Secret Cinema

Secret Cinema presented Lawrence of Arabia to 15,000 cinema fans over the course of three nights… Alice Dalton, head of marketing partnerships, Future Shorts, talks brand slap, word of mouth and donkeys

What is Secret Cinema?

Secret Cinema was conceived by Future Shorts founder and creative director Fabien Riggall in 2007, with the view of bringing some of the mystery back to the cinema-going experience. It screens undisclosed movies in unusual non-traditional locations in order to create an interactive, socially connected environment. We fuse elements of performance, design and music to create a real life experience of the movie you’re about to watch. You experience the film live before you watch it, bringing you closer to it in due course. Audiences are told where they’re traveling just days before the event but do not find out what it is they’re going to go see until the moment the credits roll.

The event has grown rapidly. How has it evolved?

Over past three years we’ve engaged an ever-growing audience who are looking for new ways to experience films and interact with others. As the audience interest has grown so have the events, but at their core creative and social ambition is still the same. The events have grown to a larger scale – the first show had 400 people, the last 15,000 – but we still have the ambition to raise the bar for what can be achieved within this new live environment and how can we push the boundaries of what the audience will experience.

What marketing methods have you employed and what have you had most success with?

Secret Cinema has grown largely through word of mouth, which has been enabled by a genuine interest in a wide demographic of audiences to seek out something new and exciting, but also by the viral dialogue we create around the events. With each one, we speak to the audience in the tone of the film – as a character or narrator – setting up the world the audience will arrive at by seeding in clues, ideas and content. People really enter into that dialogue, not just with Secret Cinema but with the community that follows it and it’s that conversation that allows our audience to grow organically.

You have partnered with Windows phone. How does this partnership add to the visitor experience?

With all partnerships we create around Secret Cinema it is essential for us to integrate the brand creatively into the experience, so that we can ensure we are giving added value to the audience. We do all that we can to avoid “brand slap” and we don’t think of Windows Phone as a sponsor. We think of them as a true brand partner and for each event we develop a bespoke communications and integration plan that will see the brand and product integrated seamlessly into the overall event narrative adding to the over all event experience.

What venues/locations did you consider for this event and what factors influenced your decision?

There are often two ways that we source locations – either the film choice helps define the location, or the location helps define the film. Either way, the location is key and is as much a character in the event as any other in the event. It has to uniquely embody the film in both look and atmosphere. We’ve worked in both established venues and unknown sites where we build the world from the ground up.

The recent event took place in Alexandra Palace.

How have you themed this event?

This event was all about creating the world of Lawrence of Arabia. In such a vibrant culture, we looked to make this a heavily sensational affair – so created a full Bedouin Souk filled with the sights, sounds and smells of the market. The audience arrived in full Arabian attire and quickly lost themselves within the world of Lawrence of Arabia – interacting with over 150 actors, dozens of musicians and a camel or two.

What was your biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenges come from the fact that we are literally recreating the world of a film.  The level of detail that goes into our production, artistic direction and set design makes the creation of our events very much like the design and production of an actual film set, but a film set with over 5,000 members of the public walking through it. The camels, horses, donkeys, sheep, goats and snakes were also all pretty challenging.

What plans do you have for the future?

We are looking to keep pushing the boundaries of live cinema experience as we continue to grow as a creative events company, delivering live events, brand experiences and innovative online content solutions in a fast moving landscape, expanding throughout the UK and beyond.