Up Close With Thinkmodo: How the Guys Behind ‘Ouija Psychic’ and ‘Devil Baby’ Make Viral Gold
Michael Krivicka, James Percelay and Sam Pezzullo are hiding out in the back room of a wine shop they converted into a psychic parlor. The windows are covered, the entire space has been cleared out, and their eyes are glued to the monitors that are hooked up the hidden cameras strewn throughout. They have to maintain absolute silence so as to not tip off their next victim, who's coming in to get a free psychic reading, unaware of what horrors await.
"We're becoming experts in scaring the s--- out of people," said Michael. "That's our thing, that's what we do best."
By now, you've probably seen the video dubbed 'Ouija Psychic Terror' making the rounds online. It's the one where a faux fortune teller scares a bunch of unaware people by popping her eyes out before a woman dressed in demon makeup emerges from the floor, and the viral video tastemakers Thinkmodo is the name behind it. In fact, the digital agency co-founded by James and Michael has been behind many of your favorite viral stunts. Remember the 'Devil Baby' that went around scaring New Yorkers? How about that telekinetic 'Carrie' coffee shop prank, or that 'Last Exorcism' ghost haunting a hair salon?
When Hollywood studios want to promote their movies with something that has never been done before, they call in Thinkmodo. "Phone rings. It's Universal. They're like, 'Hey, we've got this cool movie called 'Ouija.' You guys wanna take a look?'" Michael recollects. "And we saw the first trailer and we said, 'Okay, this looks great. There's something we can do.'" From there, the team came up with a variety of pitches for viral videos, and Universal eventually signed off on the 'Psychic Terror' treatment.
After transforming a Brooklyn wine shop, located on the east side of Prospect Park, Thinkmodo filmed over the course of two days, luring people from the streets into their psychic parlor of doom with an offer for a free psychic reading. "We were surprised that people were truly fearful of ouija boards and had been taught by their elders -- grandparents and so on -- not to cross the line," said James. "It really played well to what we were doing." But in true Thinkmodo style, the ouija board was only one of the phases of the video.
As James and Michael explain, all their projects involve multiple stages. For 'Ouija,' they wanted to add an x-factor, something completely unexpected. "The psychic herself should do something, she'll have an incredibly scary ability," said Michael, and that's where Jaleesa stepped in. After watching her eye-popping videos online, the duo found Jaleesa in Hawaii and flew her out to star in the video. As Jaleesa told us, there was a storm watch in Hawaii at the time and, fearing the harsh weather would prevent her from partaking, Thinkmodo flew her out in the nick of time.
"I've been doing it since I was about 9. I don't really know how it happens or why it happens," said Jaleesa of her talent. "The ones that come in and laugh are funny, but the ones that come in a scream are funnier. I enjoy scaring people. That's my secret."
While it's easy to use "pranksters" to describe Thinkmodo, the amount of creativity and work involved in the execution extends far beyond the term. "It's very easy to just scare somebody in a superficial way," said James. "It's hard to get a situation where people are internalizing the complexity of a situation, whether it defies physics or gravity or logic, and that's different than just a simple, you know, prank."
On the second and final day of shooting, after hours of camping out, resetting the scene and scaring a variety of people, their latest subject has a very physical reaction -- she screams and completely jumps out of her chair. Amidst the cheers and giggles from the production crew in the back room, Michael exclaims, "viral video gold," and they know they have the making of something truly spectacular. Though, as the guys say, next comes the two-week-long editing process.
You can watch the fruits of Thinkmodo's labors in the 'Ouija Psychic Terror' video below, and get the full behind-the-scenes process above. The horror film 'Ouija' hits theaters on October 24.