Getting into Hollywood, the citadel of filmmaking in the world, is an ideal or a dream that many a young filmmaker or creative artiste yearns for. Getting into Hollywood is a fiercely competitive affair that many hopefuls spend years upon years trying to find an opening.
Just four years ago, Forreal Joe Osei Mensah, a film makeup artist, was also entertaining such dreams, as he plied his trade as a makeup artist in Ghallywood (Ghana’s film industry).
Forreal, as he was popularly called, was one of the best, if not the best hand around when it comes to Film Makeup and special effects , winning the Ghana Movie Award for Best Makeup in 2012 after having been nominated for the same award in 2010 and 2011.
He also earned African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) nominations in the makeup and special effects category in 2010 and 2011. He had also earned ZAAFA Awards nomination and NAFCAA nominations in 2012 and 2013.
Today, Foreal is not applying make believe wounds or beards on Majid Michel or John Dumelo, nor is he looking for the most appropriate hair piece for Kyeiwaa or Yvonne Nelson.
He is a makeup crew member for big budget Hollywood productions featuring top notch Hollywood royalty such as Idris Elba, whom he met on the set of ‘Dark Tower’; Will Smith, Jared Leto, Viola Davis on ‘Suicide Squad’; Jessica Parker on Black Sails pirate drama series and Tom Cruise etc.
Speaking in a telephone conversation from a Hollywood film set, the 34 year old makeup artist cum actor attributes this uncommon opportunity to the Grace and favour of God. ”It is only God” he kept repeating. But of course, Forreal had prepared for this opportunity.
The dream to work in Hollywood was first ignited in him by an American friend, Amy Belinda Chan, who saw his makeup and special effects abilities on the set of Punctured Hope, a Canadian production shot in Ghana and told him he could aspire to work on a bigger, international stage.
He travelled for the first time to the US together with Amy. However things did not work out that time. Being of a resilient spirit, Forreal came back to work in Ghallywood whiles still eyeing Hollywood.
Forreal came back to the US in 2013 and since he was very eager to continue working in the entertainment industry as he was doing in Ghana, he registered with talent agency for actors.
He was lucky to be called up after a while for a role in a TV commercial. Whiles getting ready to film the TV commercial, he had another call up from another agency for a background role. When he got to this second opportunity, he was told he would have to lose his beard, something he was not ready to do since he was under contract to film the TV commercial with that particular look.
As it became evident he would lose this second acting role, he pleaded with the producers to try him as a crew member in the makeup department. He showed them photographs of some of his works in Ghallywood and the producers decided to give him the chance.
He discharged this role so well that he was accepted into the fold. One job led to another and another until he was taken on by a renowned makeup and special effects company which had a constant stream of jobs on top Hollywood productions. Forreal has broken through!
As more crew work came his way, so did minor acting roles and he played stunt roles as well. “I have learnt a lot and I continue to learn” he says. He explains that makeup and special effects are a big deal in Hollywood, having several sub departments such as prosthetics (the department that builds false skin and limbs) and pyrotechnics (gunshots and explosions).
“Nothing is taken for granted” he says,” depending on the special effects demands of a movie, we could take weeks or months to prepare for a shoot, building everything required in our workshops, making sure they are built to calculated specifications.”
This dream job is taking Foreal round the world. He has been to Kazakhstan, Morocco where they filmed parts of the upcoming new Prison Break series; South Africa where Black Sails and the award winning The Crown drama series is being filmed and also Namibia, where parts Mad Max was also filmed.
Asked where he sees his future headed, whether in front of the camera or behind it, Foreal says he would continue to work both in front of the camera and behind it.
“I don’t like to be idle, so whether it is work in front of the camera or work behind the camera that would keep me busy would roll with it.” Foreal says he is working hard to be proficient in all aspects of the craft. He does not limit himself to any particular aspect.
“I have learnt welding, how to operate and mind wind and smoke machines etc.” Asked whether he would be willing to come home to Ghana to transfer skills to the new crop of filmmakers coming up after him, Foreal says “Why not, When I can find the time, I would be very glad to do that”
Forreal is currently discharging his skills on the latest installation of the Maze Runner franchise. Some of the other successful productions that Forreal was part of is Conjuring 2 ($320 million worldwide box office gross), Ghostbusters 2016 ($229million box office).