Passersby stopped to gawk at the two Deloreans that lined Mulberry Street in New York's Little Italy on Sunday night. "Check this out!" said one local, who stopped to take a selfie with the car. "This can't just be a coincidence!" he said to his friend.
The two men didn't know it, but the old-fashioned futuristic cars were, in fact, time machines and were parked on the street as part of the "Enchantment Under the Sea" dance and screening of "Back to the Future" taking place at the gymnasium in nearby St. Patrick's Church. An old lady urged guests waiting in line for the dance to "Save the Clock Tower!" while Doc Brown showed off his flux capacitor. Marty McFly, in his signature down vest, was also making the rounds (later in the evening, he'd rock out on the guitar).
When we think of immersive storytelling, Delorean time machines and grownups dressed as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles don't usually come to mind. But that's the case with New York-based BBQ Films, a production company which creates events where attendees participate in the movie being screened, most recently "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Back to the Future."
"Film has roots in theater and the silent films and the talkies and then you had 3D and then this IMAX experience. Film has been progressing, but if you go back to the beginning when people were performing in the space where movies were shown. This kind of experience brings it back to its roots. We can be a new Magic Lantern for a new age," Gabriel Rhoads, who co-founded the company with his wife Lauren Lickus in 2007, recently told Indiewire.
For the "Back to the Future" event, attendees got gussied up in 50s prom-wear, posed for prom photos and danced to the golden oldies before the movie started. BBQ Films "crew members" dressed as characters from "Back to the Future" interacted with the crowd -- the "school principal" even rounded up some "delinquents" and took them to his office where he handed out detention notices as a teen rebel furtively passed around a flask (see video below). It was a double-dose of nostalgia for both the 1980s and the 1950s (even though many of the event's attendees weren't born when the film was released in 1985).
"Some of it is nostalgia and some of it is just love for the movie," said Lickus. "Going to be a movies used to be an event and you would share that with your community."
"Back to the Future" was the team's 16th effort. Past events include Holiday on the Fhloston Paradise ("The Fifth Element"), Patrick Bateman's 27th Birthday Party ("American Psycho"), Derelicte Fashion Show ("Zoolander"), Party at the Moon Tower ("Dazed & Confused") and Mobster Movie Night ("The Untouchables").
When selecting movies, BBQ Films looks for films that feature a social scene. "You have to give people some context as to how they're going to be behaving in this space. If we throw a party at the Moon Tower, the iconic scene from 'Dazed and Confused' and we have folks heckling freshmen, people know what to expect from that. A movie can be a drama - like 'American Psycho,' but it can't be depressive. We tried ' Sid and Nancy' and had a punk rock show afterwards. But it was not something that's pro-social. People were just hanging around looking gloomy," said Rhoads.
Ultimately, Rhoads and Lickus see the events as a new way to experience movies -- the live theater elements involving elaborate costumes and sets help to create a community around storytelling -- and the couple plans to take the show on the road. They have partnered with Brooklyn Brewery and are envisioning a BBQ Films tour to various cities working with the local creative communities.
BBQ Films events "create this authentic environment for folks to engage with fictional stories. It's been wonderful to see that grow - they can watch a fantastic episode of 'Game of Thrones' at home, but when people go out and want to experience a story outside of their homes, they can go to an experiential wraparound with a story with people beside them. It's like front run at a Bruce Springsteen concert. You're there," said Rhoads. "The end goal with this is to reinvent the way people watch some movies and create new social experience for people to immerse themselves in. That's the vision."
Find out about future events here.