2019 Ultimate Viewing Experience

2019 Ultimate Viewing Experience

by Scott Bullock

With the 2018 season wrapped up and everyone back from their respective holidays, Future Proof was well rested and ready to launch what we had been working on in tandem with everything else throughout all of 2018: The UVX Featuring the Most Dangerous Man.

Coming out of the UVX Featuring Holme at the end of 2017, we knew we would be doing another UVX, and one in many ways more ambitious than the first, but that we would need plenty of time to do it right. There were two major improvements we planned to make over the 2017 UVX formula:

In 2017, we made Holme to be a baseline shitty movie that nobody would mind being totally ruined by the addition of insane and disruptive elements, or being totally restarted, skipped around in, and talked over. However, this led to large stretches of the film being actually painful to watch, since it was made on a half-shoestring budget with an intentionally terrible script. We decided to make the next movie, The Most Dangerous Man, in tandem with the design of the live show and eminently more watchable. This would be a Fun Bad Movie, not just a Bad Bad Movie.

The live show of 2017 made a certain amount of sense, but lacked a coherent through line or plot, being almost entirely spectacle with implied dystopic elements. With the live show this time around, we wanted to focus more on telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end that would run alongside the movie.

So out the gate we were putting a lot more thought into how the UVX would work as a whole instead of building a bunch of different elements and putting them together. After some theory-crafting, brainstorming, and late-night coffee-fueled jam sessions, we settled on making a show about the war for a hack director’s soul between the LUX’s corporatism and the Buddy Resistance’s rebellious passion. That director would be Ronnie Champaign, a washed up Big Hollywood wannabe wielding a script for his masterpiece, a cold war-era shlocky action movie called “The Most Dangerous Man”.

As the show entered initial design, we decided that rather than surface-level changes to the film like most of the votable options in 2017 (adding objects to scenes, all the actors get roller skates, etc) we would replicate what we all agreed was the best of the 2017 votes, a total genre shift from kitchen sink drama to Sci-Fi space opera. The Most Dangerous Man would feature total genre overhauls influenced by audience votes, swapping from a straightforward 80s action movie to being a western, a fantasy, a sports film, and a half dozen other major tonal reworks.

As that show work was being done, Jack Holmes was hard at work pumping out draft after draft of The Most Dangerous Man’s core script. The end result was a fantastically stupid time capsule constructed wholesale from cheesy one-liners, b-movie tropes, and a gratuitous helping of Reagan-era misplaced patriotism. When asked how he produced such a piece of idiot-art, Mr. Holmes said, "I just thought 'What if I had an IQ of 70 and wanted to write a Metal Gear fan fiction?'"

With a general show design complete and a script finished, a final book was put together compiling all of the props, scenes, actors, and crew would be necessary to shoot the film. It was at this point that we first brought on the inimitable Casey Schlosser as the director of The Most Dangerous Man (hereafter, MDM) and started casting, which is where we ran into something of a snag.

We had been planning on the production levels of this movie being fairly low, being a LUX production and all, but soon after posting our casting calls we were contacted the great Logan Paul, who believed (correctly) that he would be perfect for the lead role of Max Gunn. With a guy like Mr. Paul with a real action hero wanting to work with us, we had to come to terms with 2 things immediately: we would be casting him as Max Gunn, and that meant that we would need to raise production values and casting expectations to support that casting. It was a problem, but it was a good problem to have.

I will spare you the odyssey that is The Legend of The Most Dangerous Film Production, which should be a 20 part series on its own, but suffice it to say we lost our minds and gained a movie. Well, several movies. That all had to be cut to the same length. Aaaaand had multiple break points built in throughout. Aaaaaand needed to modularly slot into each other, exported in chunks so they could be hot-swapped mid show, and eventually all collapse into each other for several dozen versions of the ending.

Sorry, Tim.

So during the course of 2018, while designing, building, and hosting large interconnected immersive events, stringing together a half-dozen plot threads through over 50 websites, social media accounts, and emails spanning a score of characters (and producing video and audio assets to support those digital plot threads), we were ALSO filming and producing a multi-headed hydra of a feature-length motion picture.

And come March 2019, it was ready to be shown.

The script was written (and rewritten, and rewritten, and rewritten…), the props were built, the actors rehearsed, and the opening musical number practiced. Tear-away suits were tailored, Giant Lasers calibrated, game show lecterns painted, and an EGOT+ Award Frankenstein’d together. A pre-show lobby, the Ultimate Queueing Experience, featuring Calibration Nozzles, a fake jungle, cardboard standees of the cast, and a fully stocked merch shop, was arranged.

All in all, it went… well, it went.

If our 2019 Ultimate Viewing Experience had one major problem, it was the tech. Not the lighting or the sound or any of the things traditionally associated with theater tech, but rather the computers and programming required to make a lot of our games, votable backends, and user front ends work together seamlessly, and the UVX Featuring the Most Dangerous Man was a culmination of those issues. Problems with formats made for last-minute late-nights re-exporting of the entire film package. Software hiccups caused the movie to stutter, desync from the sound, or event totally crash and require hard reboot mid-show. Some phones didn’t want to connect to our voting mainframe, and the connection process was too complex for some audience members. Wifi outages could kill the voting functionality entirely, leaving the audience unable to interact with the show at all.

Computers are amazing things, but they always do exactly what you tell them to, and a single typo in a javascript file or mis-named asset means the illusion of a seamless production can collapse like a house of cards because of one mistake made 4 months ago that nobody had yet caught. When the show relied on humans, things generally were fine, but quite often our backend systems simply collapsed when the technically-demanding parts of the show needed to shine.

I could name any number of very good reasons for our tech problems, but no number of excuses, no matter how reasonable or understandable, are going to undo the fact that the 2019 UVX simply did not go well. It was a show about a movie where the movie worked like, 60% of the time.

Still, there was plenty to salvage from the experience. Ronnie Champaign was an amazing character who we would go on to utilize throughout 2019, the plot developments that occurred during the show were still canon to our universe, and we still had a whole-ass movie we could use however we want (like hell we were going to leave that movie floundering unseen outside those three shows: The Most Dangerous Man will return, rising like the phoenix!).

Further, now that we had time to take a breath and look at the full scope of what we had done over the course of the previous year, we could adjust our company and how we prioritized certain parts of production, and actually sit down and develop pipeline, workflow, and administrative documentation and standards. In short: we could now take all the lessons we had learned the hard way and create standards and practices not to fix those problems when they arose, but to prevent the most glaring issues we encountered from ever rearing their heads in future projects in the first place.

Never in my life have I been so happy to create system flow tables and project templates. For a year straight we had been saying ‘if only we had thought of x before!’ or ‘damn, if only we had considered y during design’ in the middle of un-fucking some problem that had blindsided us a week before showtime, and at long last we had the time and space to apply our hard-earned institutional knowledge to build a strong framework for everything we would do going forward.

And once that work was done, we could start on what would end up the Ultimate Cinema Convention - UCC Omega.