Slo-Mo Home Depot

Digital Video: Agents Todd, Kula, Shafer, Slocum, Reeves, Adams, Lanoie, Gross
Digital Photography: Agents Nicholson, Pallas

A few years back we executed a mission that involved repeating time. Ever since then I’ve wanted to try something that stopped or slowed down time. How would people react if they found themselves surrounded by people moving forward at a different rate or time (or not moving at all)? I decided the Home Depot on 23rd Street in Manhattan was the perfect place to try this out for two reasons. 1) The assonance in “Slo-Mo Home Depot” sounds funny. 2) The mere existence of a Home Depot, an enormous behemoth of a store, on our tiny island is hilarious. It also helped that the store is located on the exact same block as the Best Buy we invaded earlier this year.

On a Saturday afternoon, around 225 people showed up at the meeting point in Madison Square Park, a short walk from the Home Depot.

A pretty diverse group of folks showed up. One family drove down from Connecticut to participate. The wife joked that her husband looked like Tom Selleck. They were the first to arrive at the meeting point.


The Massari family

After everyone had assembled I revealed the mission details. We would sychronize our watches and then walk over to Home Depot and shop. At exactly 4:15 we would all begin moving in slow motion. We’d do that for five minutes, and then shop normally for five minutes as if nothing had happened. At exactly 4:25 we would all freeze in place for five minutes. When that was over we would go back to normal and eventually leave the store.


Giving instructions to the group


Agents synchronize watches

This particular Home Depot location has a ground level, a lower level, a balcony, and a contractor services area. I divided the group up by months of birth and spread everyone out equally among the different sections, ensuring that we’d be spread out over the entire store. I also divided the group up by year of birth, instructing the even numbered birth year folks to approach and exit the store from Sixth avenue and the odd years to approach and exit from Fifth. I did this to make us seem less like a parade of people and more like random individuals entering and exiting the store.

One thing that is unique about this mission is that the photos are pretty worthless. You can’t show movement or stillness in a photograph so we needed to capture as much video as possible without getting caught. We learned in our Best Buy mission that while corporate chain stores have security cameras monitoring you on every aisle, they don’t much care for you videotaping them. We snuck in six DV cameras and two video capable digital cameras, concealing them in duffle bags and shooting discreetly from the hip.


Agent Shafer’s camera


Agent Slocum preps his camera

Several of our cameramen also took advantage of the Home Depot shopping carts, which in addition to being great hiding places, also provided some nice dolly shots. Some rested their camera on top of merchandise; others hid their camera below the merchandise, capturing video through the orange cage.

Many agents wore their watch on the inside of their wrist, to make it easier for them to discreetly check the time during the mission.


An agent moves in slow motion while Agent Gross films from inside the shopping cart behind him

One thing we had not anticipated was that most people normally shop a pretty slow pace. Because of this, the slow motion phase was very subtle; you had to look close to notice something out of the ordinary was going on. It was difficult at times to tell who was in on the mission and who was not. It was only the large gestures like picking up a product or taking a sip of a drink that were obviously unusual.


An agent slowly drinks while another slowly reads

The employees slowly started noticing that something was going on. It was particularly noticeable from the balcony, where they had a good view of the entire main level.

I instructed everyone to be polite and to be sure to not get in anyone’s way. While someone checking out in slow motion would surely be funny, it would also be annoying to anyone behind him in line. We stayed clear of the cash registers altogether, and also made sure not to block the escalators. If spoken to by an employee or customer, agents responded in slow motion speak (slow and low), and denied anything unusual was happening.

Freezing in place was much more impressive. In every aisle and corner of the store there were people frozen mid-shopping. Most agents were in pretty normal positions, but some got creative.

Although you can’t tell, everyone in this photo is frozen:

Amazingly, about thirty seconds before the freezing in place began, the Home Depot PA system started playing Jewel’s 2001 hit, “Standing Still.” Really. Several agents came up to me after the mission asking how I had gotten that song to play. I wish we were clever enough to sneak into the Home Depot back rooms and insert a CD into their stereo, but it was honestly just a freaky coincidence. I’m sure their music is piped in via some type of corporate satellite radio subscription. As soon as I heard it I ran to stand under the nearest speaker and record the audio using the video mode on my digital camera. You’ll notice an employee asks me if I need help right at the beginning of the clip.

My favorite part of this mission was the exact moment that the freezing stopped. As I was walking around covertly shooting video, I hadn’t noticed how quiet the store had gotten. Over 200 customers were dead silent. When the five minutes ended, everyone instantly sprang to life and began talking to their shopping companions. For a moment, it was as if the world was moving in fast forward.

I’ve compiled several videos that will tell the story better than I can with words. The first is a montage of the entire event. Enjoy!

To truly appreciate how all of our agents were operating at a slower pace than everyone else, I put together a series of clips that play at five times the normal rate. You’ll see that we appear to be behaving normally as the rest of the world whizzes by.

The employee reaction was really great. Typically when we attempt missions in retail stores the customers and lower-level employees laugh and enjoy themselves while the management becomes angry. I’m not sure if it was due to our brevity (we were in and out in a mere fifteen minutes) or if the Home Depot management is more laid-back than other stores, but no action was taken towards us at all. Most employees either laughed or thought they were going “crazy,” or both.


A group of employees trying to figure it out


A customer who asked me with a smile, “What is wrong with everyone?”


Julian smiles as he tells me what happened


Travis acts out how a person talked to him in slo-mo


Employee demonstrates a pose of a frozen customer


Employee who was upset that it all took place on his lunch break

I stuck around after most of the agents had left to get reactions from the staff. I shot video with a small Cannon digital camera, claiming I was just a regular customer trying to figure out what was going on. I think the fact that I had a small still camera in my hand and not a big video camera, made my story seem more believable. I shot somewhat discreetly, but the employees realized I had a camera in my hand. Here’s an unedited 2-minute clip of my encounter.

There was one employee who was unfazed by our antics. His co-worker labeled him as a “curmudgeon.”

After the mission was over we met back at the park and interviewed agents who had had particularly interesting experiences.

Mission Accomplished.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

For the reports of many more participants, read the comments section at the bottom of this page. You can see more photos (in larger resolution) of this mission at Flickr.

Agent Nicholson’s Select Set

Agent Nicholson’s Full Set

Agent Pallas’s Set

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Comments

comments

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141 Responses to Slo-Mo Home Depot

  1. Winnie says:

    I had a blast. Looking forward to more missions!

  2. Agent Simmons says:

    After finding myself in the frozen position in front of the floor-sander rental display with a spatula and a shower caddy in my basket, I unfroze, dumped the spatula, and headed to the register. I actually needed the shower caddy so I bought it and took the extra time to observe the store after most of the agents had vanished.

    A lot of the floor staff were checking with each other to see if it was just them that “was buggin” or if everybody else “was buggin too”. They were also checking to see if they were “on drugs or not”. I was now in possession of a Home Depot bag and receipt so I seemed to escape suspicion. Eavesdropping in the flashlight department I overheard the following exchange:

    Manager: “Well, I’m glad you were here to see it because I wouldn’t know HOW to phrase this in an email”.

    Plain-clothed off-duty employee: “Well, we just have to wait to see how we’re gonna get slammed now. I’m sure we’re gonna end up in the next ‘Super-size me’ or something.”

  3. Agent Hash says:

    As I was leaving the store I heard a few employees discussing what they saw and one of them said \”I think it was an acting class and the guy in the suit was the teacher\”.

  4. Agent Laeli says:

    After the mission, i bought a plant and while it was being potted, i chatted with the employees who didn\’t know i was in it. they general sentiment was that manhattan had too many weird people and that they should all just switch to the Bronx store.

  5. Buzz says:

    Really upset I couldn’t make it to this. Synchronized watches sounded promising. Great job though guys, hahaha.

  6. Agent Skudzz says:

    Awesome! I wish I could have been there. This was a great idea and you guys did a great job carrying it out. Hope the next mission is before the DVD release so I can be there! *hint, hint*

  7. Meryl says:

    You never disappoint. England needs an IE branch!

  8. Jill says:

    We considered coming down from Connecticut to participate…but we probably wouldn’t have been able to convince our 11-month-old to move in slow motion, or freeze. Alas.

  9. Refugio Trejo--Houston, Tx. says:

    What an extraordinary idea to push the limits of people’s grasp of time. You not only created performance art, you also gave the employees and shoppers at Home Depot a story for the rest of their lives.
    Great work, continue expanding the depths of art.

  10. Jadira says:

    This was so much fun to do. I loved the reaction of the people as the walked past and stared in amazment. Especially when they asked us what was going on. Haha… this was priceless. Can’t wait until the next mission!!!

  11. Agent Dr3w says:

    2nd Event I’ve particiapted. I was like OMG when he said we’re going to Home Depot !… that was great. Looking forward for the next one…

    Thanks Improv.

  12. Agent Betty says:

    Favorite quote overheard while frozen: "Jerome, check it. These people buggin. These people are STRAIGHT UP BUGGIN!"

    Thanks for such a good time!

  13. C Garlington says:

    What you’re doing when you deliberately slow down like this is actually a method of teaching from the hermetic mysteries. It teaches obervance and patience.

    There is a well known example of this in Pualo Coehlo’s novel, "Diary of a Magician".

    What you guys did was an act of magic.

    Brilliant.

  14. Observer James says:

    Awesome. The musical touch just proves that the deity of your choice has a sense of humor. I wish we had a branch in Pittsburgh.

  15. IE Junkie says:

    Home Depot could incorporate this mission into an ad campaign: “Take your time, we’re here if you need us.” I hope this report finds its way to their corporate powers-that-be. Congrats to HD employees for having a sense of humor, sounding intelligent, and staying cool. Congrats to Charlie and the crew for their fine execution of another terrific mission. Reading about it and watching the videos made my day.

  16. Agent TomTom (From the Massari family) says:

    Heya! I’m the son from the family in the video, and the picture.

    I’m 14 years old, my dad is 50, and my mom is 46. I found ImprovEverywhere when I saw the site linked to from a link-dump website that I frequent. It was the first mission I saw: The Best Buy mission. I was immediately hooked. I HAD to read more. I continued back to the site, always checking for updates, until I finally saw that I could join the group. I did so as quick as I can, and talked about it to my parents and friends all the time. I’d recap missions for them, ones that I had never been to. Finally, I got the email, and said, “Thank you, God (Agent Todd), for dropping this sure-to-be-delightful event right in my lap. I convinced my parents to take me, and my mom quickly decided that she would take part in the prank, as well as my father. I sat there, in awe. “I have the coolest parents…” I thought to myself, before finally breaking out of my Kodak-freeze-frame moment.

    We packed up the car with Pringles, pretzels, water, and soda, and we were off to NYC. This was quite the adventure, seeing as we live a couple hours away. We’re from Glastonbury, Connecticut, which is right next to Hartford (our capital.) After looking for a parking garage, we found one only a few blocks away. I was so excited, with my red and black Wal-Mart watch equipped on my wrist.

    We walk to the park, after getting some Wendy’s ice cream, and checking out the Flat Iron building (Sp??). We sat on a bench in the park, waiting, waiting, waiting. I had my head darting every which way, looking for any sign of someone I could recognize from the photos of previous events. With luck, Agent Todd walked right by us. I looked up, smiled, and said, “Hey man! What’s up?” As he continued to usher pass me, he gave a quick smile and nod. We wondered if we should follow him, eventually deciding that we would, but sit far enough away to not look correlated, figuring he didn’t want everyone all together before the big meet. We waited, I watched the group of people to my left, consisting of Agent Todd and the cameramen/women. The places they concealed their cameras were amazing. I was sitting there, saying to myself, “Man that’s cool…”

    People quickly began to fill up this side of the park, laughing, talking, joking. It was so amazing. But I didn’t realize just how many people had come until everyone was called forward. I looked behind me, glad to be in the side/middle of the crowd. We were told what we had to do, being informed that ‘There is nothing illegal about shopping in slow motion.’ Me, my mom, my dad, and the rest of the IE agents went on our way. We dispersed across the park, to our destination. As we walked out, an older woman who was sitting with her husband on a bench asked us, “What was that all about?” My dad simply shrugged and responded, “Silliness.”

    We made our way to Home Depot. I couldn’t help but watch the people in front of us, wondering what was going to happen to them when they arrived.

    We arrive at our destination.

    I walk in casually with my mom and dad, looking around, trying to find where to go up to the balcony, which is where we were assigned. Finding the stairs, I lead our way up. On the balcony is where they sell tile/material for counters, and large kitchen appliances (Refrigerators, stoves.) We walked normally for a bit, checking out each kitchen area, pointing out what looked nice, what we wanted or didn’t want. We had gotten just over to the stoves, before I saw people start moving in slow motion. This is when I tapped my dad, whose time was a bit off, to start going. I started to walk in slow motion, ignoring those around me, talking softly back and forth with my mom, conversing about the stove/oven in front of us. I began to walk back toward the refrigerators and kitchens, my mom still back and looking at the ovens, my dad in front of me. I get around the corner of the balcony, and turned to my mom, who was way behind. I wanted to make it more realistic. Cause a bit of chaos. So I looked at my mom, and shouted to her, “MOOOOM! MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM!!! HURRY UP!!” In a deep, slowed voice. My mom recognized it was me, luckily, and shouted back, “WAIT A MINUTE!!” I continued to harass her, and she yelled back, “BEEE PATIENT!” It so kicked ass. I believe this is what started to get the employees on our side’s attention.

    I slowly made my way back to where my mom was, and looked at the refrigerator she was looking at. I told her, in a raised, deep, slow voice, “It looks like the one we have at home!” There was a young woman looking at the ‘fridge right next to ours. My mom says, “I like that one…” as I tell her, “This one’s my favorite…” She played along, talking to my mother, not cracking a smile.

    The employees definitely took notice. A young black female employee came up to us, trying to make conversation, trying to figure out what was going on. “..ARe you all together?” she asked us, “Do you need help? Are you alright? Are all of you together? Is this an act?” She continued to try and help us make a decision on a refrigerator, as we shook our hands, and answered in slow motion, acting as if we were confused.

    My mom began to walk away, as customers, and employees watched us. She asked me, off to the side, “Are you alright?” I raised my eyebrow, turned my head to her and nodded, as if I didn’t know what she was talking about. She told me, “I was just wondering if you were okay, honey…” I responded, “I’m fine.” My voice exaggerated how slow we were going. I followed my mom, as we walked over to the other side of the balcony, where the tile was. We finally caught up to my dad, who had been looking at kitchen sets and tile for counters. I began to look through a book, asking my parents, “What’s your favorite brand?” as loud as I could without yelling. Finally, the time came to go normal. We walked, looked at tiles, discussed which were good, which were bad. I watched other agents discreetly, watching them to see when we should freeze. I was mid stride, with about six employees behind me, talking, and leaning over the railing. My dad was right in front of me, reading a sign, and my mom was ahead of him, looking at more tiles. I watched through a semi-transparent sign at two women, one in yellow, and one in brown, if I remember correctly. I watched to see when they moved. As we would still, Jewel’s hit song ‘Standing Still’ played on the radio. I admit, I smirked for a second, but no more. I quickly regained myself, midstride, standing still. Watching…Watching…Waiting…

    As my dad comments in the interview videos, that was the longest five minutes of my life. You have a different perception of time when you’re going in slow motion, or standing still. It was awesome. However, it didn’t seem like the guys behind me noticed. As we stood still, a woman and a three men swerved their way through us. One looked my right in the face, smirking. He was smiling and softly laughing to himself. I ignored it. I had to. I would’ve laughed if I thought too much about it. Finally, I saw those two girls move. I moved as soon as they did, walking forward to my dad who was still standing in place. He moved when he saw me, and my mom when she saw him. We made our way slowly downstairs, hearing employees comment on what happened. I smiled, realizing that none of them knew that us three were a part of it. Just some more people walking by.

    One man commented, “All of a sudden, everyone was just…STanding around!” another one saying, “I don’t understand it. It’s not like it’s RAINING outside!” and another snippet, “Oh, man. It was just like that time in Vegas! Remember?” I don’t know what happened in Vegas, but it must have been quite the event to have rivaled this prank.

    We made our way to buy a small flashlight, not only to blend in with the rest of the people, but because we needed one. We got in line, and I saw many people who were part of the event buying things. It couldn’t have been a complete loss for Home Depot.

    We went back to the park, and stood around a while. I was planning on meeting up with a woman I know from a community I am part of, called Unfiction. She finally found us, and we began talking in the middle of the park about the event, which she had not been able to attend. We looked around, seeing all the people, enjoying being part of the group, when suddenly rushed a bunch of people saying, “There’s the family! There’s the family!!” headed up by a camera. This struck me as odd. The event had lasted fifteen minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES. And we had some kind of reputation. I was awestruck. Absolutely amazing. We gave our interview, and went out to dinner with Rose. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget.

    Thank you, ImprovEverywhere, for letting me be a part of such an amazing experience. We had a ton of fun, and I plan on attending more of these events.

    -Agent TomTom

  17. JmanX says:

    Hey, found ImprovEverywhere awhile ago and have been a fan since. This one is definitely one of my favorites now. You all did an amazing job, watching the video of everyone movign slow and frozen was incredible. Kudos to all the participants. Also, glad to see that the Home Depot employees had a sense of humor (my name’s Julian, same as the employee in the video!) as opposed to the management at Best Buy. Great job again IE, love it!

  18. Cori says:

    I’m sure the managment at Home Depot would have gotten all pissed if you had all shown up in orange aprons and did this, or if it had lasted longer then 15 minutes. But kudos to them for being cool about it for the time!!! Awesome job IE!

    Cori

  19. fr0ggy says:

    This was great!
    It kinda reminds me of how it is when you are walking around in your own life or with your friends and things for you are going in slow motion and the world seems so fast around you. Or when you spend time on your own out in pubilc in places you don’t know anyone and you in your own head and space and everone else seems so far away.

  20. Jeffrey Lin says:

    Wow. Over and over again, mission is accomplished with hilarity and laughter. I do agree with Observer James here though. Pittsburgh really does need a branch. What’s your email Observer James? Email me at Stirfryboy@gmail.com if you ever get the chance.