Photography by Arielle Scherr.
Grimacing, hobbling and snarling are not techniques traditionally employed by fashion models hoping to garner praise on the runway, but at the second annual Gore Fest Beach Party—a zombie fashion show that took place on Saturday, May 5, in the Garment District of Sarasota—they may have been considered essential maneuvers by those hoping to be crowned undead catwalk royalty.
Clearly, this was not a typical fashion show. Models arrived at the warehouse around 3 p.m. for a lengthy makeup application process and a number of practice runs before strutting onto the catwalk at 8 p.m. to the sounds of pulsing electronic music, decked out in studio-quality zombie makeup and effects worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster that contrasted starkly with their casual swimsuits and beach attire. The overall impression of the show was that of a spring break party gone horribly wrong—but there was far more to it than that.
The primary motivation behind the pairing of two performance elements as different as fashion modeling and horror films was to raise support for the Backroom School of Film and Art 501(c)3 nonprofit, an after-school program founded by Executive Director Paul Gruber to provide high school students with affordable, hands-on training in the production of films using professional equipment. Gore Fest, which was coordinated by Gruber, also served as a preview to SRQ Fashion Week, which will take place Oct. 21 through 27 and will also be coordinated by Gruber as the primary fundraiser for the Backroom School.
Besides being a fundraiser and an opportunity for young and aspiring fashion models and film industry makeup artists to demonstrate their talents in a fun, unusual setting, Gore Fest was an opportunity for young talents to meet and interact with people they might not normally have gotten to work with. “I’ve never been a zombie before,” commented model Anashi Sterling, 25, in an interview with This Week in Sarasota, before sitting down for makeup. “I’m kind of afraid to see what I look like.”
Other models, including Sara Knollinger, 18, who drove from New Smyrna Beach on the east coast of Florida to participate in the fashion show, were more curious about the concept. “I’m excited,” she told TWIS while preparing for the event. “It’ll be different.”
Whether they are closer to nervousness or excitement, the emotions exhibited by the models before and after makeup can often be inspirational to the artists responsible for the transformation. “It’s all about other people’s reactions to what you’re doing,” remarked Gore Fest makeup coordinator Greg Baker. “When you make somebody up and you’re done, and all of a sudden they look in the mirror afterwards and they’re blown away … that’s the thrill.”
Some makeup artists in attendance really appreciated the social experience: “My favorite part … has really just been to interact with the models and learn about different people and their stories,” professional makeup artist Danielle Denski reflected in an interview.
Gore Fest created an opportunity for networking within each industry as well, particularly for those working or aspiring to work in film or special effects. “It’s really cool finally getting to meet other people that are in the field because, in this area, we’re few and far between,” stated Denski, who recently contributed her skills to the independent films Free Ride, starring Anna Paquin, and Blind Pass, which was featured in the Sarasota Film Festival this year. Her inspirations for her work in films and in this year’s Gore Fest include effects artist Tom Savini and director George Romero, both known for films such as Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead.
Denski and the other makeup artists contributing to Gore Fest worked under the direction of Baker, a 30-year veteran of the special effects and film industries in Florida, who runs his own company called Divine Imagery. Baker has worked with directors Quentin Tarantino and Dick Smith and has completed work on productions for director Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. “I create something live that’s seen on camera … that’s what inspires me, is to keep the live alive.” Baker’s advice to young people that want to get involved in film and special effects is to “learn the traditional, old stuff first. At least get some kind of background on it, then grab your computer and apply it.”
A condensed version of that process is what Gruber teaches in the Backroom School program, which costs $150 and consists of 24 hours of training given over the course of a week. During this time, students are required to complete a short film later to be posted on Vimeo, a community that allows registered users to upload high-quality videos online for free. “We teach kids how to make movies in a positive, drug-free, safe environment,” Gruber told TWIS. When asked about his inspiration for founding the school, he said, “I wanted to create something for the community. I have a philosophy that giving starts the receiving process … I think it’s important that people have things to do that they’re passionate about doing.”
At the end of Gore Fest contest on Saturday, the passion of the makeup artists and models could be sensed in the excitement of the crowd when the judges announced tie winners for first place: models Sara Knollinger and Nicki E.
For more photos from the Gore Fest Beach Party, check out the photo gallery at the bottom of the page!