25 Jan 2019 • Lauren Grace Morris
Shareable moments? Trust this Frame Lab speaker – they aren’t all on Instagram
Our devices have greatly shifted the meaning of ‘sharing is caring’: we share more than ever – Ubers, photos of two-minute-old babies on social media, our data analytics – yet the mood remains paradoxically antisocial. One of the strongest biological tendencies our species has – to gather – is waning as our digital dependency flourishes. Yet our universal need for collectivism hasn’t gone anywhere – just ask Frame Lab speaker Sakchin Bessette, co-founder of the Montreal-based multimedia entertainment studio Moment Factory.
Chances are, you’ve seen Bessette’s work already: for the past 18 years, the internationally represented company has activated some pretty hallowed ground – a Sagrada Familia light show and Madonna’s half-time stage for the 2012 Super Bowl are just a few stand-out examples. Their mission is to create strong entertainment with enough value for people to want to come together in a public environment – to share experiences communally. Moment Factory’s portfolio is an explosion of light, colour and sound in some of the most incredible venues the world has to offer.
Sharing tangible moments is a cornerstone topic for Frame Lab’s Club Me content track [buy your tickets here] as we explore the ever-personalised digital age – together.
Moment Factory’s homepage made me smirk the first time I saw it: ‘We do it in public’, emboldened in highlighter yellow, gets straight to the point – it entertains, then generates a response. How does this build into what the company seeks to do on a grand scale for its audiences?
SAKCHIN BESSETTE: This is a tag line that has been with us for a while; it’s quite fundamental for what we do. Obviously it has a bit of humour in it – part of our company’s culture – but we take it seriously. Look at how people were gathering and telling stories 10,000 years ago, for example. We think that the stories have changed, that people have changed, but really, the basic human need has stayed the same: to gather and share experiences. Yet now, a majority of technological developments are individualised; customised for your own time, for your own private needs, your own personal devices and screens. There’s no need to leave the confines of personal space anymore, whether it’s to get entertained, work or even to have a love life. Things have changed a lot, and they keep changing: you can imagine in few generations you might not even need to leave your house anymore. That’s worrisome for us.
What’s the main thing to consider when beginning work on Moment Factory productions?
We start with a specific objective. We ask ourselves: ‘What’s going to be the most touching for people?’ We use the different senses and emotions as tools to create a variety of surprises and spectacles. It’s always in a different public space, whether it be an arena, or forest, airport or bridge, theme park or museum, physically engaging and visually immersing people in these environments is the goal. Immersion makes people feel as if they’ve entered a different world – quite exciting for the audience of today.
From that perspective, what are the strengths of using these digital tools?
It’s the paintbrush on a canvas: The world that we’re creating comes from the digital – it can be lighting, video, all kinds of different technologies. There are a lot of layers, a lot of elements of set design and storytelling. By unlocking the digital, everything merges together to create the scene. There’s a lot of illusion that can happen in the cross-fire of physical and digital: Like, ‘Is this real? What am I seeing? I wasn’t expecting this!’
Who doesn’t want to believe in magic?
Have you ever worked on a project that you yourself were surprised with the results of?
Yes – we’ve been working in forests a lot, they’ve become quite popular and they’re full of surprises. Someone asked us to do some projection mapping on this hanging bridge, so we came there and decided we needed to do more. We created a night walk with a bunch of different installations and a building story around it inspired by local myths and legends. It just took off in the middle of nowhere, a small town with 2000 people. But all of a sudden there were a ton of people going to this place in the middle of night. Sometimes we used quite simple effects: we would make it look like faces were coming out of the trees and engage kids: ‘Mum look, the tree’s talking to me! What’s going on?’ Because it was all in the context of reality and nature, it made people’s imagination grow: Who doesn’t want to believe in magic?
Do you ever get bothered when people pull up Instagram or Snapchat when they could be sharing the experience in person?
I’m mixed on that. Attracting people, getting them off their devices and into the experience is an interesting challenge in itself. You wonder if it’s good enough that they’re engaged if it’s through the lens of social media. Sometimes we do projects where we tell people ‘No phones!’ and it’s okay. I don’t think there’s one way that’s better than the other, though; it depends on the experience. Sometimes devices are distracting, other times they’re enhancing. Putting them aside often helps it become a deeper experience – more easily, people will jump into their suspension of disbelief. But it’s also a matter of memory: When memories are captured on a phone, they stay in your mind longer. You want to create memories for people, so maybe it’s okay that they capture these things.
Moment Factory productions bring forth new visual terrain and add a new layer to reality: what is it about the ‘unexplored’ that increasingly incites people to delve in together rather than alone?
If you go to a sporting event, or visit the Colosseum in Rome, you see that you’re part of something bigger. You’re sharing an experience. If you’re alone at home watching a movie or football game, you’re not part of it; you’re separated. I could go see a rock show live and I’m going to know I was there at that time experiencing everything, or I could buy a DVD and keep it forever, but that’s completely different – you’re not engaged in the memories or the history of it.
If we lived the same life over and over every day, we’d be going nuts
I think humans want to feel important somehow. Being part of something bigger, you feel important – you escape the mundane. If we lived the same life over and over every day, we’d be going nuts. New, collective experiences make you feel alive.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Sakchin Bessette will speak at Frame Lab 2019 for the Club Me content track, along with Rachel Arthur and Li Xiang. Buy your tickets today.