EXCLUSIVE: Every film needs a sales hook. UFO conspiracy thriller The Phoenix Incident has been flying under the radar even as viral seeds have been germinating across the web like sleeper cells of marketing data. The feature debut of veteran gaming director Keith Arem (Call of Duty, Titanfall) was shot quietly last year and inked select foreign distribution deals during November’s AFM. It screens next week for buyers here in LA, accompanied by a transmedia viral campaign that Arem hopes will highlight a new kind of digital storytelling.
“The idea is that you will be on your phone leaving the theater, Googling the information to see if it’s real,” Arem told me.
Arem has two decades in video games under his belt as a talent director on the popular Call of Duty, Saints Row, Ghost Recon, Spiderman, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, Persona, Prince of Persia, and Rainbow Six franchises. He also created original graphic novels, games, and apps at his own multiplatform shingle PCB Studios, but film is the next frontier. To make his mark in features, Arem exploited vidgame techniques and a digital-age thirst for the unknown, a curiosity both amplified and obfuscated by the internet.
The Phoenix Incident is named after a real event that occurred on March 13, 1997 in Phoenix, Arizona, when thousands of people, including then-state governor Fife Symington, claimed to have simultaneously witnessed unexplainable lights in the night sky. The phenomenon hit close to home for Arizona native Arem, who wrote and directed the sci-fi thriller about four unsolved Missing Persons cases connected to the Phoenix phenomenon using whistleblower testimony, recovered military footage, and eyewitness accounts to explore the U.S. military’s alleged engagement of alien spacecrafts that night.
Financed in house and with outside investors, the low budget Phoenix Incident was shot over a year ago between video game contracts at Arem’s LA-based multiplatform content shingle PCB Studios, which boasts its own soundstages, post, editorial, VFX, compositing, and color departments.
Arem cast some of gaming’s biggest stars, who fans know better for their voices than their faces. PCBTroy Baker (BioShock Infinite, The Last Of Us, Batman: Arkham Origins, Far Cry 4) and Yuri Lowenthal (Prince of Persia, Sunset Overdrive, Dragon Age, Castlevania) were two gaming stars who worked with Arem in the Call of Duty series. “They were handpicked for these roles,” said Arem, who also produced with Ash Sarohia and Adam Lawson for PCB Entertainment. Continental Entertainment is selling worldwide rights; Hansen Jacobson and manager Kailey Marsh rep PCB Entertainment.
“In telling a linear film experience, we wanted to be able to create a whole world around the film,” said Arem. Inspired by a story that already blurs the lines of fiction and reality, the feature film is a jumping off point for storytelling – not merely the end goal. I won’t spoil the viral content that Arem & Co. have cooked up, but like the truth, it’s already out there. Above is a Deadline exclusive peek at the film. Is it tantalizing enough to get audiences Googling?