Article by Jimmy Strater
Last Saturday night Universal Orlando hosted their annual Halloween Horror Nights Media Boo Camp. What is Boo Camp? They take folks from the media and make them into scaractors. No that is not a typo. A scaractor is just that, a scare actor. Being a video producer for Orlando Attractions Magazine is super cool and a lot of fun, but I jumped at the chance to get out from behind the camera and into the unbelievably huge show that is Halloween Horror Nights. Here’s how my night went.
I arrived at Universal Studios general office building with my photographer/videographer and main cool dude of Attractions Magazine, Publisher/Editor Matt Roseboom. I was feeling pretty good because although Universal had invited us both to the event, only one of us was going to get transformed into a scaractor. Matt had asked me earlier if I wanted to do it. Well of course you know my answer to that. I don’t remember the exact words I used when he asked me but I think it was a very enthusiastic yes, only using some other words we can’t publish. Needless to say I was very excited!
We entered the lobby where a few other lucky media folks were already waiting. They were talking about all of the cool things at Halloween Horror Nights and trying to guess which which scare zone we’d be placed in. All of the conversations were a bit foreign to me because I had never been to Halloween Horror Nights. Yes, that’s right, I was a Halloween Horror Nights virgin.
We took a van around some backstage streets, zig zaging around sound stages and other cool stuff mere mortals never get to see. Just driving around backstage at Universal is a cool experience and it was really getting me charged for what was to come. We arrived at our destination and then the fun really began.
We were met by Universal show writer and designer Mike Aiello. Mike greeted all of us, told us a few stories and then revealed what was to come. We were going to be zombies in Zombie Gras scare zone. After we powered up with some sandwiches, we were sent to wardrobe where we were fitted with marti gras parade costumes, only these one looked a little different. They were covered in blood – awesome!
Then we were sent to makeup. The transformation began. It only took about 20 minutes or so to get my mombie makeup applied to my face and hands. My make up artist was Brian. While Brian transformed me, I asked him a few questions about being a makeup artist. I asked if he was really into it as a kid and dreamed to do it when he grew up. He said not really. He wanted to be a stunt man when he was a kid. He then told me he got a bachelors degree in fine arts and didn’t want to work in a gallery.
Brian works full time at Universal and spends about half of his year working exclusively on Halloween Horror Nights. So Brian did make it to showbiz and he is an incredible makeup artist.
I was one of the first media people to get made up, so I had some time to kill while I waited for the others. This was the perfect time to develop my character. I went over to the prop box and found a severed head. I became a brain-craving flesh-eating freak. As I waited, I walking around trying out my bit on the PR folks from Universal and anyone else hanging around. I was getting some good reactions and the folks from a Spanish TV channel even asked me to be in the video they were producing about Boo Camp.
Now I was all warmed up, literally. I was getting pretty hot inside my costume of shiny long sleeves and pants. Almost everyone was dressed and walking around moaning like zombies and laughing. It was time for one last pep talk from the Universal design team. They told us that we would be among their professional scaractors and not to worry. Then we learned the story of the Zombie Gras scare zone and how to act like a zombie. We received a demonstration on how to scare the crap out of people and then we were turned loose on the guests.
We did a 30-minute session in the streets, jumping out of the fog at guests, screaming, and anything else we thought zombies would do, except actually touching the guests. That’s off limits.
I saw a lot of other zombies jumping into people’s space and startling them. That looked pretty fun so I gave it a try. I think the first person I tried it on was a big dude. He just looked at me and I thought he was going to kill me like some kind of zombie hunter. I quickly went to plan B. I became the severed head eating zombie and it was a hit. Tons of people would walk through the fog and spot me pretending to eat out of the neck of the severed head I was carrying. I would then hear comments like “Sick” or “That is so nasty”. Although I wasn’t very scary, it was very gratifying to be entertaining the guests in my own way.
The 30 minutes rushed by in what seemed like five minutes. We were summoned off stage by a zombie code word and it was over. We all got back inside and our Universal hosts asked if we had a good time. Everyone cheered. Then came the best question of the night: “Would you guys like to do another set?” Are you serious? They didn’t even need to ask. I don’t think anyone passed up the chance to do it again. After a short break and a couple of cold bottles of water, I was back in the streets eating brains.
I know I have a cool job covering all things theme parks, but being a scaractor is a very close second!
Here’s a video of my time at Boo Camp:
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