Gregory Hewett was walking down his hallway when he got the call. He answered, then dropped to the floor.
Twenty years and a thousand zombies, creatures, monsters and dead guys led Hewett to that one moment, shaking, propped up against the wall in his Kannapolis home.
Hollywood was calling Hewett and his special makeup effects talents to join the eighth season of the Syfy Channel’s No. 1-ranked show “Face Off.”
Hewett spent two years trying out for the reality and elimination show featuring the nation’s top special-effects contestants.
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“I really wanted to get on (the show),” Hewett said of the lengthy application process. “It is not easy to get picked, especially when you have not gone to any special makeup schools.”
Hewett eagerly submitted his portfolio, which included photographs and videos of his work that showcased his versatility across several genres: beauty, creature, gore and old age, among others.
Then he waited.
“I was outside making appliances (flesh-like pieces often made of silicone),” Hewett said, reflecting on the first phone call he received after he submitted the portfolio. “I saw it was a California number, and thought it was my friend who used to do my hair. ‘She must be moving back,’ ” Hewett said he thought.
“I picked it up. It was J.R. Pitman Casting,” said Hewett, who could not conceal his nerves and excitement about advancing to the interview phase of the process.
“My heart was more than skipping a beat. It fell out of my chest. I was jumbling my words and kept saying, “Yes, sir.” He kept telling me, “You don’t have to call me ‘sir.’ ”
Hewett progressed from one round to the next, doing Skype interviews and speaking to producers. As a finalist, Hewett was flown to California and videotaped applying makeup on himself while surrounded by the scrutinizing and note-taking flock of production personnel.
The field was progressively whittled smaller and smaller, and he was still in. From more than 200,000 applicants, Hewett hoped to be one of the 15 chosen as the cast for the 2015 season.
“If the phone rang and it said ‘California,’ I answered,” said Hewett, whose calls continued for months.
Thinking back on the words that glided through his phone and launched him into a surreal experience, Hewett could only compare it to an epiphany.
“You are no longer a finalist,” Hewett recalled hearing during the final phone call. Most of his 36 years had been consumed with chasing a dream and his passion for special effects makeup. That passion began in elementary school with a makeup kit, an imagination and a tad of mischief.
The years of learning and crafting and slowly clawing his way into the industry suddenly collapsed into a joyous avalanche of perspective and fulfillment in one moment, when he heard the simple words from Hollywood: “You are an official contestant on season eight.”
“I set and actually achieved a long-term goal, and I was at that moment when it was accomplished,” Hewett said. He soon joined 14 other special-effects artists from around the country for the videotaping of the show.
“Face Off” aired on the Syfy Channel on Jan. 13. Although Hewett was eliminated in the second episode, he carries no regrets.
“I’m happy that I was a part of the competition. I think it helped me to keep true to my passion and not sweat the small stuff,” he said.
“I’m taking from this experience that no matter how good you are, you’ve just got to get even better each and every day and never quit,” he said.
Hewett continues, without reservation, to act as a mentor to rising special effects artists and anyone with a passion for the trade.
He remembers asking questions and sending letters to leaders in the field during his childhood. He approached his icons at conventions, always to be turned away, ignored or told that they could not reveal trade secrets.
“I always told myself that if I ever made it to the point where people looked up to me, I would never, ever shut a door in someone’s face or keep a secret from a fan,” Hewett said.
“I love kids. There are some things I value more than money, and one of those things is helping people.”
Hewett owns his company, Gregory F/X, and does special makeup effects for television, film, theater, scenario and live events.
He also offers classes in effects makeup and enjoys working with students of all ages.