There’s no dispute that “The Walking Dead” is an incredibly popular show. When ever a TV show or movie is popular with the fans, it spawns a whole new group of cosplayers specific to that show. There are no rules to cosplay, originally coined costume play. Some people just go out in costumes for fun and some become mash-ups of all their favorite characters creating some very innovative outfits. Then there are cosplayers that strive for the most screen accurate wardrobe/weapon perfection as best they can, to recreate the character they love. These cosplayers spend a lot of time on ebay searching for the pieces to achieve the exact look, trading secrets like dying leather, how to build or sculpt a piece that isn’t for sale or the best way to make something smell good but look dirty. A group I’ve cosplayed with and consider my friends are in that later category. Since meeting David Schoelen and Paul Baum (Reel Guise Rick and Shane, ‘The Walking Dead’ cosplayers) at Wondercon 2014, I was impressed with the realism of their characters- so much that fans sometimes think they are the real actors. Since that convention their simple two person cosplay has grown into a super successful Walking Dead cosplay group, called The Reel Guise, that has gained love and notoriety all over the world.
After they came back from the New York premiere for Season 6 of “The Walking Dead”, I got a chance to talk to David and Paul and ask a few questions about The Reel Guise.
Zombie Examiner: When did Reel Guise form? What was the initial inspiration?
David Schoelen/Paul Baum: “We both had been big nerds since childhood and loved everything superhero, horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Pop culture conventions were a regular thing and we admired the cosplayers but didn’t know if we had the courage to don a costume,” David said. “In 2013, Paul decided it was time to shave his head as his hair was thinning. I remarked how he resembled the character, Shane, from ‘The Walking Dead’, when Shane also shaved his head at Hershel’s farm. Later that same day, a family member came up to Paul, pointed his finger, and remarked ‘You look like that tool, Shane, from The Walking Dead.’ We were die hard fans of the show and thought, this is a sign from the gods of geeklandia,” David laughed. “Our cosplay started to take form,” Paul added. “But, David’s favorite character was Michonne, the female samurai who kept walkers on leashes as pets. So, instead of insulting the beautiful Danai Gurira (the actor who portrays Michonne) by attempting bad drag, David integrated the idea of pet zombies into our cosplay build by having the show’s lead character, Rick, keep his buddy, Shane as a walker pet,” Paul explained.
ZE: Reel Guise has evolved to include many members. How did that transpire? What can you tell me about the group?
DS/PB: “David always had a vision to create a team of cosplayers who were as passionate about this show as we were,” Paul shared. “In 2014, we met Amelia who plays our Carol and Jackie who plays our Maggie at WonderCon. We knew we had something special and soon began inviting others to join based on existing relationships or because we saw someone that we really thought could add to the magic of the group.” David continues “Reel Guise Cosplay has become the largest, most screen accurate ‘The Walking Dead’ cosplay troupe in the nation. The Reel Guise infection has spread, attracting some of the most skilled cosplayers from zombie fandom. Today, Reel Guise totals 15 dead-ringer performers. Reel Guise are fans FIRST, committed to character recreations that meet fan standards. Hordes of fans have sought photos with us; created social media tribute pages, and consistently request the secrets to our screen accurate costume builds,” David said proudly. “Reel Guise have also been seen in countless convention videos, most notably at SDCC 2014 and 2015 by convention video pioneers, Sneaky Zebra, and in the “Kill ‘Em Off” parody video produced by Walker Stalker Con. Omaze Charities filmed Reel Guise for a promotional video with Norman Reedus for a charity campaign to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a video shared directly by AMC The Walking Dead and received more than 10,000 views in 4 days. Most recently, our Daryl cosplayer created his first character parody video, “Surviving with Daryl – Cookin’,” to immediate internet success. Listed as one of the hot trending videos on YouTube, it has had over 20,000 views in the first week of posting.”
ZE: Tell me little about David and Paul.
DS/PB: “I was the kid who started creating front porch sets for my family’s Halloween starting in June. Building cosplay costumes and playing with FX makeup was like inviting an old friend home again. I am the makeup artist for Paul’s walker and also design the costumes. Paul has taken sewing lessons from his mom and has become a pro at searching for screen accurate costume pieces on the internet,” David said. “I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and have worked for Riverside County Department of Mental Health for 27 years. Paul is a Mental Health Peer Support Specialist also with Riverside County. Aside from Reel Guise and all things pop culture, we are avid road cyclists, work out, and enjoy amusement parks. Active members of American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE), we look forward to the Halloween season when parks promote their special Halloween attractions and mazes.”
ZE: What is cosplay to you?
DS/PB: “Cosplay is apart of nerd culture, for those of us who realized that imagination doesn’t have to die simply because we grew up,” David said. “Sometimes people will cosplay real people too, like authors or artists, but generally we cosplay people from the stories that we connect to. Some people cosplay original characters that they have created. I think the difference between “putting on a costume” and cosplay is that cosplay is about celebrating the character or becoming the character, so much so that you care about details of your costume build and truly identify as a fan. Feeling passionate about who you portray is truly the difference. Having a sense of connection to the character and to the world the character comes from.”
ZE: “The Walking Dead” really has become something of a phenomenon. What is your take on its success?
DS/PB: “Horror and fantasy have been part of storytelling since cave drawings. Since the success of movies like ‘Star Wars’ and the original ‘Halloween’, our culture has formed a new judgment around these storytelling subjects. They used to be dismissed or not considered true art forms. But we have learned that it takes incredible imagination to bring these tales to life and they truly strike at our most primal wonder,” Paul said. The TV show ‘The Walking Dead’ has taken the best of available artists, writers, directors, costumers, makeup artists and actors, and given them a playground to bring their best work to life. It is celebrated for that skill. Additionally, true horror works best when we care about those in danger. ‘The Walking Dead’ is less a show about zombies and more about this band of survivors who have to learn to live and stay safe while still managing the complex realities of human relationships. We care about these characters,” Paul shared. “Though I celebrate every zombie head explosion like fireworks on the 4th, the characters keep me as a fan. I cheer when they succeed and I cry when they endure loss or vulnerability,” David adds. “Every generation has had a monster that defines the time. You can actually see the transitions, space aliens to vampires, to now zombies. Zombies have touched upon our relentless exposure of the internet and of the electronic’s age. We are all plugged in but rarely connected. We can’t get away from the cyberbullies, trolls, and anonymous opinions that aggressively attack our ideas, our beliefs, our identities. It doesn’t feel safe and we can’t turn it off. We are each the other’s zombie; vigilant against our neighbors, our friends, our families.” Paul continues the thought, “But, ‘The Walking Dead’ also implies the antidote; human connection. Their band of survivors is truly a walking United States; multi-generation, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, gay, straight, and when they are vulnerable enough to connect, to learn, to trust the other they are invincible to the outside threats.”
ZE: What has your interaction with the cast of “The Walking Dead” been like? How do they receive you?
DS/PB: “Meeting the cast and creative artists involved in ‘The Walking Dead’ has been surreal. I never imagined our little hobby would take us this far. I think it is easy to categorize celebrities into being like their characters or as being other worldly. But, I have discovered, like all of us, that each is an individual. Some are more introverted and humbled, others are very extroverted and really need the interaction with others to stay connected,” Paul said. “We have met many cast members and each has been gracious and supportive. We truly want to convey our respect at all times. Some have told us that they like having us around because we entertain the fans and it allows them to move away from their booths in order to have some private time,” David shares, “I was really touched when I met Andrew Lincoln, the actor who portrays Rick. Reel Guise were invited to the Saturn Awards after party this year, and Andrew won for best actor. He and Melissa McBride took the time to come over to our group to take photos. Andrew made a point to shake my hand and pose next to me. He really liked my beard! So much so that the photographer had to ask him to stop looking at me and look at the camera!” Paul added his feelings, “I truly enjoyed meeting the creator of ‘The Walking Dead’, Robert Kirkman. He spends tireless hours with his fans and seems genuinely grateful for his success. Even when he looks like he is about to fall asleep standing up, he will take that extra time with a fan or sign an autograph.”
ZE: What is the best thing for you about Reel Guise, and what are your challenges?
DS/PB: “Discovering and uncovering creativity that I thought was long lost. Having great times with my Reel Guise family and seeing each one of them grow into being stars in their own right. Managing a group this size is tough. Like any family, we have disagreements and differences and those can sometimes take some time to heal. Members have outside lives and interests and getting them all on the same page takes effort. But, it is all an evolution,” David said
ZE: What was it like going to The Walking Dead Season 6 premiere in New York? How did you end up there?
DS/PB: “I entered a daily sweepstakes for fans sponsored by AMC and won!” David said excitedly. “They wanted this for the fans and gave away around 18,000 tickets. People came from 49 States and Countries from around the world. It was truly a Hollywood style, red carpet event and a big fan party combined! Held at Madison Square Garden, the large screen was set up with a stage at the end of the arena with smaller screens set up throughout. Most of us have only experienced this show in our living rooms. Watching it with an arena of fellow fans was like being at a rock concert: all the gasps, cheers, and laughs amplified in unison. It wasn’t just watching a show; it was an experience of fandom! Paul and I got there early, cosplaying Deputy Shane and Season 4 Rick.” Paul adds, “We were enthusiastically greeted by fellow fans, many who knew Reel Guise from our social media and other appearances. We took over 300 fan photos that night and had a continuous line of fans waiting to pose with us for over an hour. The lobby area had stations of props and sets including Daryl’s motorcycle, the Governor’s aquariums, and the FX doubles of Hershel’s head and T-dog’s walker bitten torso. We were filmed in front of a large TWD theater standee to appear in the AMC season 6 fan reel! My favorite moments were just meeting fans and posing for photos with them. They were so complimentary and genuinely appreciative. It was like we made 300 friends that night!”
David continues with a story about the following day. “The next day we went to New York Comic Con. Paul stayed in Deputy Shane and I changed into Hospital Rick. (Luckily weather permitted, but was still a bit chilly for us Southern Californians at 64 degrees).We were within a mile of both Madison Square Garden and the NYCC convention center, so we walked from our hotel. Even New Yorkers will stare when you are covered in blood or only wearing a hospital gown! As we walked closer to the convention center, the police presence was stronger and one of my favorite moments was when a NY cop rolled down his cruiser window to yell: “RICK!”. Skybound, the publisher of ‘The Walking Dead’ comic, took our photo and posted us on their Facebook and Instagram accounts! As we walked back to the hotel from the convention, we passed Madam Troussand’s Wax Museum. There was a wax figure of Morgan Freeman out front. I pretended to be Rick waking up in the hospital: “I woke up in New York alone. Walkers were everywhere. I couldn’t find Lori or Carl, but I met a man named Morgan,” David laughed. “When we got back to our hotel, the security officer followed me, concerned that I may be injured and need to return for more medical care!”
ZE: What are the future plans for Reel Guise?
DS/PB: “We are always looking at building our next costume and improving our skills. We have discussed creating builds around characters that are not related to ‘The Walking Dead’. We continue to get booked by conventions and other events,” David said. “We were creative partners with ScareLA this year and conducted our first convention workshop on cosplay! I would love to do that again. We have fans requesting our attendance as far away as Australia and Great Britain. There are people who have created Reel Guise tribute pages. We encourage fans to let organizers know when they would like us to attend a favorite convention.”
David concluded with, “We each have a story to tell. Tell it. Imagination and creativity inspire us to live beyond what we are given and into who we were meant to be. There is real hope in art. Have a project that could use some zombie love? We would love to let Reel Guise Cosplay bring The DEAD to your next apocalyptic idea.”
I will be writing about other members of the Reel Guise soon. Who are your favorite Walking Dead characters?
How can people find out more about Reel Guise?
Reel Guise can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
You can also connect with them via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
David can also be found on Instagram