On Monday the internet was momentarily excited by a video in which two men claimed to hack the big screens in Times Square using just an iPhone, a weather balloon, a transmitter, and, as we said at the time, “something called a ‘video repeater.'” We were correct to think a “video repeater” doesn’t really exist when we originally called the whole thing a hoax, but now we know for sure it was just a viral advertisement for the movie Limitless, which we’re now indirectly promoting, thereby proliferating this kind of marketing. It’s sort of an interesting story! (In protest, we won’t see the film.) But we did take a few minutes to talk to the men behind the ad, James Percelay and Michael Krivicka, whose new company ThinkModo has already pulled a stunt like this before.
ThinkModo’s first trick was a fake marriage proposal in Central Park, which Krivicka explained was just a test run to get attention. The group then worked with a razor company focused on head-shaving. Limitless, though, is the big time.
Krivicka said they were approached by Relativity Media, the company behind the film, who wanted some “nontraditional marketing.” ThinkModo came up with a few ideas and the Times Square hack was chosen, but the best part was how they pulled it off.
“Instead of some crazy CGI, we actually went to the screens and paid to play our own stuff on them,” said Krivicka. They just synced what was playing on the iPhone to what was really on the screen.
Despite claims in comments sections from all sorts of “video experts” that the YouTube video was an expert hoax, because of the advanced use special effects, or assertions that the video must be real, because it’d be too hard or too expensive to fake, neither is exactly right. The group didn’t hack the screens, they just put up the money for the Times Square ad time.
Though they declined to give a number, Krivicka said renting the screens was “not cheap,” but the film company footed the bill. The companies that owned the screens were in on the plan too. ThinkModo simply rented the jumbo screen for one hour, with their video clip cycling through every 60 seconds. The smaller screens showed their video every 30 seconds. (In the original video, when the “hack” occurs, the tricksters are interrupting an ad already running: the trailer for Limitless.)
Everyone thought “this is some high-tech shit,” Krivicka said. “Everybody was wrong. We just rented the screens because we’d rather go the simple way that nobody ever thinks of. No special effects, no trickery, nothing.” The only trick, he said, was using “shaky, amateurish” footage, “made to look like something it’s not.”
Percelay, a former producer for Saturday Night Live, said that his team “was able to fool a lot of people, despite the laws of physics. But we also gave them a good time, which is part of our philosophy.” Percelay even claimed the Department of Transportation is working to find out “who hacked the screens in Times Square.” They we worried, he said.
But there’s nothing to worry about except gullibility. “There’s always some people who feel let down,” Krivicka said, “but it’s working.”
The “hacker” credits the idea to “NZT… a pill that allows me to use 100% of my brain. It enabled me to create this revolutionary transmitter and repeater. One pill a day and you are limitless.” Get it?