In 'Westworld,' the people may be fake, but the wedding is real

Gear up for Season 2 with a look back at an actual marriage held at the Sweetwater activation at SXSW

Published On
Apr 20, 2018

Editor's Pick

The second season of HBO's sci-fi western hit "Westworld" premieres Sunday, and hype is running high. That's due in no small part to the activation created by Giant Spoon at SXSW, which is now the stuff of legend. About 4,000 people visited the recreation of the town of Sweetwater, built over a real ghost town on the outskirts of Austin. A staff of 60 actors memorized a collective 440 pages of dialogue to present an immersive, interactive experience for guests, mirroring the premise of the show. But in the waning hours of the final day of the event, organizers found themselves playing a role they hadn't expected: wedding planner.

The marriage of filmmaker Karen Skloss to fine art photographer Sandy Carson was a last-minute production. The Austin couple wasn't even attending SXSW this year, though they both had in the past. They had planned to wed two weeks later, but a friend's suggestion changed their minds.

"One of the couple's friends is the owner of the ghost town that was the shell of what we turned into Sweetwater. He tipped Sandy and Karen off to the idea, and they jumped at it," says Adam Wiese, director of strategy at Giant Spoon, who became the head planner for the impromptu nuptials. "HBO and our Giant Spoon team were going on very little sleep and were almost to the finish line, but we all agreed that we would make this wedding happen."

While the couple had watched the show, they weren't exactly superfans. "What's so powerful about an activation like this one is its ability to bring in new fans through the incredible amount of buzz it generates," Wiese adds. "These two wanted to be a part of what felt like a real cultural moment happening in their city." All told, the teams had about an hour to pull off a wedding before the event closed for good.

Production staff found period costumes for the couple, fancy enough for a wedding but still appropriate for an austere frontier town. Next came flower arrangements and a small bouquet for the bride sourced from props. Chairs arrayed in front of a table formed a makeshift aisle, and the bar that served visitors prepared the wedding cocktail, Old Fashioneds.

The couple is also friends with Dallas Acid, the local band that played ethereal tunes during the activation. The trio spent a bit of time practicing "Here Comes the Bride" before taking their places.

"In a life imitating art moment, we--much like the storyline writer portrayed in the show--had the challenge of how to disrupt the 440 pages of storylines that were all actively in play so that some of the actors could join the wedding in-character. We pulled that off with the help of some fast thinking and flexible actors who took it has a fun challenge to be a part of the wedding storyline," Wiese says. The charade was so successful, that when word started to spread among Sweetwater visitors that a wedding was happening, some wondered whether it was real or just another play within a play, all part of the show.

Still, one piece of the production needed to be real if Skloss and Carson wanted to be truly married. "You can't have an actor minister," Wiese says. "Thankfully, you're never too far away from a preacher in Texas. As it turns out, George, the guy who built the original ghost town, is also an ordained minister, so that was a box we checked off easily."

And with that, the couple began their new lives together, with plenty of time to re-binge Season 1.