Seven young social media stars with a combined reach of some 8.3 million fans worldwide have teamed up to make a movie and an independent leap to bigger screens.
Written and produced by British filmmaker Max Marlow and directed by Madison De La Garza (“Desperate Housewives”), “Surprise” is a mystery thriller about a surprise Zoom party that turns tense when the birthday girl’s friends appear to know something she doesn’t.
The film will feature five hugely popular international TikTok actors: Laurel Toupal and Zach Cowan from the U.S., Inka Magnaye from the Philippines, Jason van Tonder from South Africa and Paige Evans from Canada.
The cast members’ popularity in their own territories and the millions of combined followers may well provide “Surprise” with an ideal built-in audience.
“It’s the first time anyone has assembled a cast of trained actors from TikTok to star in an exclusively POV-style film, as allowed by the Zoom layout on which it is set, similar to last year’s internet favorite ‘Host,’” says Marlow, who is producing “Surprise” via his London-based Mamar Films shingle.
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“The project promises strength in encapsulating three of new media’s biggest evolutions — the rise of short-form, the found-footage genre migrating to mobile and the star power of talent on social media,” he adds.
“As with the feel of a TikTok POV video, the film at hand is short-form, captured in the familiar style of addressing a webcam, and promotes multiple viewings through the clues the audience will pick up along the way to figure out the surprise. It’s essentially a film made by the internet generation of filmmakers for the internet generation of film fans.”
Unlike many performers on TikTok, the cast members of “Surprise” are all professional actors who became prominent on the platform through utilizing the trend of POV acting and voice-over videos to their advantage, Marlow points out.
He was inspired to pen his own POV genre story after seeing Rob Savage’s “Host,” about a group of friends who decide to hold a séance over Zoom during the lockdown and inadvertently summon a supernatural force. Marlow then pitched the project to De La Garza and his other collaborators. It’s the second short film directed by De La Garza, who began her career as a child actor on the hit ABC series “Desperate Housewives.”
Marlow, who is currently in Berlin working as a VFX coordinator on a high-end TV series for a major streaming service, oversaw the project remotely, navigating time-zones between director and cast members on different continents to rehearse and complete the film over a two-month period.
“Surprise” is currently in post and Marlow will soon begin submitting it to festivals and looking for distribution partners.
The filmmaker recently enjoyed major success on TikTok and YouTube with a Pixar-inspired 3D animated short he wrote, produced and directed, the award-winning “Thatching Eggs.” The film’s teaser received 2.6 million views on TikTok and the finished work has so far garnered nearly 3 million views on YouTube.
It was that project that connected Marlow and Toupal, leading to the collaboration with the other TikTok actors and with De La Garza.
(Pictured from left: Paige Evans, Inka Magnaye, Jason van Tonder, Zachary Cowan, Laurel Toupal, Rebecca Fiddes, Patsy Ferrer, Max Marlow and Madison De La Garza.)