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San Francisco’s Baffling Jejune Institute Gets A Documentary – The Awl

ThetoughestpartofwritingaboutSanFrancisco’sJejuneInstitute“thing”wastryingtodescribeit,somethingIattemptedtodoforthissitetwice。

Inafirstpieceaboutthecitywidegame,whichwasputonbyagroupcalledNonchalance,Iwentwith“[p]artpublic-artinstallation,partscavengerhunt,partmultimediaexperiment,partnarrativestory。

”Forthefollow-up,Iadded“undergroundalternaterealitygame”tothemix。

Bothsummariesmissedthemark,partlybecauseofmyowninadequaciesasawriter,butalsoasymptomoftheproject’ssprawlingoriginality?

—?

itwasn’tlikeanythingelseoutthere,andthatwaspartofwhatmadeitsofantastic。

Thankfully,SpencerMcCallwentaheadandmadeTheInstitute,a90-minutedocumentaryabouttheprojectthatneatlyencapsulateswhatmadethiswholewhatever-it-wassowonderful。

ItpremieredlastOctoberattheMillValleyFilmFestival,andhasbeendoingthecircuiteversince。

ItshowedatSundance’shipperlittlebrotherSlamdancethisJanuary;highlightingthefilminhiscolumn,ScottFoundasatL。

A。

Weeklyperfectlysummedupmyfeelingsaboutthewholeendeavorbyadmittingthat“[r]arelyhaveIfeltsoabsorbedbyamovieaboutpeopleIfoundsoincrediblyannoying。



Lastweek,IsatdownwithMcCallinaneerilyemptymallfoodcourtinSanFranciscotochataboutmakingthefilm。

Abitofbackgroundabouthowthegamestarted:Creepycult-likesignsscatteredthroughoutSFurgedunsuspectingpeopletoheadtotheskyscraperlocatedat580Californiainthecity’sFinancialDistrict。

Fromthere,you’dheadtothe16thfloorandaskthereceptionistfor“theJejuneInstitute。

”Heorshewouldhandyouakeywithsomeinstructionsprintedonit,anddowntherabbitholeyou’d?

go。

RickPaulas:Whatwasyourexperiencewiththegamebeforemakingthefilm。

Wereyouaplayer?

first?

SpencerMcCall:No,Iwasn’t。

Iwenttothecusp。

Icheckedout580California。

Youknow,wordofmouthwasgoingaround,everybodywassaying,“Yougottogoto580California。

Ican’ttellyouwhat’sthere,youjusthaveto?

go。



Someandmygirlfriendwent,didthewholeexperienceintheFinancialDistrictbuilding,wentintotheInductionRoom,gotthecards,andwalkedoutontothestreetsandwerelike,thisisweird。

Thisisjusttooweird。

They’reprobablyfollowingusrightnow。

Whatisthis?

Whatisthis?

Soweleft。

Wedidn’tevendoit。

AndIputitoutofmyheadforalittlebit,butitwasstillthere,like,whatis?

this?

Yeah,justwhatisthisthingtryingto?

sell?

Right。

Istartedtobrowseonlinetofindoutwhatthisorganizationwas,andstartedseeingtermslike“alternaterealitygame”thatdidn’tmeananythingtome。

Thebiggestquestiontomewas,whydoesn’tthiscostmoney?

Whatisitmarketing?

Whatisitadvertising?

Andnooneknew。

Absolutelynooneknewwherethemoneycamefrom,orwhatthepointofit?

was。

Alittlewhilelater,afriendofminenamedGordowasapproachedbytheJejunepeopletoleadthiskindofstreetprotestforthem。

Theymethimonthestreetandaskedhimtoleadaprotest,andhejustleadthisprotestthroughSanFranciscowithoutreallyknowingwhatitwasabout。

[Gordo’sstoryisinthefilm。

]Abitafterthat,Igotlaidofffrommyjobandwaslookingforwork,andGordosaidtheseJejunepeoplemightbelookingforsomeone。

SoImetthem,andtheywantedtoknowmystory,whatIwasabout,whatIwasinto,andtheysaidwehaveacoupleofpromotionalvideosweneedbutwecan’ttellyouhowthey’llbeused。

YoujusthavetosignthisNDAanddothem。

Andtheypaidalmostnothing。

SothatwaskindofhowIgotbehindthecurtaina?

bit。

Whatwerethe?

videos?

Somewerecommercialsforthewholeexperience,acouplewerein-gamevideoslikethesequasi-falsehistoriesofthisorganizationlikewherethesepeoplecamefrom。

AndafterTheSeminar[thegame’sclosingAct/ceremonies],theyleftmewiththisharddrivethathadabout700hoursoffootageonit。

Justeveryone’sfootage。

Handheld,archive,security-camfootageofpeopleenteringtheInductionRoom。

Theyhidalotofcameras。

Alotofphotos。

Iwasstillunemployedatthetime,didn’thavetoomuchtodo,soIjustemailedJeffandasked,“DoyoumindifIstartputtingsomethingtogether?

”Andhesaid,knockyourselfout。

Ninemonthslater,IcamebacktoJeffwitha?

cut。

IdidthefirsttwoActsasaplayer,butthenmyreporterinstinctsgotthebestofmeandIstartedtointerviewJeffandcompany。

Whichwasgreat,butIwasneverabletoenjoythegameafterthatpoint。

AndwatchingActFourtakeplace,Iwaskindofjealousofthepeopleplaying?

it。

Iwastoo,alittle,butnotuntilIhadgottenthewholepictureoftheexperience。

I’mnotgoingtosaytheywerecrazy,buttheplayersweregoingdownthisrabbitholewithnoideawhereitwasgoingtolead。

I’dsayI’mmoreskepticalthanthat。

Butthen,asIlearnedmoreaboutwhatthisprojectwas,andthatthewholepointofitwaslettinggoofyourskepticism,andreleasingyourselffromtheconfinesofwhat’srealandwhat’snot,youcouldsayIwassortof?

envious。

Whenisthisgoingtogetreleased?

Wehaveinterestrightnow。

We’vegotdistributionoffersforiTunes,Netflix,onlinekindofstuff。

Wehaveonefortheatrical。

Wedon’twanttobecockyorexclusiveoranything,wejustdon’twanttoputitonlineandhaveitgetburied。

There’slikeamillionthingson?

Netflix。

Whenyousay“we,”doesthatmean[Jejunecreator]JeffHullisinvolved?

IusetheRoyalWetokindofnotsoundpretentious。

Jeffisn’treallyinvolved,andthat’sactuallymorebyhisdesign。

Hedoesn’twantittocomeoffasitbeingavanitypiece。

AndIcouldn’tagreemore。

Jefflikesthemovie。

Ittakesacouplelittlejabsathim,buthelikesit。

So,IguesswhenI’msaying“we,”Iamgenerallyjustreferringtomyself。

DoingaGollumthing?

there。

WhenIwaswritingmyarticles,Ifounditprettydifficulttodescribethismulti-mediasuper-sensoryworldwithjustwords。

Soforyou,usingvideo,whatwastheprocessoftellingthisstorythatwashittingyouinsomanynon-videoways?

That’sthething。

Itwasastorybeingtoldthroughmultipleplatforms,whichwasreallycooltome。

ThefactthatyoucouldtellastorynotjustthroughTVandnotjustthroughabook,butalltheseinteractiveimmersiveelementscomingtogethertogiveyouastory。

So,inthatregard,turningitintoamovieisalmostsacrilege。

That’skillingtheexperience。

Butobviouslyabigpartoftheexperiencewasconfusionanduncertaintyandnuanceinreality,soIwantedthattobeinthemovie?

too。

But,youknow,Ireallyjustlettheplayerstelltheirsideofit。

Alotoftimes,theyweresodeepinittheyhadaveryesotericperspective。

Itwasverymuch“well,theHollowHeadsknewthatKelvinhasinterceptedtheblah-blah-blah”andIhadtokeepgoingbackandsaying,“Wait,Idon’tknowwhatthatmeans。

Canyouexplainthat?

”SoIkeptonapproachingthemovielikeIwasshowingittosomebody’sgrandma。

Isshegoingtoget?

this?

WhenlookingbackthroughtheActs,theyprogressfrombeingauniquebutseen-beforescavengerhuntthingyinActOneandActTwo,andthenActFourturnedintothismagicalexperience…

ActFourisverymuchlike,thisisverybeautiful,thisallfeelssowarm。

Butwhenyoudothatinastoryitneedstobeprecededandfollowedbyadventure。

Itwasprecededbyit,butwhenpeopledidn’tgetthatoutofActFivethatwasoutofasenseofnarrativeexpectations,inawaythatamovieattheendoftwo-thirdsgetsreallysadandeveryone’sallbummedoutandthenyouexplodeshitandeveryone’shappy。

Sure,butthat’sthedifferencebetweenamovielikeDieHardandsomethinglike2001,whereyouhavethisopen-endedweirdsymboliclastsection。

Like,ActFive,Ihateditinitially。

Itwasjustanannoying?

weekend。

99%ofpeoplesaid?

that。

Butlookingbackonit,it’sreallytough…Icertainlydon’thateitanymore。

Butit’stheargumentbetweenmetaandstraightstorytelling,right?

Youcangetthesameoutofbothtypes。

It’sjustwithstraightstorytellingyouhavetotaketheextrasteptoseethatthismeansthat,andthisstandsforthat。

Butinmetait’sjust,“Nostupid,thisiswhatit’sallabout。

ThisiswhatI’mtellingyou?

about。



DidyoueverseeTheNeverEndingStory?

What’scoolaboutthatis,thepeopleofFantasianeedahumanbeingtogiveanewnametotheEmpress。

Andtheonlywaytheycangetsomeonetocometotheirworldistocreateastorythatsomeonecanimmersethemselvesin,theycanonlycometothisworldandsaveitiftheybelievethatthestorythey’rereadingisessentialandnecessary。

Thestorydoesn’tmatter。

It’sjustthetooltogetyoutocometogetherandopenupyoureyes。

It’snottheHolyGrail;it’sthequestfortheHolyGrail。

ButeverythingthattheHolyGrailwouldgiveyou,youcouldgatheronthequest。

Sothatwasthemessage。

Andthat’snotnecessarilyanewmessage。

Youknow,“it’sthejourneynotthedestination。



Ultimately,then,thedocumentaryiskindofthefinaldraftofJeff’sproject。

Noone’sgoingtoplaythegameagain,it’sgone。

Thisiswhat’sultimatelygoingtoexist。

Whenyouweremakingit,didyoufeelanyobligationtopreservesomething?

No。

Notatall。

Iwasn’tmakingthistobethepreserverofthisancientworld。

Itwasjusttoanswerthebasic,fundamentalquestionofwhatstoryisthistelling。

Yeah,thereissomuchperipheralstorycrap,andlinks,andtheB-BoysbeingconnectedtothesedeltaparticledrugsthatweremadebyEva’sfather’sfriendwhowentmissingandcreatedthepolywater,andwhatever。

It’slike,no。

That’snot…again,thestorydidn’tmatter。

Icutwhereitdidn’tmakesenseto?

me。

What,ultimately,isyourfinalimpressionofthegameingeneralandwhatthey?

did?

Whichisactuallyreallyinterestingisthatmostofthepeoplewhoparticipatedwere,muchlikemyselfandmuchlikepeopleintheBayingeneral,verysecularpeople。

I’mnotareligiousperson,noneofthepeoplewhoparticipatedinthisgamewere。

Whichisn’treallysurprising。

Butwhatalotofthesepeoplegotwasthissenseofspirituality,orasenseofsomethingmoregoingonintheirreality。

Andwhocaresifthat’screatedbypeopleinsteadofamagicthing?

Thesepeoplegotthissenseofcongregation,andtheycametogether。

ItwasnomistakethatActFourwasinatheologicalestablishment。

Sothat’swhat’sreallycooltome,isthatyoucanbelieveinsomethingmoregoingon。

Youcanbelieveinmagicandyoudon’thavetoattributeittoaGodorwhatever…

…oracorporation,ora?

movie…

…butatthesametime,peoplelovetosaythey’respiritualbutnotreligious,andthiswasdefinitelyreligiousbutnotspiritual。

Becauseitwasallthetraditionandstorythatreligionshave,butnoneofthenecessitytobelieveinanyofthemagic。

AndIdon’tknowifthatwasreallyJeff’sidea。

Hisideawastogetpeopletostoplookingattheirphones,toexploretheworldtheylivein,notbeafraidtogodownanalleybecausetheythinkitmightbeownedbysomeone。

Youknow,don’tgorobbinganybody,butexploreit。

It’syourcity,too。

ThatwouldbeJeff’s?

thing。

Minewouldbejusttoquestionthemediayou’representedwith。

Ithinkamoviehastheabilitytomakeyouopenyoureyesandlingerandbouncearoundinyourbrainforawhile,butdon’ttakeittooseriously。

Andifyoudo,besureyoureallyquestionitandgettheanswers。

It’slikeJaws。

Ifyou’dseenthesharkinthebeginning,woulditbethatsharporspookyofamovie?

Probablynot。

Youknowattheendtheydoshowtheshark。

Idon’tthinkIevershowedthesharkinthismovie。

Butthat’stheidea。

Gofindthesharkyourself。

Youdecide。

Previously:LastChance:TheMysteriesOfSanFrancisco’sCreepyJejuneInstituteandThePerplexingFinalChapterOfSanFrancisco’sJejuneInstitute

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