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The Toronto Silent Film Festival Just Built an Escape Room Entirely on Instagram


We don't know how it happened—a human compulsion for puzzle-solving, coupled with a fun flirtation with claustrophobia?—but escape rooms are huge. Every third agency we know takes a client to one (because, as Speed so deftly taught us, there's nothing like a shared crisis to bond unlikely pairs).

And as the last few years have shown us, the Toronto Silent Film Festival has made itself expert at seizing on a trend and tying it—in manners uncanny but genius—to a topic that few care about anymore. With this in mind, it's created the first-ever Instagram Escape Room, where you can partake in the manufactured stress of entrapment wherever you are, for free and without a one-hour timer ticking off the minutes of your scrambling incompetence. 

Over 70 percent of silent films have been lost. That's a whole swathe of storytelling history that we don't have access to anymore. And unlike more modern "lost" films, a lost silent film often leaves little evidence it existed at all ... almost as if it's been swallowed up, or left to rot, in a room that's been forgotten itself. 

That's where the insight came from. 

The Instagram Escape Room account features a panoramic single image of a room, cut into a series of videos. (For best results, play with your phone turned sideways.) When you click on one, you get a first-person "glimpse" of yourself searching that part of the room. Sometimes you'll find a clue; other times, you'll chance upon one of the once-lost films, which will give you a letter. Gather all the letters up for a code that will lead to your escape. 

"Thousands have tried ... only a handful have escaped," teases the case study video below. That may or may not be encouraging, depending on whether or not you have 4G in whatever hypothetical waiting room you're hanging out in (another place you won't be escaping anytime soon!). 

The work, created by Red Lion Canada, reminds us a bit of Rosbeef!'s Instagram zoom campaign for the Sony Xperia Z5. But cutting a single image into a panoply of discoverable worlds is where the comparison stops. 

This marks the fourth year that the Toronto Silent Film Festival has used Instagram—the democratic home to a universe of full-color pictures and videos—to build awareness. And every year brings something surprising and new. 

"We have been partners with The Toronto Silent Film Festival for some time now, and every year I'm impressed with their desire to push the envelope creatively," says Red Lion president and chief creative officer Matt Litzinger.

In 2013, TSFF gave us a scrolling Instagram campaign, which simulated the look of old movies. In 2014, its Instagram Time Machine gave us a fresh appreciation for Charlie Chaplin (whose granddaughter, Oona Chaplin, was notably killed in Game of Thrones' traumatic Red Wedding episode. Doesn't that make him seem that much more relevant?). And last year, users got a shot at creating their very own TSFF Instagram clips.

If the Toronto Silent Film Festival is a model for social creativity, it's partly because it's embraced its own constraints, both real and imposed: Silent film is a tough sell in a world where so much great, full-color, noisy stuff is scrolling before our eyes (although Facebook autoplay is giving it a modern comeback). But these guys believe so deeply in its magic that they're committed to helping people rediscover it, by exploiting all the possibilities of a medium that in many ways serves as its antithesis: Instagram. 

It's easy to build a generalized 360° campaign. But with a focus this tight on a single medium, you're bound not only to look at it differently but to force yourself to find new possibilities in its inner workings.

"The Toronto Silent Film Festival continues to grow," Litzinger says. "With each year, the challenge to innovate on Instagram to reflect the innovation of silent films in their day is a dream creative challenge." 

Also, he adds, "trying to escape is pretty fun."

Client: Toronto Silent Film Festival
Agency: Red Lion Canada
President, Chief Creative Officer: Matt Litzinger
Associate Creative Director: Pepe Bratanov
Designer: Duncan Collis
Copywriter: Kyle Carpenter
Account Director: Nicole Spinner
Account Executive: Abi Berkley
Solutions Director: Lauren Brown
Producer: Meghan Cassidy
Director: Eden Robbins

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