Hacked Off film’s immersive cinema screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off always sounded like a great way to spend a Friday evening. My only concern was whether expectation would match the reality of screening an 80s classic in an academic building. How would the escapism of Ferris Bueller translate to a space more used to Shakespeare, Milton and Literary Theory? Would the joy of John Hughes’ vision be dulled by the subterranean setting? But as I swiftly realised, this was a stroke of excellent planning by Owen Donovan and Edd Elliott, the brains behind Hacked Off Films. As the 120 strong crowd started to seat themselves (about the size of my own school year back in ’03) I felt increasingly part of Ferris’s world. In our assorted 80s gear, inside our own concrete classroom, we were the ‘sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads’ of Hughes’ High Schools. A postgraduate tutor (Michael Mayo) who had been fortunately coerced into portraying Ferris’ economics teacher emerged into the Lecture Theatre. This led to a genius sequence in which he used the audience to call the register. We scrambled to claim “Atkinson” “Blasingham” or “Bruton-Jones” for our own before leaving “Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…” hanging as the opening titles rolled.
There was a collective sigh of meta-cinematic satisfaction as the English lecture scene on screen echoed the audience, right down to matching lecterns (a parallel not even the Hacked Off team anticipated, as I later learnt). These moments of grin-inducing realisation were what characterised Hacked Off Film’s approach, bringing surprise and novelty to a film that I imagine most of the audience had seen many a time before. There were slight technical issues but these were minimal and dealt with well, using the same economics teacher we’d met at the start.
The actors mingling with the audience in the foyer set the tone from the beginning. Several carried Pepsi cans, asking for donations to ‘Save Ferris’ whilst really collecting coppers for their chosen charity ExVac. Dougie Young, last seen in Angels in America, brooded in the corner as the drug-addled delinquent played by Charlie Sheen. Becca Fallon, a fantastically cast Jennifer Grey lookalike, scowled at all and sundry as Ferris’ sister Jeannie.
Donovan and Elliott had clearly thought a lot about their immersion experience, keeping it casual but clever, and full of little surprises. The duo say they’re proud that they’ve managed to keep their events cheaper than regular cinema, and they’ve clearly spent their limited funds wisely. Details like placing a packed of Oreos and a Pepsi (the original sponsors) at each place, and borrowing paintings from Exeter JCR to make a mini-gallery were both low-key and greatly appreciated. They left the larger stunts for appropriate moments later on in the film – complementing the ‘Twist and Shout’ carnival scene by releasing balloons and firing confetti cannons.
Producing ‘SAVE FERRIS’ t-shirts was a smart move, showing just how tuned into the cult the organisers are. They matched savvy audience awareness with their own ingenuity at every turn. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a much-loved film, as indicated by the audience’s quiet chant of “Let my Cameron Go” and our crooning along to Wayne Newson’s ‘Danke Schoen’ at appropriate points. Its cult following made the film a brilliant choice for this sort of screening and gave Hacked Off a bit of a head start for success. What Donovan, Elliott and their team did so well was tap into its tongue-in-cheek, camp, homespun energy.
This is only Hacked Off Film’s second immersive cinema event, building on the success of screening Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Exeter’s Dining Hall last Michaelmas. But they’ve clearly hit on a winning formula, and are aware of the importance of their choices of film and location, not using the same space twice so that each time it really fits the theme. The commitment to detail and sheer enjoyment evident throughout Friday’s show promises great things for the future of Hacked Off Films. Their other endeavour, the Oxford leg of The Future Shorts Festival is already a firm favourite of the Oxford Hub, and fast approaching as part of the Turl Street Arts Festival. Further information about this and all of their future projects can be found on their facebook page, which is well worth a look and a ‘like’. Elliott told Cherwell that the main focus for him was always “how much fun can we have”. This is precisely what came across. The experience was fun rather than flashy; the film was enhanced rather than overpowered. I felt like this was something thrown together by and for Ferris’s friends. And I loved it for that.