Fast Company

Stephen King's "Bag of Bones" Gets A Creepy Backstory

ARG masters Campfire create a photo-driven narrative to promote A&E's movie version of "Bag of Bones." Just take a moment with the image here.

The devil’s in the details, perhaps nowhere more than in the horror genre. And no one is more famous for creating interconnected worlds of fright than bestselling author Stephen King. Those subtle details are exploited in Darkscorestories.com, the snapshot of a sleepy and troubled town that acts as a promo for A&E’s two-night movie version of King’s Bag of Bones, airing Dec. 11. 

Created by Campfire, the creative and production team behind The Blair Witch Project and several acclaimed alternate reality campaigns, “Dark Score Stories” employs photos and audio clips to tell the tale of Dark Score Lake, an unassuming little town in the unincorporated Maine township of TR-90. But this being Stephen King and all, things are not quite what they seem.

Set one year before the calamitous events of Bag of Bones, the site creates a parallel narrative through photo essays of seven prominent residents with captions written in the voice of a visiting photojournalist (in reality, award-winning Danish photojournalist Joachim Ladefoged created the lush photos). Each photo essay contains an initial image, which is given the subtle animated GIF treatement (see above), adding haunting clues to the subtext of the scene, along with a series of photos, oral histories, and a summary from the photographer.

At first blush the collection of words, images and voices seems like a backgrounder to the upcoming movie. But delve deeper and puzzles begin to reveal themselves: suspicious typos have meaning; strange bolding of text once deciphered leads to hidden video; secret images lurk within the textured layers of the photos; and--spoiler alert--some characters featured in the essays are no longer living and breathing by the time the movie takes place. It’s like an adult game of eye spy, only with the promise of a grim ending.

Guy Slattery, Senior Vice President of Marketing, A&E Network, says, the experience was designed to appeal to multiple layers of audience. “The visuals and narrative are intriguing enough to appeal to a broader audience, but for the hardcore Stephen King fans who want to dig deeper there is so much more to discover.”

Steve Coulson, Campfire Partner/Creative Director and Stephen King fan, says the richness of details present in the script provided inspiration for the site, not to mention an inner squeal of excitement. “When we read the script it was clear there were a lot of details not just from the book but from the whole Stephen King universe. He’s an interesting writer in that he’s connected all of his books in a story world. We wanted to evoke that excitement from a certain group of people.”

With an intended audience extending from A&E’s 18-50s demo and beyond to Stephen King’s legion of fans, the online experience strikes the right chord. The stillness of the content and noticeable lack of required clicks allows the creepy undertones to bubble up.

And when a puzzle is solved, an image deciphered or a revelation hits, the opportunity to share is right there, as the site was specifically created in HTML5 with social sharing in mind. “We wanted to find a more shareable way to tell a story. It can feel immersive but at the same time it’s easy to digest,” says Campfire Partner & Executive Creative Director Mike Monello, noting that the animated images can be easily added to blogs and social networking site, intrigue intact.

Adds Slattery: “Bag of Bones is all about people and the secrets they keep. As users engage in this site they will uncover secrets of their own and we all know people can’t keep a secret.”

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