Local sisters excel in artistic endeavors, leading one to Oscar

Date Published: 
March 7, 2014

Coastal Point • Submitted photos: Melanie DeForrest, left, worked on the Oscar-winning make-up crew on the set of ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ while sister Maria DeForrest, right, (with daughter Chloe) has successfully pursued photography while remaining right here in Sussex County.Coastal Point • Submitted photos: Melanie DeForrest, left, worked on the Oscar-winning make-up crew on the set of ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ while sister Maria DeForrest, right, (with daughter Chloe) has successfully pursued photography while remaining right here in Sussex County.“I’m working on an amazing movie,” Melanie DeForrest texted to her sister, Maria DeForrest.

“At first, I didn’t make much of it,” said Maria. “Mel is always passionately enthused about her projects.”

But the monthly texts continued, “No, this one’s different,” then “There’s Oscar buzz,” then “It’s gonna to be a game-changer for Matthew (McConaughey)!” And, finally, nearly a year later, it was, “Oh, my goodness — the makeup department got nominated for an Oscar!!”

In response to which Maria posted on Facebook, “A HUGE day for my sister, and I just had to share because I’m so proud of her and how far she has come. Dallas Buyers Club made it to the top three for ‘Best Makeup’ and is an official nominee for the 2014 Oscars!!!”

Indeed, both these two Sussex Central High School graduates have much to be proud of.

Last September, Maria, a Milton resident and owner of Maria DeForrest Photography, was heralded as Delaware Photographer of the Year for 2013 by Delaware Today magazine. She had been nominated by the public, and her work was ultimately selected by a panel of East Coast fashion industry experts.

“September is one of my busiest months as a wedding photographer, so I didn’t really have time to get anxious,” said Maria. “But my nerves finally kicked in while my husband and I were waiting for the winner’s name to be announced that evening. It was surreal.”

Maria is older than Melanie by 18 months. Along with their brother, Joel, they all grew up in a Sussex County family in which art, music and independent thinking were valued and encouraged.

“Although we were close in age, we really had very different interests early on, but we both ended up having a love for storytelling,” said Maria.

Melanie’s love for art and creating characters had her concentrating her school years in the art classroom. Shortly after entering the ninth grade, the theater program’s director asked her to take over the makeup department for the highly respected program. That’s when her eyes fully opened that her dreams of becoming a makeup artist could actually happen.

Maria’s love for storytelling evolved into her photography, where she isn’t your typical wedding photographer. Her family sessions are in a “day-in-the-life-of” style, and her wedding photography focuses on a documentary approach that allows her to capture the honest, emotional story of her couples and their families.

Melanie spent a year after high school continuing to volunteer her skill and time at Sussex Central High School and other community theater programs, while also applying to the top school in the country for makeup and special effects: the Makeup Designory in Burbank, Calif.

While in school, she gave herself a goal of only taking jobs that pertained to her craft. Unlike those who waited tables to survive, she focused on her passions, such as making prosthetics in special-effects houses and working on film and television sets.

After high school, Maria attended the University of Delaware and Salisbury University, from which she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in fine arts, and shortly after started a family. In 2006, Melanie came home to the family for a vacation. It was then, when she was full of energy and excitement for her new career, that she chided her big sister.

“‘You’re living in a bubble,’ she told me,” recalled Maria. “You need to start your own business. Get on MySpace and promote your talent.”

“It didn’t take long for an old classmate to see my page and samples of my photography and ask me to shoot her wedding. It took that push from my sister to make me realize what was possible, even though I had Cameron, my little guy, in tow.”

Maria is now celebrating not only her most recent award but also her accomplishment of being a working artist, a businesswoman and a mom for seven years.

“It’s mind-boggling at times,” said Maria.

In the meantime, Melanie had steadily been making her name known in the movie industry on the other side of the country. According to the Internet Movie Database, or IMDB, she now has more than 50 film and television credits to her name.

After six years in Los Angeles, Melanie made the move to New Orleans, La., known in the industry as “Hollywood South.” In fact, about a third of the country’s movie production currently takes place there after favorable tax incentives were introduced to benefit the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

“My decision to move from L.A. to La. was not easy, but it felt right. I was ready to make another big change in my life, and with some support from friends already living in New Orleans, I packed my bags and my huge makeup kit and made a leap of faith,” said Melanie.

When Melanie received the call from makeup department head Robin Mathews to work as key makeup artist on “Dallas Buyers Club,” she had no idea what a challenge it would be. They had a very low budget, minimal time and shot with only natural lighting. With no set lighting, extra eyes were placed on the makeup department to create amazing work.

“It was like a frenzy of talent. We didn’t have time to think, so we just had to trust our artistic instincts,” said Melanie.

According to Maria, her sister has never been fazed by celebrity and rarely gets hyped about the actors with whom she is working. In fact, Melanie told her that McConaughey was so into character that it was only at the very end of the production, when he was shaving his mustache off, that it finally hit her that it was him, the actual Matthew McConaughey!

When Melanie found out about the Oscar nomination, she said, she was speechless, realizing her dreams were coming true. She got a call from Mathews, who explained how it all works: The Academy looks at the movie as a whole, for makeup and hair, and only two names (usually the department heads) are put on the ticket.

Thus, for “Dallas Buyers Club,” Mathews’ and hair department head Adruitha Lee’s names are on the ticket, and they will actually attend the ceremony.

“I’m so happy to have worked with such talented and amazing artists. Working side by side with both Robin and Adruitha was an amazing experience,” said Melanie.

Mathews also praised Melanie in subsequent industry interviews, and in a personal note to Melanie, she wrote: “You are one of the most beautiful people, well-rounded makeup artists and bad-ass workers I have ever had the pleasure of working with. You always have your eye on the prize and know you will succeed, but never at the expense of others. I so wish the makeup world was filled with Melanies! Congratulations on our Oscar nomination. There is no one I’d rather share this honor with than you.”

One person who has known the DeForrest sisters since they were children is family friend and former neighbor Nina Cameron. She remembers them being kind, unassuming and inquisitive and has not been surprised by either of their achievements and honors.

“They knew that if they wanted to make it in life, nobody was going to do it for them. They had to go after whatever it was that would make them happy and successful. And they’ve done that in such good and positive ways,” said Cameron.

Excitement has been growing in the DeForrest home. Little Chloe (Maria’s youngest) is enamored with Auntie Mel. For Christmas, she received her own play makeup kit, adorned with a glamorous photo of her heroine, and she recently took it for show-and-tell in her kindergarten classroom. She hoped for a late night on March 2 and a front-row seat in front of the television to watch her auntie’s movie become a winner.

“And the winner for hair and makeup goes to ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ Robin Mathews and Adruitha Lee,” proclaimed the announcer at a little after 9 p.m.

“Sweet baby Chloe was actually awake to hear that Auntie Melanie’s makeup team WON…can’t stop smiling!!!!” posted Maria, immediately after, on Facebook.

To read more about Maria DeForrest and see her work, go to her blog www.mariadeforrest.com, and to keep up with Melanie’s newest movies, visit her page IMDB.com and follow her on Twitter @Ipaintppl.