Chicagoan Steykine Wills, a hair stylist who works full-time for the locally-produced television drama Chicago Fire, sees helping to create characters as a central part of her job.
“Depending on if a character appears disheveled, for example, we have to make them appear that way,” Wills explained. “We have to read the script and make sure that the hair coincides with what the character has going on.”
Wills grew up on Chicago’s South Side, and is a graduate of Myra Bradwell School of Excellence, Simeon Vocational High School, and McCoy Barber College. She had long wanted to use her skills in the film and television industry.
“I had always been interested in doing it—I just didn’t know how to do it,” Wills said. “There were no programs to show you how to get in.”
But a co-worker began working in local film and TV productions and, in 2018, referred Wills to a department head for the HBO series Lovecraft Country.
“From there, I just started building relationships and just started getting callbacks and people asking me to work for them,” she said.
Wills worked steadily on a number of local productions, among them Chicago P.D. and season 4 of Fargo. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit Chicago, and her work ceased on March 12, 2020.
“‘Two weeks ended up being six months,” she said. “I was off for those six months, just sitting around. But then I started doing online classes, trying to keep up with work, learning different things and doing classes to occupy my time. It was okay, but a little depressing.”
She was brought back to finish up the filming for Fargo, which halted mid-production, and then, in March 2021, landed a full-time position with Chicago Fire.
Most days, Wills is now assigned a different actor to work with. She’ll prepare their hair ahead of shooting, then later go with them to the set and help look after them to keep up with the continuity of their scene over the course of shooting.
“So, for example, if we have someone with long hair, we have to make sure it’s in the same position,” she said. “So we watch the monitor via our iPads and make sure that everything looks the same.”
She said that she was “ecstatic” when she was voted into International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 476.
“I hear a lot of stories about people who were trying to get into their union for years, but it only took me a year,” Will said. “I remember the day. I was riding my bike by the lake and I got a call, and they said, ‘We want to vote you in.’ I was so excited.”
For those looking for a path forward doing hair styling for film and television production, she advises, “Make sure this is something you really want to do. It’s different from being in a salon. You have to dedicate yourself to learning all you can learn… Try to get all of the knowledge that you can before you even get into the business. It’s about a lot more than doing hair—it’s about learning what goes on a set and learning the set lingo. The most important thing is to do your research.”
Launched in late 2021— with a second round of applications opening this summer— the Chicago Made workforce development program offers job training and placement to Chicago residents ages 24-50, primarily from underserved areas, to help meet the industry’s increasing demand for skilled workers. The program is an initiative by the Chicago Film Office at the Department of Current Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and the XD-TECH consultancy.
NBC Universal, Netflix, The Walt Disney Company, and Warner Media provide on-set training for the program. A number of local firms and organizations, as well as unions IATSE Local 476 and Local 600, have provided support as well.
A record 15 productions filmed in Chicago in summer 2021, bringing with them nearly $700 million in economic impact. The Chicago Made program links projects such as those with workers from across the city.
This series, from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), asks Chicagoans in the film industry to share their experiences. Learn more at ChicagoMade.us and join the conversation on social media using #ChicagoMade.