By lance weiler, March 29th, 2007

I’ve heard a lot of people challenging the theatrical experience – box office numbers are down from previous years, and home theater systems are only getting better. Not to mention all the competition for viewers attention thanks to a 500+ channel universe, broadband and a shrinking amount of free time. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that people still want that communal experience that a theatrical film can provide. But I think that filmmakers need to make the theatrical experience their own and find interesting ways to engage their audiences.

After doing a 17 city, DIY theatrical release for HEAD TRAUMA, I think that traditional theatrical releases of “truly” independent films are a dangerous proposition. It’s next to impossible to pull people into a screening without P&A money. I harnessed the internet to help with grassroots promotion, my social networking friends helped to flyer and sticker for me, they also brought their friends. But a theatrical release is a humbling affair. On average we’d have nights with 25 to 30 people in a screening. On a rare night, we’d have over a 150 people in attendance but often we’d have only 10 or 12. In the end I made money but it was not because of the box office take alone. It was a combination of speaking engagements, poster sales and the fact that I didn’t spend anything on promotion or renting the theaters. I did 50/50 splits with all the theaters to help reduce my risk.

What I think is a more interesting theatrical model is an event driven one. For instance, I’ve been staging a number of one off live events. They are special theatrical events that use a mixture of multimedia, performance, and technology to remix the movie in a new way. Some people have called the events Cinema ARGs (alternate reality games) because of the way they engage the audience in the theater and after they leave.

This coming Saturday, we’ll be doing a special remix screening of HEAD TRAUMA in Philadelphia. It is broken into the following parts.

The evening will consist of Bardo Pond, Espers, Fern Knight and a DJ providing a live score to the movie. I’ve separated the dialog and sound effects tracks, so we can do a total remix of the movie live.

The current remix shows came from a concept we had called CURSED. CURSED the HEAD TRAUMA movie project started as an alternate soundtrack experience for the movie. Similar to how Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon lines up with the WIZARD OF OZ, we created a soundtrack that could line up with HEAD TRAUMA. Turn down the volume on the TV and turn up the volume on the stereo. The following behind the scenes short describes the process.

The night will include a number of theatrical elements. On stage, we’ve constructed a tent which is key to the story of the film and the hooded figure who is the protagonist’s nemesis will emerge at different times through out the night within the audience. There are fog machines, lighting effects and physical scares. The theatrical elements borrow from a cross between dinner theater on acid and the school of William Castle. William Castle was a famous showman who actually wired the audience’s seats to shock them during screenings of his classic THE TINGLER.

The last element of the evening is a high tech one which allows viewers to use their mobile phones to interact with certain characters from the film. Since I’m working with the IndEx media server to project the film, I’ve been able to easily add subtitles. On screen at key moments a phone number appears. When audience members call the number they’ll hear the hooded figure from the film. Depending on their answers they’ll receive a number of clues. At the conclusion of the movie we’ll ring all the phones in the theater at the same time. Then for the lucky few the film will follow them home as they receive additional calls and text messages that lead them to hidden elements online.

This coming show is the first in a series of remix screenings. The release will target universities and museums. Since it is an event the ticket prices are more than double a traditional movie ticket. We’ll see how it goes, but I think it’s an interesting concept that points towards a new type of theatrical experience.

I’ll let you know how it all works out.

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Posted in News arg audience distro diy experiment gaming mobile pov remix theatrical

lance weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects


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