Though she’s building her reputation as a purveyor of good-natured terror, Saugerties’ own Jaimee Moxham is, at-heart, a businesswoman. Though she created her alter ego “Captain Cruella” as a social experiment, she quickly realized it could be so much more.
Moxham grew up in Saugerties, attended Riccardi Elementary School and Saugerties High School, graduating in 1994. There were signs along the way, of course. In hindsight, it’s clear that life as a zombie was inevitable.
It began with an early taste of terror.
“I think it was when my mom was letting us watch “Hellraiser” and I was nine,” she said. “I was screaming and looking at it through my fingers saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m watching this!’”
Then there was the job working in a special effects house as a makeup assistant in Ashokan, cutting her teeth on films like Jim Jarmusch’s “Way of the Samurai” and Martin Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead.”
“I was young and in college, and it was grunt work at the beginning,” Moxham said. “Over time I did more.”
But while the work was intellectually rewarding, the financial rewards lagged well behind. The unsteadiness of the business led the company’s owner to sell, and the new owners moved operations to California. Moxham decided not to follow.
“There were a couple of months where I wasn’t working at all,” she said. “I couldn’t just move my life to California and hope I got picked up by another company.”
Though it took some time to realize it, these little events were setting Moxham up for the future. It began over a year ago when she started attending zombie crawls, organized public gatherings of people dressed as the undead. The practice has picked up in popularity in recent years, spreading through cities and towns as people shuffle along streets looking as though they’ve just risen from the grave.
Moxham enjoyed the experience so much she wanted to bring it to the area. She hosted a party that was crashed by other zombies, built a buzz and started hearing from communities who hopes to capitalize on the popularity of the zombie crawl.
“Beacon contacted me and told me they wanted me to plan a big zombie event around Halloween,” she said. “It didn’t come together and I ended up being kind of disappointed and disgusted by it. I’d put all this work into it.”
As a result of the experience, Moxham decided to go it alone.
“I wanted to do a social networking experiment to see if one person could put something like this together,” she said.
Moxham took to Facebook and Twitter, as well as her own blog (cruellascrypt.blogspot.com) and other media outlets to promote Village Invasion, an event held last October that saw over 600 people hit the streets of Saugerties dressed as zombies. Fangoria Magazine sent a photographer to cover the event and hosted it on their website and Captain Cruella’s notoriety began to spread.
By day, Moxham is a wedding coordinator and florist. Although that may seem incongruous to her nocturnally-themed alter-ego Captain Cruella, her day job meant she already had experience with organizing events. It’s how she knew to seek prizes from sponsors with the promise of cross-promotion; it’s why Village Invasion saw contributions from across the country; and it’s why Moxham had to lay out very little of her own money to pull the whole thing off.
“I really think I spent under $125,” she said. “I made some photocopies and I maybe purchased a couple of bags and rented a projector.”
Village Invasion was such a success that the village government has discussed putting aside some money in the budget to help grow the event in the future. Though some scoffed, Moxham said she tried to go out of her way to ensure business owners not only knew about the event beforehand, but were able to capitalize on it.
“I went into it with an open mind knowing not everyone would be into this, but I wanted to let everyone know this is what was happening,” she said. “Imagine all these people show up and you don’t know what the hell is going on. I asked the bartenders or the shop owners maybe offer a dead martini. Lucky Chocolates offered finger foods and a blood chocolate fountain.”
Later, Moxham went back to thank some of the local businesses who were open during the event and was pleased by what she heard.
“I had restaurant owners tell me it was the most amount of money they made in one night in the history of their businesses,” she said. “It was a good night for everybody.”
It’s all about timing.
“I wanted it to be near Halloween, but a lot of time people have their own Halloween plans,” she said. “I knew this would be primarily an adult event, but there were a lot of kids, which was great.”
Moxham’s social networking resulted in a big turnout from out of town, but she also doesn’t take for granted the fact that there were plenty of locals who were into the zombie thing too. That combination, she hopes, will result in Village Invasion becoming a Saugerties staple.
“The Garlic Festival started out like one person’s little thing,” she said. “Look where that is now.”
Moxham said she hopes to be able to move the event in that direction in 2011, including looking at whether the Orpheum could host a horror film festival. She’s also helping organize smaller events both in Saugerties and beyond. December’s Ghouls Yule wasn’t as huge as Village Invasion, though Moxham still considers it a success. And on Sunday, February 13, she and new business owner Ashley Drewes will join forces for “Eat Your Heart Out,” a makeup demo and dress up party at Sugartown Vintage Boutique. Drewes’ shop wasn’t open at the time of the Village Invasion, but it left an impression all the same.
“I actually approached her after she did the other zombie event, for the Christmas Scene one,” Drewes said. “I asked her if she’d like to do a promotional event at my store. Seeing as she’s sort of become a local celebrity, and perhaps a national celebrity on the internet.”
The two quickly cooked up February’s event over dinner.
“It happened pretty intuitively,” Drewes said. “There wasn’t really much discussed as far as the actual coordinating of the event once we had the basic idea. The rest of it was gossip and the weather. My business relationship with her has been mostly fun.”
According to Drewes, the fact that Moxham is clearly enjoying herself might give people the wrong impression about her entrepreneurial skills.
“I don’t know if people actually recognize what a powerhouse Cruella is at creating a consumer base,” Drewes said. “She’s a marketing mastermind who uses her powers for good, but I don’t know if people see that because she’s a character. I think people would be surprised if everybody was in the loop of how intelligent and effective she is. The girl’s got her hands in a little bit of everything. She’s a brilliant woman.”
Moxham said the past few months have been something of a whirlwind.
“I’m an adult, but this is sort of a childhood dream to be this thing,” she said. “I’m like a super villain. I’m mild mannered office girl by day, Captain Cruella of the Carnivorous Cadavers by night.
Moxham has channeled her notoriety and marketing savvy into other outlets. With horror themed events, television appearances, film festivals and conventions on the horizon, Moxham has made serious inroads into the world of the undead. But her success is also catching the attention of the business world, with chambers of commerce seeking her advice on tapping in to modern technology.
“A lot of people are coming around to the power of social media,” she said. “I can help them understand that Facebook and Twitter, those free things online really do make a big impact. I haven’t spent anything on that but a little bit of my time.”
Moxham said she hopes to continue expanding her reach as Captain Cruella in the future.
“It’s a dream of mine to make a living with this,” she said. “I’ve done this much in six months’ time. I think I’m going to take over the world.”
Check out Captain Cruella’s website.