You know that acquaintance on Facebook, the person you don’t know too well, but their life is too interesting to ignore? Well for me, that person is Leah Taylor Dunbar. We met years ago when her husband and I worked together on Manson The Musical – yes, a musical comedy about Charles Manson that surprisingly never made it out of off-off-Broadway. Leah has, for the past few years, been posting photos of her involvement with an immersive cinema company called BBQ Films. After seeing her post photos from their latest Mean Girls event in Greenpoint, I decided it was time to ask Leah what this BBQ Film thing was all about.
Leah couldn’t wait to tell me about the company and invited me to her office at Flavorpill in Soho to discuss. “The production company started out as a casual rooftop cookout and film screening in Spanish Harlem,” she told me, “and developed into a pop-up cinema club and then to the fully experiential production company around today. Their goal is to use storytelling to create community and bring an element of surprise and excitement back to movie fans.”
BBQ Films creates immersive cinematic experiences in extraordinary locations. They bring your favorite movies to life via interactive installations. Their events take place in venues all around New York city and especially in Brooklyn. They screen the movie in sections and fold in their own custom storyline, costumed actors, creative set pieces, live music to create a movie-going experience like no other. From American Psycho to Weekend at Bernie’s, each BBQ Films event has its own character and each event draws a unique audience ranging from 200 to 1,000 ticketed guests.
I sat down with one of their directors, Leah Taylor Dunbar, to learn more about this unique cinematic experience.
How would you describe BBQ Films?
BBQ Films is a production company producing immersive cinematic events. We base the events around our favorite cult films or movies that we think our audiences will love. We often look for movies that have anniversaries coming up so we can celebrate that nostalgia.
We’ve heard of immersive theatre, but what is immersive cinema?
Immersive cinema is a 4D experience where we integrate the screening into a larger event. You are in the movie itself. We break up the film in different ways. We have set piece surrounding you and actors interacting with you so you feel that you are almost part of the film.
Are the actors playing characters from the movie?
Sometimes, but one of our favorite things to do is continue the story of the movie so that it becomes a completely original work of art and creativity. For example, what we did with Weekend at Bernie’s. We created a character, Bernie Lomax Jr., who was Bernie’s son. We knew that Bernie Sr. was a grifter and an all round shady character, so we wondered – what would Bernie Jr. be in the year 2014? We decided he would be a high flying douchebag of a tech guy who was launching a new currency which we called BernBucks. The audience was therefore invited to the launch party of BernBucks in the Rockaways – that was the event. We screened the film, but we had actors running around as FBI agents and gangsters. Then BJ Jr. was “killed” and was carried around like in the original movie.
How long is one of these events?
Usually three or four hours. You’ll see the whole movie and we want to give everyone time to interact with our sets and actors.
Is there food and drink?
Sometimes, depending upon the event. We like to try and theme the food and beverages to match the film. When we did Ghostbusters we created Ecto Cooler cocktails. When we did the Fast and The Furious guests were invited to a Toretto family cook-out, which was a big part of the movie. We brought in a food truck to provide burger and hotdogs and fries etc.
How did you get involved?
I was invited to an event as a member of the press. At the event, my husband and I were just enthralled with the creativity. We knew we wanted to be involved and as my husband is an actor, his mind was reeling with the possibilities. I was more drawn to the creative process of coming up with wild and wacky fan elements.
What is your role in the production?
I am a director. We have a crew of about ten directors, along with the founders Gabriel Rhoads and Lauren. We ideate around what the event is going to be, what movie we’re going to screen. Once we have that base, we open it to the wider film crew, which is hundreds of people. Not everyone is involved in every production. We have these big brain storms, where everyone gets in a room and we spitball ideas. My job usually is coming up with the basic framework, coming up with the overarching brand, I guess you could say, which ties in with my day job here at Flavorpill. I also look for sponsors and think of schemes to integrate sponsors in ways that feel authentic, relevant, unobtrusive and hopefully adds to the story where possible. We all have very different day jobs, but we are brought together by our passion for film and immersive experiences. We all have different superpowers that we bring to the table.
Can you tell me about some of your recent Brooklyn events?
Recently we were at the Brooklyn Bazaar in Greenpoint, which was fantastic. We did our Mean Girls party there, we hosted the winter talent show. We threw the Weekend At Bernie’s event at the Playland Motel in the Rockaways. That was amazing because we were able to take over the entire hotel and each room housed a different installation. We transformed Rough Trade in Williamsburg into Empire Records and at Villian, also in Williamsburg, we did our Ghostbusters HQ and the Turtles events there.
What’s the next project you have lined up?
I can’t say too much, but there is something we’ll be doing at Brooklyn Bazaar in May in partnership with Flavorpill. It’s going to be a different kind of event. It’s going to be free, because we have a big sponsor. After that there will be a late summer event. Stay tuned!
You can find more information at bbqfilms.com