Exclusive: Interview with the creators of Blackout, the horror experience

The-Blackout-Experiments

The most extreme immersive horror experience in America is called Blackout. Not for the faint of heart, it is a terrifying, psycho-sexual thrill-ride designed to play on our deepest psychological fears. Rich Fox’s innovative horror documentary, The Blackout Experiments, follows a group of friends whose experience with Blackout becomes deeply personal, developing into an obsession that hijacks their lives and blurs the line between reality and paranoid fantasy. Revealing an underbelly of private rituals and personal nightmares with shocking footage that is 100% real, the film is the story of our collective obsession with the darkness inside us.

Josh Randall and Kristjan Thor began working together in 2004. Over the past 12 years, they have produced/directed over 30 shows and are responsible for creating this internationally notorious fear experience. In fact, the duo is currently collaborating with Emmy-Award winning content studio Secret Location to bring Blackout into the Oculus VR realm. They have recently worked with Blumhouse, Universal, and Focus for their Purge and Insidious franchises, as well as created multi-platform horror performances for recording artists Skrillex, and Queens of the Stone Age.

NR: The idea behind these experiences, the concept of Blackout, where did that come from?

Kris and I had been working together for many years in New York City doing theater and more sort of traditional format theatrical shows. But him and I sort of had a specific sort of emotional land on everything that we did. Looking back it’s very clear that we were placing a lot of time, effort, energy, resources into the relationship with the audience members and the environment they were in and not just the audience and actors on stage. So within that, Blackout was sort of the next logical evolution of it all and was everything that we had been wanting to do. We had probably been working together 4 or 5 years before Blackout was created. We wanted to do something fun and we wanted to do something that was a little bit controversial and it became very clear that we had struck a chord with our audiences. So with that in mind we moved forward.

NR: So just how much planning and effort is involved with creating these experiences?

It really depends on what kind of experience it is we are doing. Sometimes we do them for one person, and other times we might do them for a lot of people. Over the last few years, we have done them in large warehouses or in small art galleries and hotel rooms. We have even done them in the back of SUVs. So it kind of depends on what level of experience we are talking about. But without a doubt we always put a lot of effort and thought and energy into each specific experience and really try to make it as unique as possible. We also try to keep finding new things and to keep exploring with our audience.

NR: So now let’s talk about the film, the Blackout Experiments. What are the Blackout experiments?

As I am not the filmmaker, I can say that it would probably be better to get the director’s take on it. The experiments were on some main characters in the film that Rich decides to follow, and we end up sort of following a few main people and some other people as well. For me, I think it’s him using those people to tell a larger story about Blackout and the effect it tends to have on people and placing that within the film context. You have these experiments that they keep coming back to again and again and again, and they sort of become metaphors for the larger story that Rich is trying to tell.

NR: So the idea for this documentary, is that something that you approached Rich about, or he approached you?

He actually found us. Rich Fox jumps into one of our shows in LA, and he contacted us afterwards explaining that he is a filmmaker and a fan of the shows and that he has had some strong experiences and feelings going through it, and that he thought that he could tell the story of what it was that we were trying to do. At the time and even now, Blackout has always been very hesitant in terms of what we show to the public. We really try to leave it up to their imagination and what they bring out of the experience. So with that we’ve always been very secretive and try to hide a lot of what we do, but after meeting Rich and his partner/producer Chris, we had to trust them to tell this story and we worked with them to make sure we weren’t giving too much away but were also giving them enough material to create the movie that you have seen.

NR: It did seem like there were strict limitations in the film in what Rich was allowed to film and what he wasn’t. Did you guys feel more comfortable as the film went on?

Yeah without a doubt. I think we became more comfortable with them personally, but also in a professional Blackout perspective, we trusted them more. And with that they worked really hard on their end to be as hidden as possible so that all the footage you’re seeing was not fake and that there were no recreations of the participants going through the shows. And it was good for us because the people going through the show didn’t feel like they were subjects on camera, but that they were just going through the show. Rich and his crew did a really great job of being diligent and in making sure they stayed out of the experience. This not only maintained the integrity of the experience but allowed them to get the most out of footage they were shooting.

NR: Do you think it added to the suspense of the participants? Them not really knowing whether or not the camera crew was involved with the setup? Do you think at point that the lines between Blackout and reality became blurred?

That’s always the point of Blackout. We try to create an environment where the audience is constantly questioning “What’s happening?” “What kind of danger am I in, if any at all?” “Should I be having fun or should I be disgusted?” It’s that contradiction that makes up a lot of the live show. We try to help bring that level of confusion and contradiction that is so important to the live show, and they were able to translate that to the movie. A lot of times we do use cameras in Blackout, sometimes we are recording people for our own reasons. So it’s not uncommon for people to be on camera while going through a show. Allowing them to film helped to create that sense of mystery and suspense.

NR: At some points you really went into these people’s personal lives to amplify the experience. What kind of  waiver did they have to sign allowing you to do some of these things?

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that these people sign up for this experience. The waiver they sign is very “complete” and allows for us to do what we need to do within the confines of the law and of the participants signed permission. While I’m not going to answer specifically into this, it is only because there are certain things we don’t really like to talk about with our process. But having their permission is something we absolutely we make sure to do. This allows us to have a more effective experience that is perfectly legal, and that is incredibly important to us.

NR: So in a few scenes, you give some Blackout experiences in an environment that is not controlled and don’t really have time for set up. Was this difficult for you?

It’s absolutely difficult. It’s a lot of improvisation and working very quickly. We go in there knowing what it is we need to do and what we are looking to accomplish, but because we don’t know the lay of the land until we arrive, choices have to be made very quickly to maintain the safe yet effective experience.

NR: Have you kept in contact with any of the participants from the documentary since the completion of the film?

The participants are still fans of Blackout. We have been in contact with a few of them a lot, because of the movie and Sundance. But in truth, we have only interacted with them through Blackout. And you see that in the movie too, but we really only know these guys from the show. We do know that they are all still fans of Blackout.

NR: Whats in store for the future of Blackout, where do you plan to go from here?

Yeah, so we have a bunch of things sort of lined up for this Halloween. We wait until it’s a little closer before making our announcements, but when it is there, it will be a big push. The other thing that we are really excited about is becoming involved with virtual reality. This will allow for all the things that Blackout hasn’t been able to do, which is extend the events to those who are unable to make it for a multitude of reasons. There are all these technologies that are blossoming around the word that still allow the user to experience something that is highly personal and highly influential.

NR: So for anyone that wants to learn more about Blackout, how could they get involved or experience Blackout for themselves?

The best method of communication and updates are through our Facebook page and the website. We have events in New York and LA. If you can’t make it, we have a unique opportunity to participate in our online experience, which anyone can take part in for a small fee.

 

Check out the trailer for The Blackout Experiments below:

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