Kids often dress up as characters from their favorite stories and will spend hours playacting in tales of their own creation. But adults rarely do that -- at least outside the bedroom.
Academy Award-winning writer-director Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") wants to change all that.
"I think there is a lot of creativity that is not used, and I think people could use their own creativity to entertain themselves," Gondry said. "That's my concept."
In a new collaboration with Deitch Projects, Gondry has transformed the gallery in New York's SoHo into a "back lot," an intricate playground of sets, costumes and props. Here, visitors are encouraged to gather a group of friends, spend about two hours shooting a movie, take home copies, and allow others to view their creations via the gallery's video store.
Sound familiar? Well, it's essentially a recreation of the one in Gondry's latest film, "Be Kind Rewind."
In the movie, set to open Feb. 22, Jerry (Jack Black) inadvertently erases the tapes in his friend's (Mos Def's) video store, and the pair re-create the movies to keep the business afloat. They call their wild, low-tech, guerrilla approach to filmmaking "sweding." The plan works better than expected, and the entire community of Passaic, N.J., unites to make a movie.
"That's the beauty of being a director," Gondry said in a telephone interview from Berlin. "You can create the world according to what you want to happen."
Residents of Passaic participated in the filming of "Be Kind Rewind," and Gondry was inspired by their enthusiasm to continue the community filmmaking in a "more real-life way."
Gondry explained that he doesn't want the content created at the gallery to be posted online. He sees the activity as the entertainment and wants to promote an environment free of of competition or critique.
"I intend to prove that people can enjoy their time without being part of the commercial system and serving it," he said in a press release.
Although the exhibition was not created as an advertisement for the film, New Line Cinema will reap the benefits of the additional publicity garnered by the Deitch project.
"It's a great way to market the movie. It elevates the film to an art form ... and brings it to life," New Line marketing director Chris Carlisle said.
The exhibition fits in with the studio's interactive advertising strategy. On the "Be Kind Rewind" movie Web site users can "swede" themselves into popular films. They can also help "swede" the Internet, which the character Jerry has accidentally destroyed.
"Industrywide, the trend is toward guerrilla marketing campaigns," CNBC's media and entertainment reporter Julia Boorstin said. She cited the successful viral ad campaigns for the film "Cloverfield" and the ABC television show "Lost."
Studios are seeking out audience participation at a time when there is a growing demand for user-generated online content. Although Gondry created the "Be Kind Rewind" exhibition to entertain and build community, it seems as though he has "sweded" this marketing approach by asking people to take a break from their computers, televisions, even movie screens and collaborate with him and others at the gallery.
The last project Gondry exhibited at Deitch was timed with the release of his film "The Science of Sleep." According to gallery owner Jeffrey Deitch, it was a success, and for two years, he has been eagerly awaiting their next collaboration, "Be Kind Rewind."
Deitch explained that the concept evolved from the initial idea of simply creating an old-school video store, "and then, Michel, all of the sudden he just understood ... that it had to involve the audience being invited to make their own films, just like the neighborhood people in Passaic. ... I instantly understood this is what we have to do."
The sets Gondry designed for the public to use at Deitch are interactive and beautiful. The genius of his work is that although the participants are making the movies, the art has already been created and Gondry has figured out a way for adults to feel comfortable in the world of make believe. And he calls Gondry's back-lot creations art.
"He's known for his handmade sets and effects, so what you see in the film is really a version of sculpture," Deitch said. "People love that handcrafted quality, and it's in evidence all over the sets."
Minutes before the exhibition opening Feb. 16, Deitch, dressed in his signature suit and buffalo-horn glasses, surveyed the gallery, suggesting lighting changes. Outside, the line of fans, mostly young artists, stretched the length of the block and onto Canal Street.
"This opening is sort of a phenomenon," Deitch operations manager Meghan Coleman said. "We've had a huge response from the student film community."
It's not surprising that open sets, created by an independent film icon like Gondry, would attract the attention of film students in New York City, but both Gondry and Deitch said they hope that people of all ages, and backgrounds will participate.
"I really want to invite people who have nothing to do with filmmaking," Gondry said.
"Anyone from the street hustlers on Canal Street half a block away to young artists, art collectors, anyone can come in here and make a film," Deitch said.
Although most of the people at the opening Saturday were young New York artists and fans of Gondry's work, there were also families with young children, and a few out-of-towners who got a kick out of the surprise surroundings.
"We thought it was a club because of the line. ... We didn't know whether there was going to be a movie, and we discovered that we were the movie," said B. Raven from Lake Ariel, Pa.
While Gondry said he wants people to focus on the joy of creating a movie and screening it with friends, Deitch acknowledged that many of the young film students at the opening have bigger aspirations.
"Everyone dreams of being discovered with their mini-masterpiece, and maybe that will happen here," Deitch said.
So far, there is no plan to hold a festival or large screening from what the amateurs made. Public viewing of the films will be limited to the video store portion of the gallery, but Deitch suggested that at the end of the exhibition, the footage could be edited together into some sort of compilation.
On the opening night, there were no time slots and no restrictions on where you could go, or how to interact with the sets. People jumped on the bed, swooped through the cafe with trays of glasses, and some dressed in tinfoil costumes, chased each other with large plastic guns. It was an alcohol-free evening as part of a concerted effort to keep the damage to a minimum.
The few groups who tried to make films Saturday evening at the crowded opening found working amid curious onlookers challenging.
"If people are in your shot, you kind of got to roll with it," said Crosby, aka Clockwork Cros, one of the brave filmmakers who improvised scenes in front of the huge crowd. "It was pretty intense to put yourself out on the limb in front of everybody."
An experimental film student at the State University of New York at Purchase, who asked that she be identified only as Laura, said she was inspired by the way her group came together.
"It was interesting, because we didn't know the other people we had to make the video with, so it was sort of collaboration on the fly," she said.
Deitch said he believes the exhibition will encourage people from different fields to work together.
"One of the philosophies behind what we do in the gallery is to create a platform for community," he said. "I think we'll make a lot of interesting connections."
Gondry sees the exhibition as a starting point. He said he would like to transform the project into an outreach program to build community in disenfranchised neighborhoods. He believes it's a model that could work around the world.
"I want to do it out of a gallery, do it in a suburb," he said. "I started in Passaic and I will probably finish there, but I would like to go into difficult neighborhoods in France. I'd like to prove to myself that it's a system that can work and inspire other people."
"Be Kind Rewind," the exhibition, is open until March 22. The Deitch Web site (www.Deitch.com) gives details on how to schedule an appointment and what to expect once you're there.