cast and crew – before the real leg work starts. That involves period research, referencing, then submitting preparatory sketches and ideas for each characters’ journey as well as assembling and training your core team. This leads to character make-up tests on actors and later test shoots. Having specific pieces made, dying and cutting wigs, making prosthetics and moulds, creating rotas for each character’s look in each scene…the list goes on, and that’s before we even get on set!

When the cameras do start rolling, I’ve got to make sure that I stay one step ahead. After all, we are the liaison between the actor, directors and producers, so it is crucial for me to understand the director’s vision, and then work with other departments such as costume, lighting, choreography and set design to get the job done within the parameters and style of the shoot.

Lizzie Yanni-Georgiou on The Mummy set
Lizzie Yanni-Georgiou on The Mummy set
Lizzie - pictured on the set of The Mummy - believes the film industry is on the brink of change, but still sees a lot of progress to be made

There is so much to take into consideration on set, from the order and number of scenes on the call sheet to the type of movement required from the actor – especially if there are dance numbers or lots of stunts. (Actors’ doubles and stunt performers have to look exactly as our actor.)  Other considerations include how it will be filmed, what angles the cinematographer will go for, how it will be lit, what colour schemes will be used on the set and what the actor will be wearing.

I learned early on that it isn’t enough to simply be good; you’ve got to be exceptional. It’s up to us to create a look which will help the actor tap into their character. There is a huge element of trust which exists between yourself and the actors you look after because you’re working closely for up to six hours a day. You become a very important part of their process from the moment they arrive to the moment they are ready to leave.

We have a duty to pave the way for the next generation

Over the course of my career, I have always strived to make sure that I work on the projects which really speak to me. It is a unique privilege to be a part of cinematic history. But beyond this, we as creatives both above and below the line have a duty to make sure that we are being progressive not only in our artistry, but in paving the way for the next generation. For me, this is about encouraging more women, of all backgrounds, to break through into the industry.

Why? Because I know first-hand the struggles we face in gaining the recognition and respect we deserve – and that goes for women in every industry. For me, being not only a woman, but also a second-generation immigrant with no industry contacts meant that my route into film was paved with obstacles. It was only with resolute determination that I managed to get a foot in the door.

When I finally did manage to break through, I realised that there is still so much to do before women are considered truly equal to men. It’s something I see again and again: when a man negotiates his fee, he is considered commanding, but when a female creative negotiates more pay, she is demanding and problematic. How are female creatives expected to come through and thrive in that kind of environment?

There is still so much to do before women are considered truly equal to men

I’d like to think the film industry is on the brink of change. We’re seeing signs of it, but ultimately, change starts at home and filters up. We all have a duty to inspire our sisters, daughters, nieces, and cousins to dream big. Teachers have a responsibility to recognise artistic flair and encourage girls in their creative endeavours as much as in their academic curriculum.

And beyond this, the baton of change rests with industry professionals, who need to recognise that creatives do not just exist but are developed and supported from trainee upwards. It’s up to our leading filmmakers to speak directly to the next generation of women to let them know the doors of the film industry are open.

Maybe then, we’ll start to see more women coming through who will be fully aware of their professional value, and who will stand up for their worth like some of our favourite cinematic heroines.

I am pleased to be able to be a part of The Big Issue’s Big Raffle, which supports their vendors while they aren’t able to sell on the streets. Enter to be in with a chance of winning an exclusive hair and make-up session with me.

Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou is an Academy Award and BAFTA nominated hair, make-up and prosthetics designer, best known for her work on Rocketman, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Mummy. She is also a film and TV producer, and co-directs Feracity Films with her writer/director daughter, Alannah Olivia.

Lizzie’s next film is Edgar Wright’s hotly anticipated Last Night in Soho. It stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie and Matt Smith, and will hit cinemas in April 2021.