When I met Béla Lugosi and Ed Wood…!
Today, I would like to talk to you about my first experience with virtual reality, or at least, the first that was impressive enough for me to give it the first place. An incredible experience that in fact goes beyond virtual reality, and includes immersive theater experience, cinema, and audience participation! Something totally new in my world…! An experience that also made me quite upset I wasn’t able to share it with some people at the time. But first, an appetizer I had never tasted before the meal…
“The Horrifically Real Virtuality, presented by Phi as a Canadian premiere, invites you on set of a new film by Ed Wood (the worst filmmaker of all time!). Created by DVgroup and directed by Marie Jourdren, the immersive drama invites the viewer to explore a new narrative genre, an artistic and technological innovation. It allows the public to evolve in a virtual environment while interacting physically and in real time with characters and material objects. After, the experience continues with an immersion in the amazing universe of Ed Wood, thanks to a scenography imagined by Phi.
The “film” stars Bela Lugosi, the actor known for his vampire portrayals, who agrees to participate in his friend Ed Wood’s film, to help give him a chance in Hollywood. Lugosi possesses a unique ability to access a parallel dimension, in virtual reality, where he’s called upon to meet strange humanoids from another space-time: the Phi Centre in 2019.
Presented as a Canadian premiere
In Competition, Venice Virtual Reality
La Mostra de Venise, 2018
Innovation in Storytelling
Future of StoryTelling, 2018
Bela Lugosi: Sylvio Archambault, Claude Talbot, Guillaume Tremblay
Ed Wood: Gabriel Morin, Francis Vachon, Thomas Vallières
Sarah: Julia Borsellino, Marie-Michelle Garon, Caroline Lavigne
Ed Wood’s world
On top of the immersive experience, continue your exploration of the amazing universe of Ed Wood in an installation, also open to the general public. Filmmaker long despised for his series of Z-grade movies, Ed Wood has become a cult figure of Hollywood cinema. The installation features a bar and a boutique inspired by Wood’s films such as Plan 9 from Outer Space and Bride of the Monster.”
Introduction of the experience from the website of the Phi Centre.
After I had noticed the event on Facebook, it never left my mind afterwards, and I finally decided to rush to register for the experience that appeared to be the most spectacular of the century! As usual, I went all alone on Friday, April 26th 2019. Not many people around me were willing to spend money on that sort of things. As usual again, I arrived in advance at the Phi Centre, a nice-looking building with a vintage charm located at the heart of old Montreal, or a big North American city at the end of the 19th century, and the atmosphere of virtual reality coming from the second floor immediately convinced me that the experience was going to be a hit. We were a group of about ten people that came with their family or friends, and me, alone. A funny-looking woman invited us to enter a dark space surrounded by closed stage curtains and movie posters to establish the rules we had to follow once we would pass through the curtains. The main rule, to put it in a nutshell, was to stay quiet and do as we were going to be told by the director that was about to welcome us. On the other side of the curtains, comedian Claude Talbot was waiting for us in a setting that represented the interior of a 1920’s house, with all sorts of electronic devices covering his entire body. That was impressive indeed! His gestures were recorded to appear on a nearby screen on which a computer generated imagery of Béla Lugosi was reproducing Talbot’s exact moves. The clownish woman who had given us the rules was still there, and kept interrupting the shooting to warn the comedians about all the issues that were altering our experience. I could feel that as a group, we were torn between doubts concerning the money we had spent, and the fact that we wanted that woman to shut her mouth. That is when I finally understood that she was the producer of the movie we had been invited to shoot with the director. The latter then asked for specific volunteers to help him shoot his risky film. I am the kind of person who never raises her hand during those moments, but is dying inside, hoping to be chosen. In the end, someone was taking care of the music, someone else was working on the editing thanks to a software on an Ipad specifically designed for the experience, and if I remember correctly, I (Yes!) was in charge of the lights by pressing on a small machine whenever I wanted the scene to be enlightened. And so, for several minutes, the actor was acting while we were all assistants to Ed Wood. That was magical! Once the scene was over and Wood was satisfied with it, the producer invited us to follow her towards a third dark space closed by curtains where we were given a virtual reality headset and an electronic backpack connected to our body by the technicians. From that exact moment, I lost track with the real world, and I was suddenly living in black and white, as I did believe the world was used to some time ago. I found myself in a strange universe in which I had no legs anymore, and the upper part of my body was put inside a funny-looking mini space engine. Every person around me looked exactly the same. It didn’t matter how many females were among us, we were all male humanoids wearing a sophisticated costume and tie, and weird-looking glasses on our head. I tried to raise my arm. Wow! I had become a humanoid! The producer’s voice was still audible, and served as a guide for us as we were then invited to go out in the streets in the 1920s, and enter a prestigious theater. We were never afraid to bump into each other, as we were all seeing each other as humanoids. I thought I had a minor technical issue at that point, but the producer wasted no time grabbing me aside to fix it with great professionalism. We entered the theater, and sat on small circular chairs that I could feel, even though I wasn’t supposed to have any butt. A film taking place in what seemed to be a deserted and creepy forest with some sort of fence lying on the ground was then screened for us, to our delight. The film moved towards us, and bam, we were inside it in the blink of an eye! We noticed some sort of box put on a table in the middle of the forest, and we were implicitly invited to explore it. I asked innocently: “What are we supposed to do?”, “I don’t know.”, a woman in the group answered. We kept putting our hands on and inside that box and its content, which seemed to be made of wood, and represent a 1920s-inspired house interior, before we were asked to join Lugosi on his set after some time. Too much time. What a funny and touching character! We were all so shy as he was doing his show. He then invited us to introduce ourselves one by one, and improvise with him. One of our group members tried to flee the embarrassing moment by pretending she wanted to go to the ladies room. I decided to act the same when it was my turn. Lugosi then said: “Why on earth do these people from the future all have gas problems!”, before grabbing my arm to lead me to the small ladies room next to the set. Not so different from ours the ladies room of the 1920s! We then stood there, laughing, with the other woman, before Lugosi came back shortly afterwards for us, and invited the group to sit on the couch for a moment. He didn’t know how to end his film, and asked for our opinion. As no one was willing to help him, he proposed an ending that would take place in his own future, the 1950s in Hollywood, and before we were able to think about it too much, we found ourselves in another room for a moment, bright but empty, before we came back to the real world. As we were leaving the set once our technological equipment had been removed, the producer, Sarah in fact, who had given us the rules, was saying goodbye to us, while apologizing for the mediocre service we had received throughout the experience, adding at the same time, using a desperate tone, that she was available anytime for any professional contract. My goodness! It is only at the end of the game that I noticed a change in the atmosphere as the group, and I finally understood she was a third comedian to the act, and that her remarks were all part of the game! I then understood better why they were talking about immersive theater experience! What a journey!
The experience was extraordinary for me! I had absolutely no regrets in regards to the money I had spent, and which was definitely worth spending! The comedians were exceptional, the mise-en-scène was very original, the technology was on point and impressive, and the organization was perfect! The only thing I disliked was the fact that the script lacked a plot, and some consistancy. I was moving from room to room without noticing any link between them, or between the characters we embodied. The ending was too quickly executed, and I was a bit disappointed, especially since we were supposed to travel to Hollywood in the 1950s, and find ourselves having drinks beside a pool with the biggest stars of the era!
For my own little grading, I give this experience four stars out of five!
I believe in fate, except for when I write.
Head image: La Presse