For the last few years, there has been a debate brewing about the death of the theatrical experience. With so many things fighting for people’s attention, and the downward trend in box office returns, I have often found myself wondering if the communal theatrical experience of viewing films on the large screen was in fact dying a slow death. Sure people enjoy going to the movies but the only thing that keeps the institution in tact is the release window that ensures a movie can only be seen in the theater when it is first released.
About six months ago I started planning a theatrical experiment of sorts. I wanted to see if I could mashup movies, music, gaming and a bit of theater into one show. This past weekend we staged the first screening in Philadelphia.
At the center of the experiment is my newest feature film, HEAD TRAUMA. A dark and twisted tale that follows the exploits of a drifter named, George Walker who returns home after 20 years to settle his grandmother’s estate. As if awakening from a long dream, he finds his childhood home condemned and littered with the remnants of squatters. In the midst of trying to save his past, George falls and strikes his head, triggering an onslaught of vivid nightmares and waking visions. As the horror intrudes on George’s reality, his conviction grows that someone or something is trying to kill him.
HEAD TRAUMA had its world premiere at the prestigious LA Film Festival, enjoyed a 17 city theatrical release this past fall, and is currently available on DVD nationwide. This past weekend I took my new cinema mahsup theory for a test run. The evening was broken into four parts.
HEAD TRAUMA screened off an amazing digital media server called IndEx which enables HD quality projection with up to 8 channels of audio. The IndEx media server allowed us to play just the dialog and effects tracks of the film. This made room for the next component of the evening, a totally new soundtrack scored live.
Bardo Pond – photo by Derik Moore
Bardo Pond, DJ Chief Wreck’em, the Espers and Fern Knight provided a live score to the movie. The live scoring of HEAD TRAUMA grew out of an alternate soundtrack project called CURSED the HEAD TRAUMA music project. Similar to how Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon syncs up with the WIZARD OF OZ, we created a soundtrack that could line up with HEAD TRAUMA.
The hooded figure emerges – photo by Derik Moore
The night included a number of theatrical elements. On stage we constructed a tent, which is key to the story of the film. Characters from the film such as the hooded figure, who is the protagonist’s nemesis, emerged from the audience at different times through out the night. There were fog machines, lighting effects and physical scares. The theatrical elements borrow from a cross between the school of William Castle and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. William Castle was a famous showman who actually wired the audience’s seats to shock them during screenings of his classic THE TINGLER.
Audience members use their mobile phones – photo by Derik Moore
The last element of the evening was an interactive one, which allowed viewers to use their mobile phones to interact with certain characters from the film. On screen at key moments a phone number appeared. When audience members called the number they heard the hooded figure from the film. Depending on their answers they received a number of clues. At the conclusion of the movie all the phones in the theater rang at the same time. Then for the lucky few, the film followed them home as they received additional calls and text messages that lead them to hidden story elements online.
The audience response was strong. Over 80% of the audience used their mobile phones to interact with the film. The live music provided an excellent complement and the theatrics had a few audience members jumping out of their seats.
I have plans to continue the cinema mashups with upcoming screenings in New York City, San Francisco and London. To find out more about the remixes and the movie visit http://www.headtraumamovie.com