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Fabien Riggall • Creative director, Secret Cinema

“Films are being released and the cinemas are empty”

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- Founder and creative director of Secret Cinema Fabien Riggall announces its move into production as the success of the venture continues unabated

Fabien Riggall  • Creative director, Secret Cinema

Such is the success of Secret Cinema in London, run by Fabien Riggall, that it now comes as no surprise to see the company’s latest immersive production in the top ten of the weekly UK box-office chart throughout its run. This year, its revival of Blade Runner sat proudly on the top-ten list throughout the early summer, and its summer-festival outdoor screenings of the Baz Luhrmann classic Romeo + Juliet, which saw audience members dress up as Montagues and Capulets and be serenaded by bands, earned £1 million a week throughout its August run. As Secret Cinema’s team expands, Riggall now wants to move into directing immersive film experiences himself. 

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Cineuropa: How have the Secret Cinema outdoor events grown?
Fabien Riggall:
 It’s evolved to the point where we are catering for 60,000 attendees. It’s gone up from 5,000 to 10,000, then 20,000, and now 60,000, which is bigger than most music festivals. The number of people who have attended Secret Cinema for our Blade Runner and Romeo + Juliet events is around the same as the number of people who go to Glastonbury. It’s got to the point where we can confidently predict those numbers without working with any big-name artists and working with a 20-year-old film. There is something about making them fun for audiences.

How have you and the industry changed?
We have Katie Davidson, who is head of licensing and intellectual property, and she works developing relationships with studios, which are really blossoming. I think there is a real thirst for what we are doing, and the industry has woken up to what we can do for movies, whether they’re smaller movies like The Handmaiden or Searching for Sugar Man [+see also:
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, or the bigger blockbusters.

Have you ever thought about distributing films yourself?
In terms of the traditional distribution model, no. We are interested in partnering with distributors and building great relationships. I think the deal will change because what we do is expensive, but the results speak for themselves in terms of how we can help the box office. The Handmaiden is a good example of that. 

Say I’m a producer and I have a film that I believe is perfect for Secret Cinema: when should I approach you?
My situation is that I’m setting up a production company, developing films and working on new kinds of movies. I’m talking to a lot of producers all the time about scripts. I’m going to start making my own films, and that is where I think it gets really interesting: the idea that you create a world or a universe that you know is going to be released in different formats – that is the challenge. The film has to be set in a specific world and have a subversive storyline, and if it’s participatory and shot in a specific location, like a prison or a school, then so much the better. 

Is it possible to get Secret Cinema to do these events around Europe? 
Absolutely. Katie is constantly talking to the studios about taking some of those titles over to various European destinations. The Handmaiden is one that I’m particularly passionate about. I was the creative director on it, and I really loved the concept that we managed to get a city like London to be quiet. That is one that I would love to do in other territories. Now we have a CEO and a whole team that go through all the different options. Max Alexander, the CEO, is really interested in doing smaller productions in different territories, and so there is always a conversation to be had, especially with titles that Secret Cinema has already had experience with.

What is the draw of the Secret Cinema experience? 
I think people talk about “experience” all the time because they are so distracted by technology that they feel the need to have these experiences – whereas before, it was called “life”. What Secret Cinema does is create a world that is separate from reality but which could be reality. When you are at Cannes, you get a buzz from watching a film – there is not that sense of going to the local cinema. But films are being released and the cinemas are empty. There is not that buzz.

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