by Scott Bullock
Film, Immersive Theater, and a digital Alternate Reality Game. These were the ingredients used to create the perfect transmedia experience. But Professor Utonium accidentally added an extra ingredient to the concoction: CHEMICAL LUX.
Back in the elden times of the year of our lord two thousand and seventeen, a number of people and elements coalesced which inextricably and inevitably led to the purchase of a 1997 Buick LeSabre, the throwing of at least 500 paper airplanes inside a movie theater, and Pelicans. The initial idea was simple: A defunct entertainment company run by an AI wanted to screen a movie, but because the movie was bad it had to supplement the screening with super-fun live elements overseen by a robotic used car salesman and conducted by employees who accidentally signed their whole lives over to an evil corporation. This would be supported by a pseudo-viral culture-jamming ARG making fun of lizard people, alien invasion, fake moon-landing conspiracy theorists.
Okay so maybe “simple” isn’t the right word. Whatever the case, it became quickly apparent that our willingness to commit to a bit was rivaled only by our ability to weaponize film-making and entertainment sins for fun and profit a in a whirlwind project described at one point as “strategically organized Jenga tower.”
The big event of 2017 was the first rendition of a concept we have come back to many times since: An audience-votable blend of movie screening and live theater called the Ultimate Viewing Experience, or UVX. Everything we did that year was in service of hyping, justifying, or selling tickets to the UVX. We ran a mini-even called UCC12, where we invited real indie filmmakers to talk about their real indie films, followed by a presentation of our Real Fake Indie Film Holme -which LUX immediately purchased in real time. We appeared at New York Comic Con with our scary robots and bellhop-esque employees, and even hosted an Epic Rap Battles of History event (our show was way better than the Power Rangers one that followed).
At all of these, a weird man in a trench coat would show up halfway through yelling at the audience about how Luxury Universal Experience was actually an evil alien-worshiping cult and that the only way to free your mind was to go to the web address printed on the handfuls of napkins he would throw into the air before escaping. Several times, security apologized for letting a deranged individual interrupt our shows, and an equal number of times were flabbergasted when we told them that he was part of our show.
Honestly, Flabbergasted was a pretty common reaction to that part of the budding Future Proof experience. Bewildered would also be accurate. It’s the appropriate reaction to being told that an alien fungus from the oort cloud was here on earth and using a movie company to try and brainwash the masses. It’s even more appropriate when being told that the only way to prevent fungal infection is the ingestion of massive quantities of Natural Ice beer.
Meatspace was only part of our show, with a large amount of content deployed online or otherwise digitally. The LUX website featured a rat’s nest of redacted information about the shady past of the company, leading to a phone line most reminiscent of a circuitous text adventure game. LUX’s online presence was simultaneously unsettling and insistent, bothering people on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and a few other platforms. As an amoral 80s AI running an unscrupulous 80s company, engaging in the basest and most obnoxious forms of marketing and engagement was part of the show and character and we dove in with gusto.
Simultaneously, the in-world conspiracy theorists created their own website compiling their grand unified theory of crazy bullshit that boiled down to “we need to annoy LUX and people who support it”, engaging in their own social media campaigns, real-world operations, and the delivery of hand-typed manifestos to 50 papers-of-note around New York. After a final attempt to stop the UVX and ‘save the internet’ (consisting of driving around New York in their 1997 Buick LeSabre (lovingly named ‘Sadie’) running ethernet cabling between payphones while streaming their hacking attempt over twitch) failed, the big day arrived.
Opening on Friday, October 13th and running to the 5th of November, “Luxury Universal Experience Presents Holme: A Tragedy in Six Acts by Jean Luc Depardeau Presented in UVX Format, brought to you by LUX” sure was a show. Holme was an intentionally awful film cobbled together from every terrible indie film sin and shot multiple times so that the audience could inject new elements at any point in its run time to try and “fix” it. Because these additional elements overlayed and crossed streams at multiple points, this meant that the film had to be shot, in full, 32 times. With the addition of elements digitally added in post, there were over 140 permutations of Holme. When asked for a quote, producer Alex Chmaj had this to say “I would like to formally apologize to my director, Matt Conrad.”
When pressed for something more substantive, he added that the shoot was “intensely, mind-numbingly grueling” but maintained that “pretty much everyone had a good time on that set.”
Special thanks to our long-suffering editor, Tim. 140 permutations is a lot of Holme.
The live portion of the show consisted of a number of scripted scenes, improv-heavy immersive segments, and deployable interactive props activated regularly throughout the course of the film. Centered around the failing attempts of the LUXos AI to run a successful and fun film screening and conspiracy theorists and cyberpunk rebel employees doing their best to stop it, the show was a tour de force of puns, pastiche, and sci-fi chicanery.
The true magic of the show lay in our proprietary voting mechanic. From their smartphones (or provided tablets), audience members could vote on changes they wanted made to both film and stage, with no two shows the same. Over the course of the show, audiences could subject the actors, the film, and themselves to increasingly ridiculous segments.
Make all the actors in the film wear roller-skates. Force the stage actors to do jumping jacks and run laps around the theater. Demand a break to make and throw paper airplanes. Turn the film into a space opera, complete with aliens. Lower a giant mustache over the screen. Over time, the film became entirely unwatchable, the show grew increasingly manic, and the AI completely broke, ending in a rousing Opera featuring every vote you’d made thus far and culminating in one of three major endings. With Mass Effect 3’s infamous ending still in our heads, these endings were color coded to Red, Green, and Blue.
When asked for comment on the live show, Director Christian Vernon judo-threw me and jumped out a window screaming “You’ll never take me alive!”
Finally, after over 30 shows, the time came to take a step back, take a big breath, and realize with dawning horror all that we had wrought upon this unprepared earth. Our first year was seat-of-our-pants, and beset on all sides by stumbles and outside-context problems. The show was not well attended, and reviews were mixed, but we were still proud of what we had accomplished and the show we had made. The list of hard lessons learned could fill 30 pages, but the most important thing we learned was that we wanted to do this again, and do it better. We decided that this would not be a one-off production, and that the team that had been put together should keep making stuff.
That in mind, we girded our loins and began to plan for 2018.