Orientation 2018: Jessy Diamba

Video: Academy of Make Up Arts

Jessy Diamba‘Music City’ school prepares students for careers behind the big screen
by Jessy Diamba

NASHVILLE, Tenn.__Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, Julia Gallimore dreamed of working in the movie industry.

Planning for her post high-school education, she searched for institutions that could combine her love of makeup with her budding artistic ability. “I wanted the city vibe, but I didn’t want (one) as busy or as expensive as New York can offer,” she says.

Gallimore decided to enroll in the Academy of Make Up Arts (AMUA). Opened in 2008, the school’s 6,000-square-foot facility houses labs for special effects, a wig and hair design program, a makeup shop, beauty studio and photography space. The campus is located minutes away from downtown Nashville, a city known for a different type of artist: musicians.

Students Sydney Riddle, left, and Natalie Logan apply makeup to models’ heads at the Academy of Make Up Arts (AMUA) in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: Jessy Diamba)

“There is a legitimate makeup school here that is geared towards beauty, TV, film and theater,” says Ernie Passwaters, AMUA director of admissions.

“Students don’t have to go all the way to L.A. or New York,” he says, adding that a majority of enrolled students come from outside Tennessee.

Students at AMUA aren’t instructed only in the art of makeup artistry. They also have lessons in business subjects, including freelancing. “They’re taught how to network, how to build their website, shoot head shots, make a portfolio, taxes,” says Passwaters. “I don’t see too many schools doing this.”

AMUA’s mix of small classes and always-changing curriculum is what led Michael Meyer to move from North Carolina to build the school’s newest program in wig and hair design.

“Compare a university to an ocean liner: it doesn’t make any sharp turns, any change in direction has to be planned two to three years in advance,” he says, after trying to create classes elsewhere in wig design for more than 15 years.

At AMUA, he feels like he’s cruising in a Ferrari. “It goes much faster here, which is awesome,” Meyer says.

Programs at AMUA range in duration from eight to ten weeks for studying current beauty trends to five months for courses like Meyer’s wig and hair design or the school’s program in special effects makeup.

Ben Rittenhouse, instructor and AMUA director of special effects, describes his profession simply: “It’s like we’re a paintbrush for the director to use.”

He continues, “I’m a monster kid; I grew up watching ‘Godzilla,’ and that just rolled into watching behind the scenes, seeing the guys build the Godzilla suit, and thinking ‘Oh, that’s a job.’ Someone goes to work and does that every day.”

Julia Gallimore sets hair for a class in wig and hair design at AMUA. (Photo: Jessy Diamba)

Rittenhouse, who has taught at AMUA for four years, went on to win an Emmy in 2010 for his work in “The Pacific,” an HBO miniseries on World War II. “It was a great honor to work on that,” he says. “The Emmy was just icing on the cake.”

Gallimore is enrolled in Rittenhouse’s class, in addition to studying wig and hair design, and can hardly describe the feeling of a project well done.

“Watching your piece come together and be what you had pictured in your mind is so rewarding,” Gallimore says. “I can’t even express how much it affects the way you appreciate your skills.”

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