Haxan Films kicked off promotions for the limited release of its film Lovely Molly last week by mailing ARGNet a care package containing a cryptic disc leading to a series of puzzles and videos on the Lovely Molly website. Over the past few days, all but one of the puzzles have been solved, with a handful of runic characters standing between players and the full message. An additional installment to the Path to Madness documentary about the history of the movie’s namesake character has also found its way onto the website. The newest installment documents the death of Molly Reynolds’ father Ben Palmer through an apparent suicide by screwdriver.
Concurrent with shooting Lovely Molly, Haxan Films shot the raw footage for an alternate reality game that prominently featured this bloody screwdriver. Due to the film’s limited budget, plans for a full-fledged game fell through. The decision to abandon the film’s more immersive plans was a difficult one, so Lovely Molly‘s director Ed Sanchez edited together a video detailing the alternate reality game that could have been. Continue on for a rare peek at a campaign as its team initially envisioned it.
Had it come to fruition, Lovely Molly‘s alternate reality game would have centered around a fictional alternate reality game player named Abby who travels to the location Lovely Molly was filmed and discovers the screwdriver that caused Ben Palmer’s death. Mysterious events begin to occur, leading Abby and her boyfriend to suspect there might be some truth behind this particular fiction, causing them to investigate the story behind Lovely Molly further. Haxan Films producer Gregg Hale notes that the development of campaign aspects “like the 4th-wall-breaking storyline of an ARG player sucked into a ‘real’ horror situation simply required the creation of too many additional elements and, maybe more importantly, too much man-power to manage or puppet-master.”
This video case study for this alternate reality game that never happened provides a scintillating glimpse at the production team’s aspirations for the project, but also an important lesson in the story development process. By shooting the transmedia elements concurrently with the filming of the actual movie, the team was able to seamlessly integrate the alternate reality game’s narrative into that of the film on a limited budget. And even though the team’s optimistic goal of transforming that footage into an interactive narrative fell through, the content was still available to be repurposed into a more passive glimpse into the Lovely Molly universe. As Hale explains, the video was intended to “[let] the ARG community know we were thinking about them and that we wish we could’ve done more.”
Many transmedia producers have been pushing for an integrated creation process that allows immersive elements to be baked into the narrative from day one. Inevitably, many of the more audacious or expensive plans are left by the wayside to ensure a finished product can be pushed out to the public. With Lovely Molly, the production team aimed to produce the most ambitious project possible, but created a framework that allowed them to scale back as the situation demanded. The film’s subsequent decision to repurpose, reformulate, and release these whispers of what could have been provide an intriguing model for transmedia production that warrants close inspection.