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Zombie 101 or What I learned from covering Universal Studios Florida's Media "Boo" Camp

Zombie 101 or What I learned from covering Universal Studios Florida's Media "Boo" Camp

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Earlier this month, the Universal Orlando Resort invited JHM to take part in their Media "Boo" Camp. Meaning that one lucky representative from this website got to be a Universal scare-actor at this year's Halloween Horror Nights for one evening.

The last time I went to HHN for JHM, things did not end all that well for me (I had weeks of nightmares afterwards. Not days. Weeks). But my husband, Max, really wanted to do this assignment for the site. So I agreed to go along and take pictures while he got made-up as a zombie and then lurched out into the streets of Universal Studios Florida to frighten people. I just hoped that my camera would provide sufficient protection against all those scare-actors who weren't Max and then wanted to scare me.

Stage One of Max's make-over. He gets issued his Zombie Gras costume.
Photo by Jaime Schilling

After we arrived at USF, we were escorted to Lombard's Seafood Grille (which is this restaurant located in the San Francisco's Fishermans Wharf section of that theme park). Where we were then taken upstairs for make-up application and zombie lessons.

All of the would-be scare-actors who were taking part in this year's Media "Boo" Camp event were costumed in a "bloody" version of Universal's Mardi Gras costume. They put this loose-fitting garment on over their street clothes and then took a seat in the make-up chair. Where (as you can see by the photos that I'm using to illustrate today's article) they had their make-up applied via airbrush.

Stage Two: Max sits down in the make-up chair ... Photo by Jaime Schilling

The make-up process took about twenty minutes or so per person. And some of the reporters had "prosthetics" applied in order to mimic scars or loose flaps of skin.  After some of the teasing that I've received from Max in regards to bad department-store makeovers, I made sure to take lots of pictures of Max's new look.

After everyone was dressed, and all make-up was applied, they were then given a prop (normally a bloody head, limb or some other grisly accessory) and given instruction in Zombie 101.  Being any type of zombie -- from George Romero's slow-moving "Night of the Living Dead " ghouls to "28 Days Later " 's souped-up undead  --  was considered appropriate.  What was suggested to Media "Boo" Camp participants was that they swoop in from below or from the sides to scare someone.  But what was especially crucial was that they never touch the Guests and/or linger too long in that Guest's personal space. You see, many people - when frightened - will slap that other person directly in the face.

... where one of Universal Orlando's talented make-up technicians uses an
airbrush ... Photo by Jaime Schilling

And after this acting lesson, Max and the other members of this year's Media "Boo" Camp were sent into the street in front of USF's "Disaster!" attraction. Which - for this year's Halloween Horror Nights - had been redressed as the Zombie Gras scare zone. Where scare-actors dressed in Mardi Gras-style costume would lurch out of a thick wall of man-made fog and do something to frighten passers-by. Or sometimes just do something silly (One pair of performers periodically broke out into a jig-type dance to the song "Feet Don't Fail Me Now").

At one end of the scare zone, a Mardi Gras parade float had "crashed" with one lone human survivor still onboard, trying to fend off this legion of zombies.  This Universal Orlando cast member gathered a pretty large crowd, because every so often he'd toss out beads.  Some of the scare-actors in our group discovered that the perfect time for a scare was when the Guests were entirely focused on catching a set of beads.  Others focused on scaring people in the fog, or at the exit of the Zombiegeddon house in front of us.

... to etch some horrifying lines & hollows onto his face. Photo by Jaime Schilling

After two half-hour shifts of working a zombie at this year's Halloween Horror Nights, Max shared these impressions of his experience with me:

Fundamentally, your goal for the evening was to frighten people. With the Holy Grail being the elusive "triple scare."  Which is what happens when a scare-actor swoops in front of you to scare you, and you scream that short, startled scream.  Then another comes at you from your periphery, causing you to turn and be scared again.  Then a third comes at you from behind, and you can see him just from the corner of your eye when you startle toward the second scare-actor, making you whip around, shriek in pure terror, and mentally shut down.  (Or that could be just me).

Which left Max looking like this. Photo by Jaime Schilling

Jumping out from behind a "harmless-looking" zombie is also an acceptable scare.  One of our fellow Media "Boo" Camp scare-actors was calmly eating "brains" from a fake skull  on a bench.  Once a small crowd was drawn in around him to watch, I'd swoop in from behind to scare the living daylights out of them.

Stretching before you  lunge is important.  I actually pulled a muscle in my left leg because I lunged with my  left when I normally walks with my right. (Jaime's note:   I don't know. I don't pretend to know. I'm just glad I wasn't one of his "victims").

Then it was time to hit the streets ... Photo by Jaime Schilling

People surprisingly really like zombies.  I must have had my picture taken more than twenty times with various Guests over my hour-long scare-actor shift.

Drunk guys with their girlfriends, and teenage boys with their friends are the worst.  These two groups are "too cool" to be scared. More to the point, they think that it's great fun to mess with the scare-actors.

Back to Jaime now ...

Where Max had a great time scaring the crap out of
people. Photo by Jaime Schilling

And where was I while Max was having such fun scaring Halloween Horror Nights Guests?  Um ... Parked on a bench WAY off to the side with another photographer & a couple of UOR Cast Members for  protection.  Where I learned the hard way that :

  • Even when I tried hard to pretend that I was not scared, my fear is obvious.  And the zombies smelled it the way a dog smells fresh meat.
  • Being surrounded by Universal Cast Members is no guarantee that a scare-actor wouldn't come up behind me and then scare the bejeepers out of me.  And when that happens - they laugh.  They always laugh.

And once that was done, it was time to head back to
Lombard's Seafood Grille for a change of wardrobe
and a refreshing beverage. Photo by Jaime Schilling

  • Putting my back to the fence surrounding the lagoon, so that no one can come at me from behind?  Also not safe. Whichever idiot thought that those loud whooshing jets of flame over USF's lagoon was a good idea, obviously didn't take into account my increased state of jumpiness.
  • Finally, contrary to my hopes prior to the event - the camera was no impediment to being scared.  By the end of the evening, Max had lost his voice from scaring Guests. And I had lost mine from shrieking in fright.

By the way, Max and I weren't the only couple to have a somewhat unusual evening at Universal Studios Florida during this year's Halloween Horror Nights. Check out what April Richardson & Adam Cochran did back on October 15th.

Happy Halloween everyone!

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