Film Discussion

Secret Cinema: The Art of Immersive Cinema

When you hear the words “immersive cinema”, what do you think of?

3D may spring to mind with its eye-popping, ‘throw stuff towards me’ visuals. Some may say IMAX with its larger than life screen and enveloping sound that directors such as Christopher Nolan have become advocates of, continuously pushing the cinematic boundaries.

The formats all have the same purpose – to make audiences feel they are a part of the film. However, it can be limited, especially in a climate where there’s a slump in ticket sales (particularly in the US), the interest in 3D is practically non-existent, the continued rise of on-demand streaming (e.g. Netflix) and cinemas are working with limited budgets to upgrade to the latest advancements. Suddenly the demand for our attention has become a battleground.

While Secret Cinema represents a premium escapade, the organisation is certainly answering that question. With them, a movie is not just a movie. You’re getting an experience.

It’s not every day you get to wander through your favourite cinematic world and yet that’s the underlying concept behind it. Founded by Fabien Riggall and launched in 2007, Secret Cinema artfully combines live theatre, art, music, dance and film. They “create unique spaces for social encounters, adventures and discoveries”, blurring the lines between the film and live action where you can role play and interact with your surroundings.  The only expectation the audience should have is a willingness to participate and believe in the unexpected.  Their latest adventure, Blade Runner – The Final Cut (which I had the pleasure of visiting recently) might be their best one yet.

The organisation has come a long way since their humble beginnings and it’s easy to see why their cinematic adventures have been so popular.  First of all, the film selections are recognised for their cult-like inspiration and popularity.  With four different production types based either on complete mystery (the ‘Tell No One’ events) or the large-scale events (‘Secret Cinema Presents’) gives the organisation creative freedom to explore and expand on the social themes and culture.  The sets are built with a geek-like beauty and detail that you could mistake it for the actual Hollywood set.

Secret Cinema also acts as a counter-culture to normality. In an era where our lives are completely dominated by information overload and accusations of fake news, they supply a welcome antidote.  On a comparison scale, it’s like being part of an exclusive club.  The organisation revel in an old school tradition of secrecy where everything is on a need to know basis, from location, dress code and your new world identity.  Phones are sealed upon entry because you can’t have distractions.

These may sound like small, sacrificial acts but from experience, you can absolutely lose all sense of time.  It’s all part of the fun and excitement because the immersion doesn’t come from just seeing the faithful recreations.  For a few short hours you get to live it as if it was real.  If you participated in Back to the Future (like I did), you were a citizen of Hill Valley.  If you attended Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (like I did) you were a member of the rebel alliance, fighting for freedom against the tyranny of the Empire.

It’s that sense of believability that is reinforced and Secret Cinema’s Blade Runner engaged in this aspect very well.  The dystopian intimacy of its production embarked audiences on personalised missions.  While you never quite get the satisfaction of completing it (given the evolving nature of the production), it illustrates how the smallest of details are intricately covered.  Even the performance actors brilliantly stay in character throughout which can almost leave you speechless if you’re having a conversation with them!  Watching the eventual film under those conditions (with live scene recreations) cements the journey.

Despite the success, Secret Cinema is not above minor criticism. The excessive and popular demand for tickets repeatedly leads to purchasing issues on their website (Blade Runner in 2018).  The ambitious sets can lead to late running and delays, affecting the opening few shows (Back to the Future back in 2014).  Pricing can be expensive and at times communication with its customers could be better.  But the trade-off is something that you always return to – the experience.

While cinemas continue to look for new ways of engagement, Secret Cinema prove again and again that films have a life after its cinematic release.  A film is reborn in a boldly audacious manner that in essence it becomes a culture celebration.  You’re left with positive memories which spreads as a ‘word of mouth’ recommendation.  There’s nothing quite like it and it’s worth experiencing at least once in your lifetime.

And if they ever did Jurassic Park, you can bet my rent money I’ll be there.

Have you ever attended a Secret Cinema event? Let us know which one and what your experience was?

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