Into the Film, if you haven’t heard, is attempting something astounding. Erik Geffner-Mihlsten and company want to transport an audience straight into a beloved story, Phantom of the Opera. Not only is it the classic tale of unrequited love, but Into the Film is revisiting the 1925 silent movie version, starring Lon Chaney, with accompanying live music. Complete with the glamour, wonderment and drama circling 1880’s Paris, their premier event ‘A Night at the Opera!’ promises to be a night of immersion, enchantment and fandom.
Amidst all the meticulous planning that goes into a project like this, Erik was kind enough to answer some questions to give our community the opportunity to love Into the Film, as he does. In this exclusive Haunting interview, he talks about the struggles with a production this adventurous, who his crew is and what success for this project looks like, in an ever-growing field of entertainment.
And with the experience opening this weekend, August 4, we appreciate his time!
In your own words, what is Into The Film?
Into The Film is an interactive production company that is dedicated to providing in-depth and immersive movie-going adventures. Into the Film combines film with theatre by allowing guests to have the unique experience of participating and socializing as if they are a part of the production prior to the movie screening.
Can we take a quick peek behind the curtain? Tell us more about yourself and your team!
We have an incredible team at Into the Film! This project wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without the team we have built here. At the base, as co-founders, there are my siblings; Alena and Alex.
Also running the show are Katie Kildahl and Richard Holland, who have been invaluable and fantastic to work with. Katie is our Associate Producer, but she wears another hat as our Production Manager and has a great background in show production. Richard is our Creative Director. He has some incredible credits to his name that still blow me away. He was the Art Director for movies like Princess Bride and Batman & Robin. Plus, he is British so you know he has to be cool.
Our writer is Mark Sonnenblick, who is one of the smartest and funniest people that I know. He’s responsible for developing everything as it relates to the experience and storyline. Our director, Andrea Ruffalo, has been instrumental in the casting and will be coordinating the experience on-site. She has a great vision of how the actors will be interacting with our guests! Finally our Sound Designer, Ed Holland, just moved here from London (another British accent on the team! Yay!) and has been responsible for figuring out all of the sound elements for the space. He also found the incredible musicians that will be playing the music in the event.
I’m a native LA beach kid born and raised. I left LA for Chicago to attend the University of Illinois, majoring in Marketing and International Business. While I was in college, I had a few internships in the entertainment industry working on a couple of national talk shows. I saw firsthand how the essence of a successful talk show is interacting with the audience and the audience responding and feeling they are a part of the show.
After graduation, I shifted more towards finance and accounting strategy, working at Deloitte & Touche LLP as a consultant in Chicago.
I’ve always LOVED immersive entertainment. I go to Disneyland as often as I can (because who doesn’t like the incredible firework shows), have been to every Harry Potter related place possible (including the sets outside of London) and always try to get groups together to do escape rooms. Last year, I did my first real Live Action Role Playing experience at a wizarding world experience in Poland and had the time of my life. I absolutely love getting to step in and be a part of a new world.
Into the Film is a unique business opportunity in the area of interactive and immersive entertainment and allows me to combine my business background with my creative passions.
How do you plan to differentiate yourself within the current LA immersive landscape?
The most easily identifiable differentiation is our use of film. There are no experiences in Los Angeles or even in the US that use film the way we plan to. Occasionally there are pop-up film experiences around the country, but we plan to establish ourselves consistently with different movies each time. There is nowhere else in LA that someone can go and feel like they are a character in a movie (unless they are actually in a movie).
Can you tell us more about the format of this experience? For example, will it blend a sandbox experience (free exploration) with linear portions?
You have hit the nail on the head. It will definitely be a sandbox experience with opportunities of free exploration, but there will also be a main plotline that will progress the evening and different activities happening in different areas of the world we have created.
On that note, will audiences be able to interact or participate in any scenes or is it more of a spectator performance?
There are a multitude of opportunities where people will have the ability to participate in the story. Certain things will happen that will require the guests to be more of a spectator, but there are so many elements we have created that will allow guests to have their own story and experience through their interactions with our actors and sets.
There are so many moving aspects to this event, from audience participation, food, live music and a movie, is there one piece that was more frustrating to organize than all the rest? Did any difficulties surprise you?
I mean all of it was insanely challenging to put together because this has never been done before. With our incredible and experienced team, I have complete confidence that it will turn out brilliantly because of their hard work in making something out of nothing. Since this is a new venture, it is also a challenge when explaining the event.
Phantom of the Opera is a classic narrative that inspires nostalgia and love from a passionate audience. What inspired the selection of this film for your first project?
Phantom of the Opera is a timeless story. We (my siblings and I) are also huge cinephiles. We love old Hollywood as much as we love the new hits. When thinking about a story and experience that could be fun to recreate, Phantom was one of our first choices. We loved the idea that people could dress up and that the story is not just known to one generation but to people of all generations. Versions of Phantom of the Opera have been told since this first movie in 1925, yet not as many people know about the Lon Chaney version.
Let’s talk about location. The Historical Woman Club of Santa Monica is a Southern Californian gem. Will this be the permanent location for Into the Film or will it move to other venues to accommodate other narratives?
We couldn’t be happier to have found the Club in Santa Monica for this event. We don’t plan on it being the permanent location for Into the Film because it will really depend on the movies we choose. Different stories will require different kind of buildings to set the stage and feel for the story we are trying to recreate.
How did you set about finding such a location?
We got really lucky to have found the location. It was through a friend that we were put in touch with a location scout here in LA. We had been struggling to find a suitable and affordable spot to put on this production, but with just one conversation with the scout he put us onto the Historical Woman Club of Santa Monica. The moment we saw the façade and inside of the building, we knew this would be perfect for us to build out and make look like a Paris Opera House. It already is an older building and the interior is absolutely gorgeous and we could easily create our sets within the space.
Can you speak to the set design of the house? Do different areas focus on different themes?
I don’t want to give too much away, but sets will be from different parts of the movie. For example there is going to be Christine’s Dressing Room. One might also find a café to lounge and enjoy a drink or crepe at. Each set is a crucial part of our recreation of the world and the story that will be progressing throughout the evening. As for how they all contribute to the narrative, one will just have to experience for themselves to find out!
What do you want people to walk away from your experiences with? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to learn?
Gosh, I just want people to leave thinking “Wow, that was absolutely incredible. I can’t wait to see what movie they do next!” I want people to feel like they were really a part of the story. I want them to feel as if they accomplished something whether they solved a puzzle or they had a really incredible interaction with one of our actors. We want people to learn to be open minded to new immersive experiences! This is a new experience and people might be a bit hesitant to try it, but we really hope they do and that they leave wondering how they ever thought it might not be worth it.
What does a successful experience look like to you? How will you know you succeeded in your project?
A successful experience to me is seeing a build up from our first weekend to our second. For us, this is a launching point. I want us to finish our run and be able to say to each other, this created a platform for us and we can build off of it. We will know if we succeeded by the feedback we get.
Is there a dream project for Into the Film? And are there any previews or planned experiences you can tease?
Oh man, there are so many dream projects of Into the Film. Think of any movie that you absolutely love and that is a movie that we could be considering. I’d love to tease some options, but so much of it relies on the next 2 weeks and that is really where our we have our focus. Our main goal is spreading the word of Into the Film and getting people excited for “A Night at the Opera!” When we make it through the next 2 weeks, I’d love to reconnect and tease some of the ideas we have tossed around and are excited to pursue.
We would too!
Tickets are still available for this amazing, new experience!
$59.00 per person
August 4th – 7:30pm
August 5th – 6:30pm
August 6th – 6:30pm
August 11th – 7:30pm
August 12th – 6:30pm
August 13th – 6:30pm
Venue info:Historical Woman Club of Santa Monica, 1210 4th Street, Santa Monica
Facebook.com: IntotheFilmLA, @intothefilmLA