Secret Cinema: immersive, but social

This article is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Hello friends! This is a somewhat atypical article, not only because in this case I started from the audio, so from the podcast. And most importantly, I am not alone. To be specific, with me there is the extremely interesting Andrea Moccia, who was a producer as well as one of the cornerstones of the London’s Secret Cinema.

In his voice we can hear, without a doubt, a passion for the new way to watch movies, with an immersiveness beyond any level ever achieved. We could say that they have “recreated” the movies in the real world.

Let’s try to understand it a little better with himself. So here is the interview with Andrea Moccia.

Introducing Andrea Moccia

Andrea Moccia
Andrea Moccia


Andrea Moccia is a veteran in innovative cinema who has been trying for years to innovate and change a bit the way cinema is enjoyed.


Hi Dario, nice to meet you. I am very glad to meet you.


How are you? All right?


It’s all right, thank you. Here in London it is gray as hell. Today there is a fog I have never seen, it feels more like Switzerland than London.


Okay, a Londoner telling me about the fog like that is interesting. People say it’s always there, but I’ve been to London a few times actually, and I’ve never caught it with fog….


Fog not too much. The sky is always gray. But fog not too much.


Yes, indeed the sky was gray. I clearly remember that. So, tell us a little about you… You’re from Rome. So a pure Italian, from the capital. Moved to London since? What was it like? Why did you go to London? How did you find yourself there?


I moved to London in 2010 for studies. I graduated here, and during my last year of University, I was very lucky to be introduced to the world of Secret Cinema. I went to a couple of their shows, and among them there was one based on The Shawshank Redemption. After going to this show, I was absolutely impressed by this world, this format. And I found a way to start working with them.


At first as a trainee. While I used to study in the mornings for exams, I went to the office in the afternoons. Then I started working with them, first as an assistant and then for the last five or six years as a producer.


Okay, I just stop you a moment, just to get a good understanding. First of all, I presume you were studying something related to cinema. What were you studying?


No, I did business administration and management. So not directly related to cinema. However, it is a degree with which I found many affinities as a producer. Let’s also say that I’ve always had an interest in art, in performance. When I was a kid I did some acting, I liked that world. And I found a way to apply my degree to the world of performance and art.

How Secret Cinema is interpreting immersive cinema


OK. Because in fact Secret Cinema, even to explain it a little bit to our listeners, what is it? Very broad question.


Of course. So, Secret Cinema is a company that specializes in what we call “immersive cinema”. And what the company does, is basically take these big abandoned buildings, or big spaces, pick a movie and rebuild the whole set and world of the movie inside this building.

Then spectators buy a ticket. The moment they buy a ticket, they are assigned a character. We tell them how to dress and who they are within the world. Never anyone among the main characters. Always characters created by us who could exist in that world.

Movie poster for the film "The Handmaiden".
The Handmaiden




That’s right, extras basically. And people come to experience the world of this film. We have covered great classics such as Back to the Future, The Battle of Algiers, Star Wars. Up to much more niche films, for example Park Chan-wook‘s The Handmaiden, or I, Daniel Blake.

The company was founded in 2007. It operates on a global scale at this time. We have performances in the United States, England and China.

England, the ideal country to grow up


Basically, however, you do most of the shows in London. Or they are somewhat evenly divided among countries.


Most of the shows we always did in London, yes. Let’s say London is our base, where we grew up. And England has been crucial to that growth, I think.

In terms of bureaucracy, but also as theatrical industry, there is already a base where something like this has been able to grow far more easily than in other countries. For example, in my opinion even if the idea had started in the USA, it would have been more complicated. Even just to access these buildings, which are usually large mansions not built to accommodate thousands of people for an event.

They can be abandoned factories, or warehouses, things like that. So the process of getting permits, the process of turning these buildings into what they are, then assets or spaces for very large events, is very complicated and expensive.

And I think, in the early days, these ingredients could have worked only in England.

Close cooperation with film companies

Movie poster for the film "I, Daniel Blake".


Do you guys have any help, any cooperation from the film companies, or do they not care? Do you just buy the rights to reproduce the film?


Look, it really depends from movie to movie. There are some properties that are perhaps a bit more dormant, with titles that are not being redeveloped or, otherwise while having historical value, are not bringing in much revenue at this time.

At that point maybe the studios contact us and ask if we want to do something with these films; in short, they want to generate new interest. Then, of course, there are other films where we ask for and pay rights to the studios, working with them as licensees.

There is always collaboration at the operational level, though, never just at the financial level. There is always an involvement of “Studios” and creators in our creative process.


Okay, so they are interested anyway. It is also a way for the companies to promote the film.


Movie poster for the film "Moulin Rouge!"

Absolutely. We make many films in years when a sequel is released. For example, Blade Runner, which we did in the year that Blade Runner 2049 was released. Or Star Wars in the year the franchise started again. So yes, many times there are also marketing interests behind it.

A beautiful thing Baz Luhrmann said to Fabien (Fabien Riggall, nda), the person who created Secret Cinema in 2007, after coming to a Moulin Rouge! show, was:

I made the movie, but you created the world.

Baz Luhrmann

And that, I think, is a very appropriate summary for what we do. We create a world of the film.

How to choose films suitable for immersiveness

Guardians of the Galaxy, from the Secret Cinema website.


You are currently working with Marvel, and then with Guardians of the Galaxy. For example, who wanted to make this film that is now on the schedule? You asked Marvel or it was Marvel who asked you to develop the world, the marketing.


Guardians of the Galaxy is the last show that I worked on at Secret Cinema. I recently left Secret Cinema.

In reality, it is originated from a much larger collaboration between Disney and Secret Cinema. We have a contract of several years with Disney in which we have access to several of their titles. I mean, who wouldn’t want to work on the Marvel world? Who wouldn’t want to join the Marvel Universe…


I guess.


Basically when we choose movies, we don’t always choose them because it’s a great movie or a great story. There are many beautiful films that do not work for a Secret Cinema, precisely because we have to create a world, we have to give viewers the opportunity to disguise themselves, to impersonate someone.

Guardians of the Galaxy, being all set in space with this mix of alien races, we felt it was the most interesting world we could recreate in a physical, real-world setting.

Whereas instead, I don’t know… One of my favorite Marvel movies is the first Iron Man. However, it does not offer many insights to engage viewers. While instead you come as an alien, to watch Guardians of the Galaxy. So, all the people come in makeup and in these beautiful, exaggerated costumes; and part of the beauty of coming to a Secret Cinema is just that, right?

There are people who spend weeks, months, creating costumes for themselves, putting all the photos of the process on Instagram. Many of our fans are also cosplayers, or people who work in the creative industry. It is also an opportunity for them to show off their creative talents in a social, sociable environment.

Moulin Rouge! at Secret Cinema. From

The typical structure of a Secret Cinema


Oh yes, because the Secret Cinemas, practically, how are they structured? Is there the screening of the movie in costume, or you see the movie and then move on to other environments…


In a typical Secret Cinema, we sent you basically an email. The email redirects you to a website. On this site we usually have personality questions, questions that will get you assigned a character. Each character is part of larger groups, and each group has its own specific mission; its own specific path within the show.

Then, when you get to the show, the first two or three hours are like an open world video game, where you can go and do various missions; talk to all the characters. You go to sets, you can get drinks, you can go dancing, there’s music, there’s food… Yes, it’s like a video game where you choose your own adventure.


A real video game, in short, rebuilt in reality…


The DeLorean from the movie "Back to the Future"
DeLorean in “Back to the Future”

Correct. So this is the beginning. Then, after two or three hours, you watch the movie. And during the film we also reenact many live scenes. So, for example, if you’re in Back to the Future and there’s the DeLorean leaving and going to 1986, there’s also a DeLorean going next to you. Just a real DeLorean passing by you.

Or, when Doc falls off the tower, we had a Doc starting from the clock tower on a zipline, going over the spectators and landing on the other side of the field. Because Back to the Future is a show we did outdoors.

For Star Wars, we had an X-Wing that flew over a thousand viewers, landed and out came Luke Skywalker. So it’s all things like that. These are shows that reach production values that few other events can achieve.

Is VR the future? Or will we get back together again?


Of course, the parallel with virtual reality comes to mind. In the sense that you have similar experiences, with the major difference being that you are in a sociable environment, with others, and not alone locked in an headset. And this could also make a big difference.

In your opinion, or even according to people you have talked to (viewers, colleagues…), how will this situation evolve? Will people always want to be with each other?


I, at least, am an absolute fan of shared experiences. For me, there is nothing more beautiful than going to a concert with thousands of other people; or going to a movie or theater.

Thousands of people at a concert.

There is just a feeling that you can’t beat. Unless virtual reality will reach levels we cannot even imagine at this time. I don’t think it will come to replace the live experience.

What we are trying to do is to put some magic back into going to the cinema, right? Fabien, when he started this concept of Secret Cinema he was always thinking about the days when people went to the movies dressed up; when going to the movies was an event, when it was really a celebration.

This is what we want to report. It came into being almost a reaction to these multiplex giants. These multiscreens where the experience of going to the movies has been somewhat “formatted,” and the magic has been lost a bit. So this is what we are looking for. And this, in my opinion, is the challenge that cinema, and other art forms as well, will have to face.

But how do you do it? How do you put this magic back? How do you go about breaking a format that has come to produce this mechanization of entertainment? I don’t know how to explain…

So many seek a new way of conceiving cinema


Yes, everything became very standardized. In fact, this is something I am glad to hear you say. Because I also support it, personally and in my blog. In mindset I am like that. I also mentioned you, in the email I sent you, that I follow a lot the studies and life of Douglas Trumbull, the creator, the maker of the special effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey.


But also of Blade Runner. I think he died recently, Douglas Trumbull.


He died very recently, this year in February I think. He, however, has spent this life trying to find a solution. Obviously its was not Secret Cinema. It was something less “scenic”, but still perhaps more reproducible. That’s the difference.

Secret Cinema I think is a wonderful thing. I still don’t, I just met him recently, but I will definitely have to participate because it is beautiful as an idea. It is very expensive, though; organizing a single screening will cost impossible sums of money for a small business to handle.


Absolutely. However, there are manners. The shows they are doing now are shows of ten million and up per show. So very, very large productions, with very real economic needs. You have to sell hundreds of thousands of tickets to make these things work.

Skates and social issues: where Secret Cinema started.

But let’s remember where Secret Cinema started, though. Because Secret Cinema started with a screening in an abandoned skateboard park, where they basically projected that Paranoid Park on a sheet. And two hundred people came.

So there are simple ways to do things in an effective way, especially when you have films that maybe deal with serious and difficult issues. At that moment you don’t really want to go and recreate the film, but you want to bring the theme to light more. And so we also do a lot of social things.

For example, we did screenings against censorship when films were censored; then screenings in refugee camps. Cinema is not just entertainment, is it? There is a whole sector of cinema that is about entertainment, fun, and it is beautiful that it exists. But there is also a whole part of cinema that wants to send strong messages.

And that in my opinion also needs to be reinvented. Spaces must be found. I am a huge Marvel fan, but you can’t just go to see Marvel at the cinema. Other kinds of films should be seen as well, because there are beautiful things out there.


Yes, and then cinema almost was born for that. Well, apart from the very first screenings, the development of cinema internationally was because of this. To pass messages, at the time perhaps more political than anything else, which then quickly became moral or various messages in the early decades.


But we may have forgotten that a little bit.

The importance of moral awareness in cinema


Effectively, yes. Oh God, in part. From one point of view, even just many movies or series on Netflix still try to maintain a moral. Then, currently, even those have become standardized.

In the sense they go by fads. At this time I personally notice feminism or LGBT+ is trending; there is an attempt to raise awareness of these issues. Sometimes there is the topic of animals, meat, vegetarians. However, we often talk about fads that are then forgotten. When, instead, perhaps it should be more consistent.


Yes, it is true. And in my opinion, here again we come back to the issue of commerciality. If people don’t go to the cinema, don’t buy tickets, unfortunately these films will no longer be made. Ways have to be found to bring people back to the very act of going to the cinema.

People sitting on the floor watching a movie at a screening organized by Cinema America in Rome.
Screening organized by Cinema America

I have been following Cinema America in Rome for many years, and what they have been doing: bringing cinema to the streets, and various initiatives just to rekindle the passion for film, to go to the cinema and watch something all together. Which I think after two years of pandemic we really have to “have it taught” almost, don’t we? People are perhaps still a little afraid to go out, to socialize and are definitely more cautious. However, there are ways to continue living without taking risks.

Outdoor cinema in Montalcino in 2017.
MONTalCINE’ 2017


In past years I have organized various outdoor cinemas around Italy. We have done cinemas in Tuscany, in Montalcino, in Ladispoli, and also in Rome, in various places around the capital, in Abruzzo… I mean, in different places and basically they were all very, very well attended.

Carmine Riccio on the radio transmitter in the 1950s.
Carmine Riccio, my father

Of course, they were free cinemas; they were almost always contributed by municipalities or associations. So there was no ticket clutch. But people liked them; they went there; they spent evenings together and they were all super happy to do something different.

The problem is that, precisely, they were happy to do something different. Instead, it should become the norm. I remember my father, born in 1937 (other times…) telling me about when he was a child, or at least a teenager, and the movie theater was kind of their bar. In the sense that they went to the movies almost every day. It cost very little, and they went there to be together and spend two hours. I mean, it was just different culture from this point of view, but then it evolved.

The death of the high street


And maybe that’s part of the solution too, right? The Internet, new technologies, have changed the way we do everything. For example, here in England we are experiencing a time when there is a lot of conversation around “the death of the high street“, the death of the street with all the stores. And how can we reinvent stores so they don’t die? How can we reinvent the high streets?

Group of women around a table drinking coffee.

Stores are reinventing themselves. Here a clothing store, is now no longer just a clothing store. It is a clothing store with a cafe, with a bookstore. A bit of a gathering place. And perhaps cinemas also need to reinvent themselves and become gathering places. It would be great if, for example, all theaters had a small library on the history of movies…

I mean, in my opinion, you have to detach yourself a little bit from this format of cinema. You go, you get the popcorn, you get the Coke, you sit down, you just leave. If cinema is turned into an experience, if cinema is turned into a reason to go out, to socialize, in my opinion it will find its place again.


Definitely. Experiences also and especially not reproducible at home. Because the problem with current cinema is that it is reproducible almost entirely at home, with a video projector or a simple TV. You can eat popcorns, you can drink Coca-Cola or beer. I mean, it lacks perhaps that extra reason that makes you say: I can only do this thing there. And we all are lazy, basically, as the human race.

Andrea (smiling):

Me first.


Me too, don’t believe. And so, rightly you stay home. But yes, there should be one more reason.

Multi-sensory cinema: yes, but without distractions

Girl who smells a rose.

Let’s talk about one last thing, then if you want to add more, otherwise we’ll end since we’ve already been half an hour together. I wanted to ask you, what do you think about using more than two senses at the cinema? Have you ever experimented with combining smells, possibly flavors, so a combination with foods or other things but always related to the film at the cinema? Also touch, albeit more complex (although in Secret Cinema there is actually touch, you can touch things of the film as well).


It is a trend that is going a lot, for example in Asian countries. There are some big companies that have started to make these really big 4D cinemas where they include “smell,” water splash, something like that. Or there are other cinemas, especially here, where for example during a screening they bring you food or drink.

So there are already things that unite them. For me, the question one must always ask himself is: how do these things go to enhance, to improve, the viewers’ experience? If these things are done with the intention that maybe a certain smell can improve my understanding of the film, of what I’m going to see, offering a new perspective, then I’m absolutely pro. If these things are just being done to do something new, then I think they can occasionally have the opposite effect. Becoming distractions rather than a magnifying glass.


Okay, you say that they could become something that makes you lose the sense, the lesson. It goes back to the argument we were making earlier.


Correct. However, I am always “pro” experimenting, I am always “pro” trying new things. New things need to be tried, and they also go in this direction. Absolutely. However, as long as the intention is there. Now I can’t give you any concrete examples, but there must be a reason behind it. There must be an intention.


Yes, I get the concept. Indeed an example is complex so, on the spot. It depends on the particular story, the single film, the single screening. It is a beautiful answer that makes total sense, though.

Because it is true that there are often so many things, or so many technologies, only done because you had to find a problem to the solution; not the solution to the problem. Which by the way, at the moment, is virtual reality: a totally useless technology the way it is structured that they are trying to find a use for.

Technology should help, not destroy

Agenda next to a laptop computer.


Yes, let’s say I am a bit, um, technophobic on these points. I really like analog. I’m one who read books, who have an agenda. In this respect I am a little behind.

There are some really cool virtual reality applications. There have been exhibitions here that I have gone to where it has been used really well. As there have been other really low-level things.


In which a television set was fine.


That’s right, let’s say. In my opinion, the technology is still a few steps behind the ideas.


It is true, exactly that. It goes a long way perhaps in gaming, because still we come back to the argument that spectacle, the visual of images, of the location, and the involvement do so much. But it’s the only area currently that’s really going… With education they’re trying to do something, they’re inventing, but we have to wait to really have value added to the traditional method that’s always been here, and maybe can be modernized with little.


Correct., to learn about Secret Cinema


Okay Andrea, I don’t know if you want to add anything else.


No Dario, thank you very much. It was a really interesting talk. Go to the Secret Cinema website (, nda), and go see what it is. If you haven’t been, absolutely try to see it, because that are truly unique experiences that will certainly bring you closer to whatever movie you go to see at Secret Cinema.


Okay. I also support the invitation; I have already gone to see the site and from that I want to move on to see the real Secret Cinema. So, I will have to go to London as soon as possible to do that. It’s really beautiful. An innovation like few in the world, and as such it deserves to continue.

Also to you Andrea good luck with everything. Directly for your career, your future, and any other innovative experiment you get involved in.


It’s going to be a very, very interesting year, I think. There are many interesting insights, so definitely maybe we’ll have a chat later on my new adventures.


Definitely. That’s all I’m waiting for. Thank you, Andrea. Bye!

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