This post contains no event spoilers, other than one majorly publicised photo of the site before it was complete.
It all began with a simple tweet. A Back to The Future related indication from movie event creators Secret Cinema. We’d been following them on twitter and via email for a few years after hearing that there was a company who would transport you into a movie – and most of the time you wouldn’t know what the movie was until the event began.
Future Cinema, set up in 2005 and launched at Glastonbury’s cinema tent, began to show short and full length movies to cinema fans with actors and scene sets surrounding them to create a more immersive experience. Their first Secret Cinema show, 2007, took place in a series of tunnels underneath London Bridge bringing to life Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, a film about an accidental murder committed by a skateboarder. Since then they’ve shown a host of movies including Ghostbusters, Alien, Bladerunner and The Shawshank Redemption (which was notoriously hardcore as all guests were ordered to strip to their long johns and put on inmate clothing whilst being shouted at and ordered around an old school made into a prison by guards).
Once signed up to the mailing list Secret Cinema will send you a cryptic email in advance of ticket sales. They’ll be written in the style of the movie and contain hints – but you never really know what the film will be. You don’t even know when you buy the tickets AND you don’t know the location. Once you’ve bought your tickets, you’ll be sent further emails with tasks, assignments, costume requirements and eventually a meeting place – which isn’t necessarily where you’ll be watching the movie (in the case of Shawshank, guests were split into lines of gender and piled onto State Penitentiary buses) For Lawrence of Arabia (2010) I remember following the unveiling on Twitter along with the guests – they had to follow clues through London markets, picking up parts of their costumes on the way to their meeting place.
I’m all for the heightened movie going experience but have a certain level of anxiety attributed to the unknown, so I didn’t really want to commit to a fully secret Secret Cinema. But when the Back to the Future hints started appearing, and since it’s Gary’s all time favourite film, I knew it was a no brainer.
So on the day of ticket sales Gary and I sat with anticipation at our work computers ready to grab two tickets. But two hours, and a lot of frustration later, no one had tickets. Secret Cinema had vastly underestimated the demand for their three weeks of shows and the provider’s servers had buckled. They closed the ticket sales and announced a resale the next day. And thankfully we got tickets. Secret Cinema quickly announced they’d double the shows and extended until August 31st (there’s still tickets available if you want to go!)
And so began the emails with cryptic instructions, messages from the Mayor, new identities were handed out (I’m Linda Berrier, hi!), groups joined. We were asked to buy coloured sunglasses, prepare photographs, print out business cards and IDs and given costume advice. They set up a diner and costume shop in Shoreditch to visit ahead of the shows and printed newspapers.
People, who didn’t really understand what Secret Cinema was all about began to moan about the extent of preparation they would need to go to, that they didn’t know where they’d be going so couldn’t book hotels (even though the clues were all there) and that they couldn’t take their phones into the show. But I was all up for it. I found my outfit and couldn’t wait to share a sneaky peak to the world:
But then on press preview day, one day before the start of their run, something went wrong and the show was cancelled. And then it was cancelled for the first proper date too….. the deluge of anger and complaints was HUGE. It even made the news that evening. Some kind of council dispute had halted preparations and the site wasn’t finished.
Photos of a bare site started popping up and concern fell upon all those with tickets. People had travelled from all over the world only to turn up, many without their phones since they weren’t allowed and so unable to see the cancellation notifications, and were devastated (but offered refunds or reschedules). The anger carried on until a press release announced that the whole first weekend would be cancelled until the issues had been resolved – it was a double-edged sword since this meant those booked for those dates could be sure they weren’t going so wouldn’t make unneccessary trips, but also meant so many people were disappointed. The announcement stated that the first show would be the following Thursday with a press preview on the Wednesday.
Thankfully this all went ahead and the weather was beautiful for it. From that point trolls and moaners were told to move on and get over it by those who had decided to reschedule. We just wanted to enjoy it!
The weather forecast looked fantastic all week, except for the day we were going (of course) but thankfully this changed and rain was only predicted for the morning. Gary and I headed off to London on Saturday morning and checked into our hotel in Canary Wharf. After a quick Wasabi lunch we went back to the hotel and started to get ready for the show. Excitement was at an all time high and as soon as my costume was on I just wanted to get there – IDs, photographs, sunglasses and blanket in hand, all that was left was to go back in time……..
Since Secret Cinema’s policy is Tell No One, the second part of this event recap will be posted once all the dates of the show have been completed, so as not to spoil it for anyone who is going. Stay tuned!