GALLOWAY – When he was young, Philip Harrah loved to watch old movies with his three brothers and parents, relishing the actors who were transformed into pretend characters with special effect make-up. He also enjoyed building model cars and dinosaurs with his father.
Now, the 25-year-old has combined his interests and is part of the SyFy TV show, "Face Off," participating in elaborate challenges for a grand prize and the honor of being Hollywood's next great special effects make-up artist.
Harrah, whose father is the Rev. Charles Harrah, associate pastor at The Lighthouse Church, Court House, is part of the show's Season 12, which kicks off 9 p.m. June 13.
While he's not allowed to share details about the show, its challenges or its participants, he is "glad he did it. It was a fun experience," he added. "In the professional world, there's mixed reaction to the show and its participants. It's (special effects make-up) an industry that you really have to earn your spot.
"I just tried to stay as humble as possible," he said about his experience. "The same Phil that I am with family and friends is the same Phil I was on the show. They asked me in the beginning if I was a good guy or the villain, and while I can't control the editing, I was the same goofy and funny person that I always am."
The show was filmed last fall after auditions which took place over several months. Harrah said he kept waiting to be told he was finished, but instead, kept getting called back to advance to the next stage.
As one of 12 participants, he said show producers did "a lot of help to ease my nerves and make it a really cool experience."
He is the last person featured in a trailer for this new season.
The show follows the format of other reality competition shows such as "Top Chef," according to Harrah. Competitors are given the challenge to create a special make-up effect or character. Within a day or two, they have to put their creation on an actor and be judged.
"In the real world, you would have months to do what we did in two or three days," Harrah explained. "We might have a week to create a design. During the show, we had a half hour. You create the mold, or sculpture, paint. There's no time to panic; I just adapted to it. There's no time to second guess yourself; you just have to go, go, go."
Harrah said he was drifting after high school, trying to decide what to do with his life, when he gave some thought to the "one thing I would want to do if I could."
He said his background was growing up in an artistic family, combined with his interest in old movies, brought him to the idea of becoming a special effects make-up artist.
In October 2011, he enrolled in a makeup studio in Pittsburgh, Pa., but ran out of funds before finishing school, according to his father. However, he made some contacts who helped him find a job, including doing special effects for a Haunted House in Mays Landing. This job "snowballed" into others as his talents became known in the area.
A friend of his, who had been a "Face Off" contestant in a previous season, gave his name to the show's producers who reached out to Harrah and asked him if he would be interested in competing. After auditioning and showing his portfolio of work, he made it to the finals.
"Things really started after the show," Harrah said modestly. Now, he's working on the Marvel Comics series at Netflix, including the Punishers, an upcoming American web TV series created for Netflix based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. He's also designed a Halloween mask that debuts this fall at Spencer Gifts, Egg Harbor.
"He's just a preacher's kid who’s done good," his father said proudly. "It's amazing to see how humble he remains despite all the accolades."
Harrah said there would be weekly viewing parties of the show at the Dubliner Irish Pub & Grill, Galloway, and he invites friends, fans, and family to join him. He grew up in Galloway.
"They called us a family," he continued, describing his co-competitors. "We were together 24/7, with no breaks. There were no fake relationships. We're still in touch every day, and I do think of them as part of my family."
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