It's no secret that Hollywood have been running scared the last few years. Falling admissions, the ever-present threat of piracy, a collapse in the DVD market...these are dark times for the major studios. But there has been a glimmer of hope, thanks to certain exhibition techniques with both large-screen IMAX and 3D becoming virtually requirements when it comes to major tentpoles, with the subsidies on ticket prices as a result helping to boost grosses for many major movies, and giving others -- like "Titanic" and "Star Wars" -- a new lease of life through rereleases. Hell, theaters are even trying to make an extra dollar or two with D-Box vibrating seats, of all things.
But a regular event in London that's been growing and growing over time looks to have established another possible way for studios to boost their income. Secret Cinema, part of the Future Shorts brand (who do excellent work in getting audiences to see short films and music videos) has been running since 2007, with events of some form or another every few months. Tipped off mostly through mailing lists and social networks, guests can buy a ticket in advance (ordinarily north of £20, or about $30) with a few very cryptic hints as to what they will be seeing, and are usually asked to abide by some kind of dress code, and to report to a location somewhere in London.
Normally taking place in a disused warehouse or something similar, ticket-holders are then escorted in by actors in costume and character, and find the world of a film (past selections have included "Blade Runner," "The Battle Of Algiers," "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," "Wings Of Desire," "The Red Shoes," "The Warriors" and "The Third Man") recreated, with themed food and drink available, as well. Often actors also recreate elements of the plot, somtimes during the screening -- the conclusion of "Blade Runner" saw Deckard and Roy Batty lookalikes dangling from a rooftop, and the end of "Bugsy Malone" saw a splurge gun and custard pie fight break out in the audience (that screening also included a mini-casino, a boxing ring, and pre-show songs by Fat Sam & co.). Watch some of the videos at the end of this article to get a better idea of what to expect.
The reason that it's in the headlines at the moment is that for the latest extravaganza -- the company's 18th -- the film was "Prometheus," put together with the full cooperation of the studio and filmmakers (including an introduction by Ridley Scott), and opening for business on June 1st, the same day as the film hit theaters in the U.K. And across its month-long run, it sold over $1.1 million worth of tickets to 25,000 people (each paying a hefty £35, over $50), making it the highest-grossing engagement of the film, and representing just under 5% of the total British gross of "Prometheus" to date.
It's not the first time a new release has been part of Secret Cinema -- one-off events were held for "RockNRolla," "Watchmen" and "Anvil! The Story Of Anvil" back in the day. But it's certainly the longest, and the most ambitious -- the event included original props and costumes from the film, original digital imagery from Oscar-winning effects house Framestore, a "soundscape" by Radiohead, and specially-built 3D theaters for projection of the movie. And with the brand apparently heading to the U.S., with a New York event of some kind expected in the fall (and Alamo Drafthouse's Rolling Roadshow already doing something similar, albeit stripped down), it certainly makes you think.