12 December 2018
Thomas Merrington and Dominic Davies at The Snowman Experience

"It's a part of everyone's Christmas tradition - and by proxy it becomes a part of your own family's tradition - so you look out for ways in which your grandparents, parents and children can share that magical experience",  says Penguin Ventures Creative Director Thomas Merrington, reflecting on what it's like to work on new campaigns and ideas for The Snowman brand.

We caught up with Thomas and Backyard Cinema founder and Creative Director Dominic Davies at the launch of The Snowman Experience, their new cinematic walk-through adventure at London's Winter Wonderland. The experience, which uses the art of cinema to immerse audiences young and old in the world of The Snowman, is just one of the ways in which the Penguin Ventures team have been marking the fortieth anniversary since the publication of Raymond Briggs' Christmas classic.

Can you tell us a little bit about The Snowman Experience?

Dominic: It is effectively a multi-roomed, multi-sensory cinematic adventure

Thomas: It’s really about bringing The Snowman to life in a new way. This year we’re celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the publication of the original Snowman book and we wanted to find a partner that could present the film in a brand new way, so Backyard Cinema have created this really extraordinary, immersive cinema walkthrough, that fans have just been really loving haven’t they? [to Dominic]

Dominic: Yes! We wanted to give something completely different to an old classic. [The book is] forty years old, it’s been on telly for as long as we can remember, so it was fun for Backyard Cinema to get our hands on it and turn it into an immersive cinematic product.

How did you come up with the idea?

Thomas: So when we started to think about The Snowman fortieth, we really wanted to engage fans in brand new ways, and we were aware of what Backyard Cinema were doing in terms of screenings and making some amazing experiences - and actually a few years ago we started working with Dom to screen The Snowman in their Winterville setting.

Dom and the team here have always been so passionate about what they do - and we just thought for the fortieth, wouldn’t it be amazing to combine their expertise with The Snowman brand so that we can bring this concept to life? It’s been about two years in the making - from normal screenings to what we’ve got now.

What can visitors to Winter Wonderland expect from The Snowman Experience?

Dominic: Surprises, immersion, the feeling of Christmas magic all around you. You can relive your childhood memories and create new ones with the family.

Thomas: You’ll feel like you're in the woodland, you’ll feel like you’re actually with The Snowman with your massive eight-by-four screen. Every room is a different experience, so you can get different magical elements from each part of the film that you’re watching.

Dominic: There’s lots of little nods to superfans - but if you’re bringing your kids to see it for the first time ever, it’ll be the best way for them to watch [it].

What has been the biggest challenge leading up to the launch?

Dominic: As this has gone from an idea on a napkin to meeting Penguin to coming into fruition and being at Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, one of the main challenges has really been just the scale of it and making sure that we are true to the original source material. We specialise in creating new worlds with a sense of adventure, but this time we needed to make sure that it was The Snowman’s world and that it was just as exciting for little kids as it would be for big kids to come through and see their childhood hero.

The actual set itself is enormous, it’s based over 50,000 square feet, there’s over 12 structures - [it is currently] raining outside - and we needed to make sure that people are warm and cosy and have something really fun to go through.

What’s it been like to work on this project with Penguin Ventures?

Dominic: Working on this project with Penguin has been - surprisingly - a joy! [laughs] No, I think working with Penguin Ventures - they’re very protective over the brand, for obvious reasons, it’s an old English heritage - but what’s been exciting is they’re not afraid to push the boundaries and get more out of a particular IP.

It was one thing we at Backyard Cinema were quite nervous about and I think we’ve been very pleasantly surprised. Working with Thomas and the team has been a joy, and we’re looking forward to seeing what other books we can perhaps bring to life in the future.

What’s next for Backyard Cinema?

Dominic: Well Backyard Cinema are going to specialise in creating brand new worlds for you to explore and watch all your favourite movies in. Whether it’s spaceships, Miami Beach, ice caves or your favourite childhood memories [gestures towards The Snowman Experience], we’re there to create all these new worlds in the future.

This marks 40 years since the publication of The Snowman, what other activities can we expect to celebrate it?

Thomas: We’ve had a really extraordinary fortieth anniversary year, it’s gone far beyond our expectations: not only have we launched The Snowman Experience with Backyard Cinema; but also there’s our collaboration with The Royal Mint, with the coin selling out in a day; our amazing partnership with Barbour and their live action ad; the soon to be launched Raymond Briggs exhibition on display at The Brighton Museum along with the My Snowman People's Picture project; so there’s lots more still to celebrate.

The Snowman Experience is open at London's Hyde Park until 6 January 2019. For more information and tickets, visit the Winter Wonderland website here.

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