Secret Cinema- It's not you, it's me.
If you have lived in London or been active on Social Media at any time during the last 5 years, chances are you will have encountered Secret Cinema, whether you know it or not. Maybe someone on the tube was dressed strangely. Maybe you saw an image on Instagram that you don’t understand. Chances are Secret Cinema had something to do with it.
For the past decade, Secret Cinema has provided Londoners with exclusive, highly secretive, immersive cinema events. They’ve masterminded mysterious social media campaigns and pulled off an unbelievable feat in these modern days- kept the content of their events secret for their entirety of their running thanks to strict no-phone policies.
With their latest, and what promises to be their largest event, an immersive screening of Baz Luhrman’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ just on the horizon, I want to share my experiences of the past 3 years of Secret Cinema with you, as well as a few tips if you’re heading out to Romeo and Juliet this summer.
I was, up until fairly recently, a die-hard Secret Cinema attendee. Noone could come between myself and Secret Cinema tickets. I was one of the few who managed to get tickets to Blade Runner on their first release this year- due to sitting at my phone ready to buy tickets at 11:58 ahead of their 12:00 release. By 12:04 the website had crashed due to traffic. Getting those tickets where other had failed filled me with smug arrogance I haven’t experienced since I grew breasts 2 years ahead of all my friends.
Secret Cinema, the brain child of Fabien Riggall, is nothing short of genius. For a film lover, the immersive cinematic worlds that Secret Cinema creates are outstanding. The level of attention paid to faithfully recreating not only the features, but mood of a film is like nothing that has come before.
Back in 2016 I attended my first Secret Cinema event on my 23rd birthday. I had no idea what to expect, but with the event being Dirty Dancing, only my absolute favourite film of all time, I knew I’d enjoy it.
The event blew my mind and left me close to tears several times. A park in Leytonstone had been turned into Kellerman’s Holiday Camp and populated with characters from my most beloved film. I felt how I imagine 4 year olds feel at Disneyland. Even without the screening of the film, the festival vibe of the setting was enough to ensure a good night out. The sun was shining, drinks, food and dancing was plentiful and the whole place was buzzing. It was incredible. It was one of the best nights of my life- no messing.
That winter I anxiously waited on the release date for Moulin Rouge tickets. Within a few moments of the release time I had my tickets and the event could not come soon enough. After a few weeks we were sent details of our character and what to wear. In February 2017 I donned the finery of an 1890’s prostitute and headed to a secret location.
There is no anxiety like travelling to Secret Cinema on public transport anxiety. As you draw closer and closer to the location dressed pretty daringly you start to look for others heading the same place. When they don’t appear you begin to think you’ve got the location and date wrong, there is no call for you to be here and you will be ridiculed by the general public whilst wearing a basque and fishnets.
If there’s one thing I have learned from attending Secret Cinema, it’s that it takes an awful lot to make Londoners look twice. No-one bats an eyelid on the Northern line, no matter what you’re wearing, they just assume you’re going to Camden.
Despite my anxieties, when we arrived at the Secret Location, there was in fact an event running, an awfully good one at that. As I previously mentioned, part of the genius of Secret Cinema lies in their ability to capture the mood of the film. An old warehouse space had been transformed into 19th century Paris, filled with singing, dancing and general merriment. Throughout the evening surprises kept cropping up, often loyally creating scenes from the film and stirring up emotions of love and excitement in all present. By the time we actually got to the screening of the film everyone was excited enough to burst. It was a triumph.
The following day I shook off a HUGE hangover to book tickets to go again with different friends. No matter how I tried I could not quite communicate just how good this event was to everyone I spoke to. Words did not do justice to how good it had been. I listened to the soundtrack for weeks afterwards. It was just as good the second time.
Then we come to this year’s Blade Runner event. As I mentioned before, I was poised and ready to book the second those tickets came out. I like Blade Runner and was intrigued to see what Secret Cinema would cook up for a Sci-fi movie. The weeks rocked by and emails with details came, costumes were bought and public transport was braved.
Both prior Secret Cinema’s I’d attended had been big party movies with a party feel- Blade Runner was bound to be a markedly different experience, just from the nature of the film alone. The location was the same place used for Moulin Rouge, but was entirely transformed (apart from the toilets which still had graffiti from the previous event inside). The space had been rendered into an amazing futuristic city, complete with chlorinated rain storms, unsavoury characters, overbearing police and dive bars. The design of the space was flawless. But there was no party feel. We were given missions to complete, all of which petered out a bit shortly after we entered the space. It was fun- but I didn’t feel the love here.
When we came to the film screening, I actually got pretty cross. I always buy the lowest tier tickets, which are the most affordable, but admittedly still pricey. In the past two events, this had no bearing on how much I enjoyed the event. For Moulin Rouge, the cheapest tickets were the closest to the action. Blade Runner was different. The lowest tiers were seated separately from the higher price tickets and weren’t able to see a lot of the live action show that accompanied the film. We saw bits, but they saw whole parts that we didn’t. It was enough to make anyone grumpy.
I also noticed that many people left during the film- which was weird to me. It seemed that most had come to experience the Secret Cinema world and party, but not the actual film itself. I was insulted on behalf of Ridley Scott. I enjoyed the film and had a little dance in the rain afterwards, but didn’t leave euphoric as I had from the past two events. A few die hard Blade Runner fans I chatted with felt similar, they’d had a good time. But they weren’t moved.
There is also one final elephant in the room which I have not yet addressed.
These events are expensive. Tickets start from £45 ish on a weeknight, but on the weekend, the cheapest tickets you can get are £72! If you’re a huge film fan, like me, this won’t really phase you. It’s a once in a blue moon experience and the same sort of price bracket as going to see a band at the 02 or getting good seats at a West end show. BUT- then you have to get a costume, which you HAVE to wear, as those not in costume are not allowed in. So ticket and costume have pumped cost up to about £100- THEN factor in your drinks and food once you get there. As with most events, once you’re in the prices ROCKET up. A bottle of prosecco at Moulin Rouge was £30, food averaged at about £8 for a burger and individual drinks were the high end of central London prices. I estimate that each of the people in my group spent around £50 on food and drink once inside the event.
Despite my feelings on Blade Runner- I would encourage anybody to attend a Secret Cinema event.
For all of its issues, Secret Cinema provides a night out unlike anything else you can get in London. The price point is high, but if you’re a lover of the movie being used and can afford a treat, there’s no better place to go.
The only thing I would say, before you take the plunge and hit to your bank balance- is have a read of my do’s and don’ts.
· DO choose a movie you really like or care about. At the very least watch the movie before you attend. There are hundreds of details from the films woven in to the event, which will go right over your head if you have no idea what you’re watching.
· DO choose a like-minded buddy to take with you. It’s nice to make new friends at these events and fairly easy to- but having a pal to hang out with and explore with makes everything more fun (good advice for life really.) Try and find someone who WANTS to go, as there’s nothing worse than dragging around and unenthusiastic friend.
· DO read up before you get there. Secret Cinema email a lot of information before you attend the event. Make sure you’re checked guidelines on what to wear (footwear etc) and what to bring (paperwork, objects etc). Bringing what they suggest often means you can get a lot more involved with the immersive side of the night.
· DON’T try and sneak your phone in. Secret Cinema has a very strict no- phone policy. The security and staff are hot on the path of anyone they see with a phone and will confiscate repeat offenders. Plus, the whole point of the event is to get lost in the experience. 4 hours without Instagram is not going to kill you.
· DON’T ignore the dress code. Best case scenario you’ll feel dead left out. Worst case scenario you won’t get let in. You don’t need to buy the exact items listed in the email, but make a bit of effort.
· DO get stuck in. There is so much to do at a Secret Cinema night, if you choose to do it. As I said before, read the guidelines before you get in, but also read your character description, your mission and people you need to find. If you forget all of it, just start talking to one of the actors when you’re there, they’ll give you something to do. If you’ve made the effort to get tickets, get a costume and get there, the least you can do is get involved.
· DON’T talk the whole way through the film. But that’s just basic etiquette. You knew that right?
Whilst writing this has filled me with a deep nostalgia for the events I’ve been to, I will be taking a break for Secret Cinema for a while.
Going to 3 events in quick succession has spoiled me, which made me feel like I had a right to pick holes in events that still remain creative masterpieces.
Just like at Christmas, when you can’t even look at a delicious Quality Street anymore, because you’ve eaten too many, I have gorged on Secret Cinemas and need a detox.
I’ll be denying myself Secret Cinemas and sticking to a meagre normal cinema diet for a while. Hopefully by the next one I’ll be ready to appreciate the delights of Secret Cinema once more.
I wish everyone going to Romeo and Juliet the best time ever.