Ned Loach and Robert Gontier, the co-founders of 360 Screenings, want you to join them for a movie this Friday, but they don’t want you to know what you’ll be seeing or where you’ll be seeing it. This is how it’ll go: you will visit their website, 360screenings.com, plunk down $60, and you will wait. Then, approximately 24 hours prior to the event, you will be sent an address, suggestions for appropriate garb, and a pre-screening arrival time. What happens after that is… vague.
According to Loach, the whole point of the evening is the element of surprise, and attendees will be getting much more than just another movie screening. As the name of their company implies, Loach and Gontier will be immersing you in the environs of the film, surrounding you with it. The secret location will be subdivided into distinct areas, each decked out to suggest the film’s settings. Also, ten costumed actors will be there, bringing the settings to life. “The guests will be assuming the position of extras on the film — they’ll become active participants,” says Loach.
The duo, both of whom hail from the local performing arts community, were inspired by the London-based Secret Cinema, which has been throwing similar events for several years, events that have become hugely popular. Loach and Gontier attended a Secret Cinema screening of Blade Runner, held on a container pier made up to look like the film’s Chinatown environs, and what they saw blew them away. “It just entirely transported you into the universe of the film,” says Loach. “We were really inspired by it, by how it resonated with the audience.”
According to Loach, a great deal of expense has gone into Friday night’s event, and a “very big, healthy” crowd is already confirmed to attend. Spaces are still available, though — the venue has a capacity of 175 — and Loach is eager to reassure hold-outs that the event will be worth their time and money. He says that the film is almost certain to be known and loved by the majority of attendees — “We won’t be doing Battleship Potemkin” — and the audience participation element isn’t going to be awkward or forced. “There’ll be so much happening in the venue that you’ll never be in the spotlight,” he says. “We’re not trying to make people feel uncomfortable.”
The plan is to hold three 360 Screenings events this year, then expand to five in subsequent years. “We want this first event to make as much of an impact as possible, so that everyone walks out wanting to bring their friends and friends-of-friends to the next one,” says Loach. He and Gontier have already booked a location for the next screening, to take place late summer or early fall. According to Loach, landing a space is one of their biggest challenges, especially as an unknown startup company. “The whole idea of ‘transforming the space’ can be a little intimidating to a landlord,'” he laughs.
Scott MacDonald writes about cinema for Toronto Standard.