Confessions from a Cult Leader
I accidentally started a cult.
Or, should I say, cults… if you consider the fandom that surrounded The Devil’s Carnival and Repo!
But this time, I mean an actual – – cult…
Well, wait. Let’s rewind and put this in context.
Firstly, this is my blog. I have been randomly, and not frequently updating it. This is a home for my thought vomit. What will follow are my ramblings. This space helps me make sense on the senseless. I keep this journal for myself, so in five years I can look back at moments that have moved me and try to better understand them.
I have been a director now for almost 15 years. There are moments even now that I look at my surroundings and just think… What the fuck… Seriously… how did I end up here? This house… this life… this career.
Last night I am went to a screening of SAW IV at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles… When they asked me attend and partake in a Q and A, I struggled… What could I possibly tell them? The truth is, I don’t remember anything about the Saw movies. While only ten years ago for me, it seems like a different lifetime.
I have changed… I’m a different person. I credit this in part to the fate of Repo! The Genetic Opera and the success of the first Devil’s Carnival Road Show.CULT – a relatively small group of people having beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.When Repo! began to pick up steam and started to find its audience, the word “CULT” became synonymous with what we had created.
At the time, I never saw anything CULTY about Repo. I loved Rock Operas. I wanted to try my hand at making one…
But due to the fringe nature of the project… And the “gothic” attire of the audience, our little opera became subjugated to the CULT section at the video stores…It was in my time making Repo that I feel I had my first “truly creative artistic moment” as a filmmaker… The movie was panned… Destroyed by mainstream critics, and worse, pushed aside from any meaningful distribution…I had a movie, but what I needed was an audience. As a filmmaker, that is truly the key to success. I can have the greatest movie in the world, but if no one sees it, it doesn’t matter.
And so The Repo! Road Show was born.If I couldn’t secure a traditional release, I needed to forge my own path, and muscle through the bullshit and find the fans directly.
Six months later, the fans became an army… suddenly I found myself in the center of a community who would willingly bleed for this (some of them did)…I would like to think this happened because of the love of the movie or my direction of the material, but in retrospect, I think the movie only played into 25% of their passion. The other 75% was something else. Now, looking back, the success that Repo! found flourished due to the community. The friendships that were made, and connections that were formed…
How did this happen?
I spent MONTHS on the road taking a film print from city to city, all in an attempt to find an audience, and engage the audience and make them care…
Without marketing money, we turned to social media and asked for help from the community. I don’t think any of us were prepared for the reactions that would follow. We didn’t know what else to do, so we drove… and we took our opera directly to the fans…A community was quickly formed, and friendships were forged. A group of strangers took it upon themselves to ensure Repo! was exposed to the masses. They dressed up… They tattooed their bodies, the movement became a lifestyle.
These people would show up to the theater and get to interact not only with ME, but also with each other. They would dress up, put on makeup, and come to the cinema and take off their masks. They were allowed to be themselves. And be as introverted or extroverted and weird as they wanted to be in a safe environment knowing they would not be judged. It was freeing.I realize now that it was during that REPO! Road Show that I truly realized the storyteller and director I wanted to be. I wanted to create EXPERIENCES with the audience. I wanted the art to transcend what was on the screen.
Making a great movie was always the goal, but connecting with the audience LONG after they watched the movie was the aspiration. I had this obsession, this need to know that they would leave the theater, and their passion and dedication would extend past the rolling credits.
I wanted the art to impact them in their day to day life. I needed to connect with them on a more visceral level. I got the first taste of this during our little opera.
Once my time with Repo! had ended, I decided to make Mother’s Day, and the headlines began…
There was that word again… Cult.
After Mother’s Day it was The Devil’s Carnival.My intention was never to make “cult” cinema… All I was trying to do was make a connection… do something than demanded more of the audience than passively sitting and watching these stories. I wanted them to INTERACT with what we were constructing.
An educational lesson… when you demand more of the audience, they become increasingly more active towards the project. Why is this? Because you are asking them to dedicate and spend time. You are asking them to bring a part of themselves inside the world. In essence, they take ownership… Why? Because they are giving you their time, sweat, passion, and love. There is no shortage of blogs that I have written on The Devil’s Carnival, so I will not bore you with my a long form rehashing of why we created it, and what our intentions were taking it on the road. In short, we wanted to give the audience an EXPERIENCE. Something they had to be present for. Something that FORCED them to be in the moment…
We wanted to turn their experience into a Carnival. YES, it was about the movie, but it was more about THE AUDIENCE. Let them dress up, let them become Carnies… The movie was almost secondary to what THEY had created. An actual carnival. Once you are on the road, and in the middle of the chaos – – it is addictive, utterly, indefinably, addictive. The energy of watching as fans immerse themselves in something so passionately is inspiring… It fueled me…
And this is where I saw myself change. My intentions as a director changed… I wanted to create worlds that would allow the audience to play in. Not just in the 90 minutes I was telling the story, but in the weeks leading up, and in the months after.
Up until last year, I dabbled in creating experiences… I tried my hardest with Repo! And The Devil’s Carnival to turn the movie theater into something interactive… After that, Emilie Autumn and I collaborated on an interactive music based experience based on her book (which we plan to turn into a fully realized experience next year). Again, the focus was the audience and their experience. We wanted to make them PART of the show.
Emilie was on the Warped Tour, and we used this opportunity to create a world in which you had to interact with to unlock the music, and the story. It was bonkers. And it was beautiful. I am a storyteller… Irrespective of medium, I want to tell stories. And, I want the stories to follow audiences home.
After seeing SLEEP NO MORE in New York for the 15th time, I realized that it was possible to engage an audience and entangle them inside a world by making them a central character. More importantly, I realized I had to try to take my passion to the next level. I had to create my own Immersive Experience. I realized how lazy I was becoming as a consumer. Always on my cell phone… Always fast-forwarding… I was doing 10 things at once, and not paying attention to any one thing.
But in SLEEP NO MORE, something snapped inside of me. For a moment… I found myself not caring about doing anything BUT being inside SLEEP NO MORE. It was this strange surreal feeling. One that I wish I had the words to articulate to you.
In the months after leaving my first trip to SLEEP NO MORE, I traveled all over trying to soak up as much of this world as possible. BLACKOUT, DELUSION, THEN SHE FELL… I even flew to London to see THE DROWNED MAN, ALICE UNDERGROUND .
I was fascinated. More so, I was inspired. I felt like there was a part of me rediscovering myself inside each of these productions…
After a few months of gallivanting the globe, I returned to Los Angeles. I had this newfound passion for this story-telling medium, without the means to pull it off. The more I talked about it, the more blank stares I was met with.
I became depressed. Once again in my career I was becoming bitter. I hated the fact I worked YEARS on a movie, and then had to watch as it bypassed theaters, and found its way into the digital graveyard, to hopefully be discovered… THEN, if someone did happen upon my flick they actually gave it their attention as opposed to text messaging, Snap chatting, Instagramming, or worse.
I learned about reactions to my work through critics reviews, instead of seeing first hand from the audience.
Imagine this, you work 6 years to get a movie financed, produced, and finally distributed, but your only real glimpse of the effect it has had on the population is a review on some horror site. Worse, you know that in just a few short days there will be another film to push yours away, and before long, that film will be just another poster on your wall.
All of the above said, I love movies. Cinema is my passion. But trying to stay sane in this world of independent filmmaking is hard.
I want what I am doing to matter, not just be another clickable link on a streaming site.
It becomes disheartening.
I know, I know… whiny Darren… boo hoo hoo, you get to make movies then write blogs bitching about them…
I’m not bitching about getting to make movies… I am the luckiest son of bitch I know. I am bitching about how the movies I make are consumed. I am bitching about my relationship with my audience. I can do better for them. I can engage them on a more cerebral level.
I love horror. I love all things macabre. But I wanted to make an experience that puts the audience in the middle of my story, and makes them all central characters in it. BUT, I didn’t want to hand-hold. I didn’t want to give them instructions, I didn’t want spoon-feed them. I wanted to create something where they themselves had to figure it out, piece it together, and communicate with each other to figure out “what the fuck” was going on.
I was introduced to Producer Gordon Bijelonic, who immediately saw the same vision I did and raised the capital for us to start this insane journey together.
All it takes is one person to believe… that person was Gordon.
This time I beat the press to the punch. CULT.
I will make a cult. The Cult of me. My beliefs, my ideas on technology, my love of the macabre… Actually no, scratch that… The Cult of WE. Myself, and my longtime collaborator Clint Sears.
Clint and I have been working together since we both accidentally dated the same girl in middle school back a few decades ago.
Clint and I have been working on projects together ever since. (maybe you saw our Tales Of Halloween segment THE NIGHT BILLY RAISED HELL).
The Tension Experience was born.
It’s funny, and sad, and enraging all at the same time. To me, Tension seemed like a no-brainer, a natural progression to narrative storytelling… But, as with much in my career, I spent months upon months trying to convince anyone to let me do this, try this, build this.
So what is it? What is The Tension Experience?
I think trying to define it only cheapens it. But, in a word… It’s the future. Immersive Theater… Interactivity… Making the audience part of the creation, and world building.
The Tension Experience is a world in which the audiences are the central character. They are as much the creators as myself or Clint…
For the sake of this blog, I will bypass the majority of the ARG portion of this Universe. For those unaware of what the ARG is, it is Alternate Reality Gaming. Basically, it involves fracturing a narrative and throwing it all over the internet, as well as real world locations, then the audience has to piece back together the story by uncovering, investigating and sharing.
The story revolved around a mysterious CULT known as The O.O.A.
A young actress who fell into their trap and became a victim to their teachings..
A father, trying to recover his girl, and reunite their family…
And a group of activists who would do anything to see The O.O.A. crumble.
For those that took part in the ARG, they spent months and months and months uncovering and assembling the story.
There were many on the outside who believed we were crossing lines… Many who thought that the O.O.A. was a real cult with nefarious motives.
In the months before my name was released as being part of this, I dealt with death threats… Cult watch groups… and even some harsh words from the ARG community for taking the narrative too far into the real world with line blurring.
Countless outsiders watched from the sidelines as they caught bits and pieces of a narrative and thought thought us to be a real, insidious secret society hellbent on brainwashing those who followed.
But for those on the inside… It was real. They cared. They had relationships with our characters. They weren’t just watching them on a screen. They were INTERACTING with them. Talking to them on the phone. Meeting them in parks, coffee shops, and bars. These were not actors… They were real.
Putting the audience in the center of this story and having their direct actions influence, adjust, and cause momentum in the story made everyone’s passion so much more intense, and realized. I remember one particular moment where Clint and I were forced to break character and talk to a fan who was devastated that a character she so greatly loved was killed off. To her, the loss she was feeling was real. And why wouldn’t it be? She had spend almost 5 months interacting with person. Sharing stories with this person… This wasn’t a fictional creation… This was a friend to her…
I feel like we could write a novel on TENSION… And at the rate it’s going Clint and I just might.
Proud would be an understatement on my feelings toward TENSION. We had created a narrative that was affecting people…
There was this part of me that felt creatively satisfied… However, there was this other part that wanted to push it further. I have this need to fit in. To be recognized by my peers, or at the very minimum be noticed by them. I have had numerous friends and colleagues shun TENSION… some of them down right turning their back on it.
TENSION seems to be lost on those I want to impress the most. “I don’t get it…”, “It’s too strange…”, “It’s too invasive…”, “I don’t do haunted houses…” or, worse, indifference.
“It’s just Bousman, being Bousman…”
However, in the end our quest in creating Tension was about the audience. Once again, I found myself in the center of a beautiful, crazy, surreal, group of fans, whom have become a family.
In September, ASCENSION opened.
ASCENSION is a fully immersive, walk through, theatrical event. Sometimes the word “haunt” is used in its description, but there is NOTHING haunted about this. We use that word in hopes of making those who don’t understand have context…
This is a narrative just like a movie, except you are a character inside of it. Your choices can alter the story. Instead of watching it, you are doing it.
Anyone can enter ASCENSION without any prior knowledge of what came before. It is completely independent of the ARG.
What is it? Think WESTWORLD.
ASCENSION is a world in which you can interact. Be a part of the story, or just be a voyeur in it.
With every project I do, I find who am I changes. I learn. I grow. I have realizations that help shape me both creatively, and personally.
ASCENSION, however has redefined what I find important as a director and artist.
SAW IV Darren would have told you the camera shots and transitions were cool and important.
REPO! Darren would have said flashy colors, and over the top theatrics were cool and important.
TENSION Darren says making a real lasting connection with an audience is what is cool and important.
We live in a world of constant stimulation, produced constantly. How present are we ever really? ASCENSION is an escape. An Escape from TV, from Internet, from cellphones, from this very blog.
TENSION is about making connections. Real, human interactions.
TENSION is about community.
To those on the outside… the uninitiated, TENSION is a Cult – but to others within the community… TENSION is a family who takes care of their own…
In the last year I have had the insane pleasure of working with a group of the most talented actors, and crew members I have ever worked with.
There is no sentence I can write that can describe the rush of arriving at ASCENSION nightly and watching this all in action. The 50+ actors, the countless crew members who have sacrificed sleep and sanity to pull off this insanely complex production.
Once again, I have found myself being able to realize another passion project of mine. My hope is that others will get to experience ASCENSION before it closes in a few short weeks.
In a world that has endless choices for entertainment, the one thing that our industry has come to agree upon is that success is now counted less in volume (today’s top prime time numbers would have been canceled in the 80s and 90s) and more in a having a strong, passionate, and devoted following. By this gauge I think I am finally able to be okay with being a cult leader and thank my fans for it.
The CULT of Tension is real. Its message and teachings are real. Please help and support this in the next few weeks because ultimately, I too, am just another puppet of the Institute…
Tickets are available: www.TheTensionExperience.com