Underground Cinema: Bringing film to life
Tell us there isn’t an itsy bitsy part of you that wishes it could transport itself into a movie. Whether you wish you were a student at Hogwarts (wistfully waiting until midnight on your 11th birthday for an owl that never arrived), swinging your leather jacket off in a rendition of Greased Lightning or biting into a glorious animal style IN-N-OUT burger from The Big Lebowski (there was a pop-up store in Sydney last week, shucks if you missed it) we have to accept those wonderful worlds that films create are forever just out of our reach. Or do we?
Enter Underground Cinema: A secret film screening that creates an interactive theatre experience around the world of a film. This bad boy has been popping up in secret locations around Sydney and Melbourne for the past 4 years. Guests purchase tickets and then get sent the details of the location the day before in a text message or email. No one knows what the film actually is until it starts rolling. It’s a little bit (a lot) exciting.
If you’ve ever experienced rooftop cinemas, drive-ins or film screenings in bars and backyards, Underground Cinema is beyond all this. It’s an immersive event in a league of it’s own. Underground Cinema’s Production Manager, Shannon Woodford chatted to us about combining theatre and film to physically capture the worlds we’ve only ever been able to imagine.
Why do you think the idea of bringing films to life is such an attraction?
There’s a level of interaction that you get from live theatre with an audience feeling really a part of a journey and the feeling the audience member gets by being surrounded by people that are going through that same experience. There’s also an element of film that’s of higher production quality and things like editing and all of that can allow an experience that’s on a different level. So people respond to both elements of those and it’s just a way of combining the best of both worlds.
What kind of films does Underground Cinema choose to put on?
It can be anything really. We sometimes work with new releases. I think about two years ago we did one called Little Season, which is from the 40s. It’s just about finding exceptional film that tells a great story that has a world that can be recreated and brought to life. It doesn’t matter if it’s an indie film or a comedy or a blockbuster or whatever it is, if we find it engaging we will make that world.
Tell us about your favourite event so far.
I’m not allowed to tell you about my favourite event so far because I reckon it’s the one we just did last weekend in Melbourne [and this weekend in Sydney]. There were a few moments where stepped back and I just went, ‘This is THE best one we’ve done yet’. It made me so happy. There were a couple of moments when I got chills all over my body. I was just so excited by it.
But aside from that one, my favourite one… it’s hard to say. The very first one I wasn’t actually here for but in a nostalgic way, I kind of think of it pretty fondly, was called Generation Yamakasi. It was all about Parkour. They had this warehouse location and all this scaffolding set up and had people actually doing parkour around the venue. That’s one I’m jealous I never got to see.
For the one’s I’ve done, probably the Little Caesar one. We did it at Red Bennies, which is a burlesque cabaret venue – we had a big band playing and as soon as the film finished the chairs just cleared from the floor like magic and it became a dance floor and everyone just danced like they were in the 20s for the rest of the night which was amazing.
At the end of the year we always like to do an event that’s more of a celebration. So that’s the motivation behind this one - it’s just about joy and revelry and fun and celebrating the year that’s been. Sometimes we’ll do it based on a directive so we’ll do an event that is homage to a film director or find an amazing location and we can base it around that.
Why do you think people are so intrigued by mystery locations?
I think it’s about being able to show people a different side to their city. It’s been able to bring our audiences into spaces that maybe they didn’t know existed or that just have never seen in that light before. It’s about highlighting their city in a different way.
Where are some places Underground Cinema has set up?
We did one in a Chinese Museum in Bourke St in Melbourne, which was amazing. They had one of the original Chinese New Year dragons up on display while we had our event going which just looked phenomenal. We did a pretty cool one in a substation. We did a school recently and churches, galleries… anywhere that we can find the essence of the world we are trying to create.
Do you have a lot of volunteers that help out?
We’ve got volunteer teams – the acting troupe who are an amazing bunch, a set team, costume team… We often will engage with outside organisations like hair and make up schools to give them work experience – we’ve got a front of house team and technical people that contract with us through sound and film – all of it’s done to the absolute highest possible quality that we can possibly put together. So all of the screens are the best quality screens you can get and the sound is – well I’m not a technician but they use the highest quality sound equipment when they come in no matter where our location is. We like to make sure that even though it’s called Underground Cinema and it’s got a sort of gorilla feel to it, it’s actually done with the highest possible quality for our audiences.
Throughout the whole evening – what is the best moment? The beginning when no one knows what’s happening? The excitement building up when they kind of half get an idea? Or maybe at the end...?
Definitely seeing people guess is so much fun. Seeing them in the vox pops being interviewed and they’re so sure they know what it is and then they’re wrong or they’re not quite sure and then they’re actually right - that’s a really cool moment. Definitely when they see the actors and they start engaging with the actors it’s amazing to watch people’s different reactions so they just jump right in and go for it and just completely surrender and become a part of this world. Or whether they stand on the edge and dip their toes in until they’ve had a quick beer and then maybe they’ll play a little further.
But the best thing is always when the film starts rolling and when people have an idea of what it is and they actually start cheering in the audience. It’s a really strange phenomenon when you’re watching a film and people just start cheering at the start of it. I’m pretty sure Underground Cinema is the only place where people start cheering at the start of a film. It’s really fun to see. It makes it all worth it when you feel that energy of a live audience just bursting into applause.
By Lauren Della Marta
Underground cinema is happening this weekend and is regrettably sold out. However do keep an eye on their website for upcoming events, they’re always working on something new and amazing.