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A Considerable Town

Inside iam8bit, One of L.A.'s Craziest Art Galleries

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Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 5:00 AM
click to enlarge A life-size version of Scrooge McDuck's money vault, organized by iam8bit - COURTESY OF IAM8BIT
  • Courtesy of iam8bit
  • A life-size version of Scrooge McDuck's money vault, organized by iam8bit

The company iam8bit is known around town as the "crazy little production company that makes cool things." Founded by Jon Gibson, a former TV screenwriter, and documentary film producer Amanda White, iam8bit is an art gallery and think tank that does advertising, publishing, film production and event planning. Sometimes, it makes T-shirts. It is composed of, as Gibson puts it, "tchotchke wizards." They are, perhaps, the ultimate multihyphenates in a city of multihyphenates.

On a brisk November evening, a dizzying number of projects is being worked on, more or less simultaneously, at the company's cavernous Echo Park headquarters. In a few weeks, iam8bit will host the Machinima Interactive Film Festival, which honors movies made from interactive video.

Instead of forcing people to sit in theaters in the standard film festival mode, White and Gibson decided to build phone booth–sized "pods" to house video monitors for viewers to walk up to and click on stuff. "The idea is to build the space so it's like people are walking through the Internet," Gibson says — to turn the festival into a "digest on your own time" sort of thing, not an "appointment-based, sit-in-a-chair" thing. The pods, he estimates, are pretty much finished.

The nine-person company grew out of an art show Gibson organized in 2005. The show, an ode to classic video games, became a book published by Chronicle Books. Soon, video game companies came calling. Would iam8bit make their press kits and promotional items? "The mailers put us on the map," Gibson says.

To mail out promo copies of the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider video game, they built little wooden crates. Recipients had to use the accompanying crowbar to pry them open. Another mailer involved old Nintendo cartridges, which Gibson gutted, cleaned, resealed and shrink-wrapped as if they were real old-school games from the '80s. They were so successful that, for a while, copies were fetching up to $1,200 on eBay. "It played with the idea of collectibility," he says. "You had to break the seal to open it, but in the process you devalued it."

Then there was the zombie hallway. They made it for the developers of Call of Duty. "Originally, I think they just wanted to buy some prints to hang in their hallway," Gibson says. Instead, he and White redecorated the entire office with smeared blood, severed limbs, war murals and a 60-foot camouflage corkboard wall. They proposed it as an "employee wellness program."

On and on their list of projects goes, a geeky teenage boy's dream come true. For the launch of Capcom's video game Duck Tales: Remastered, they built a life-size version of Scrooge McDuck's money vault, with piles of soft, giant gold coins for people to swim through. To promote the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, they threw a keg buffet party, with 18 kegs of international beers. Another time, they made a giant, 6-foot-tall, working Atari joystick controller, which was operated by leaning on it.

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