TORONTO — The escape-room trend has captured the attention of the film and TV worlds.
The games, in which groups of players are typically locked in a room and have to solve puzzles and complete a mission to escape, are increasingly being used as a marketing tool to stand out in an fractured marketplace and give fans an immersive experience.
At the recent South by Southwest festival, for instance, HBO provided themed escape rooms for the series "Game of Thrones," "Veep" and "Silicon Valley." Some of the stars even participated, including "Veep"'s Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Fox also used an escape room during SXSW to promote "Prison Break: Resurrection."
Meanwhile, the 2016 Canadian film "Lavender" launched an escape room, as has the CBC series "Murdoch Mysteries." Cast members and the author of the "Murdoch Mysteries" novels, Maureen Jennings, have even surprised participants from time to time by playing the game with them.
"Our world is becoming so interactive and experiential," says Christina Jennings, the show's executive producer and CEO of production company Shaftesbury Films Inc.
"Imagine actually going to a place and having to solve a mystery like Murdoch with a bunch of other people.... You're extending the brand beyond and making it interactive, which is what we like about this. This is what excites us.
"It keeps the brand alive."
Shaftesbury approached escape-room creators Company & Co., with the idea of launching their own attraction, which is called "The Secret of Station House No. 4," located at the historic George Brown House in Toronto. Groups of between six and 12 are locked in a large room and have an hour to try to figure out the whereabouts of the missing Det. Murdoch in the city — sans smartphones. Two actors playing escape-game characters are also in the room, which is outfitted with props and clues befitting the show's Victorian era.
Players who got to experience the escape room with members of the "Murdoch" production — a stunt the company plans to continue to organize over the next few months — have been "just thrilled," says Leonardo Dell'Anno, Company & Co.'s production and business development manager.
"To be able to play with somebody from the show just throws it over the top."
The "Murdoch" escape room is similar to a theatrical production and thus "not inexpensive," says Jennings. But if it runs for two years, as she hopes, "then it will have amortized well," she adds, noting Shaftesbury is considering an escape room for its series "Carmilla."
Meanwhile, Pacific Northwest Pictures says it would consider doing an escape room again after launching two for "Lavender" — in Toronto and Vancouver — for several days in November.
The Canadian film distribution company says an escape room was a natural fit for Ed Gass-Donnelly's psychological thriller, which stars Abbie Cornish as a mother haunted by childhood memories.
"It's getting harder and harder to carve out a niche in the entertainment marketplace for theatrical as we get into digital distribution and varying sizes of screens, and people are taking their content in all sorts of ways," says Lindsey Hodgson, director of theatrical distribution and marketing at Pacific Northwest Pictures.
"I think when you're talking about promoting movies and just the saturation of the marketplace, anything that gives you an extra edge or is interesting and fun really works well.
"We're all trying to think outside of the box and be creative and so this is something really unique that we were excited about."
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press