Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Posts from January 2017

10 ways data can change the way you run your cinema

Posted Thursday 26 January 2017 by Ellen Reay in General, Training & Conferences

data dashboards

If you work in cinema marketing or audience development, our Data-Driven Marketing course is a great way to find faster and cheaper ways to find audiences for any film you're showing. Here's our top ten insights from last year's course to give you an idea of the kind of insights we're sharing.

1. Is your data useful or just interesting?

There is no shortage of data – download any analytics report and you’ll see just how many Excel columns it can occupy – but not all this data is useful; in fact a lot of it isn’t. When analysing your current data or thinking about the data you want to collect, it’s important to remember this and ask yourself: will this data lead to a practical insight? All of our speakers spoke of the centrality of this idea in their own data-driven marketing strategy.

data ladder

2. Context is key

Getting your own useful data is only part of the picture. What does an open rate figure mean if you’ve got nothing to compare it to? Before you start a campaign set aside some time for desk research as well as analysing your own data. There’s a wealth of secondary data available to help you understand your context, from free resources such as the BFI’s weekly box office figures and Statistical Yearbook or statistics on your region from the Office of National Statistics to paid insights about arts engagement in your local area such as an Area Profile Report from the Audience Agency.

3. Get your data upfront

You may be hesitant to ask for too much data too quickly, but people are at their most willing to engage when they sign up, so ask then as it’s much harder to do it later! If you’re wondering how to ask your existing audience, maybe there’s a membership scheme or film club model that could work for your organisation. Try signing up with other cinemas and arts organisations to see what data they’re collecting and whether any of that could work for you. If you really can’t ask much, then, as Sarah Leuthwaite from Movio (and Mark from Bristol Museums and JP from Picturehouses) says, the best bit of data you can get from your customer is their postcode. The rest you can build from there, with a combination of desk research on the area and the knowledge you gain from their transactions.

4. Get acquainted with Google Analytics

It’s tempting on any analytics programme to look straight to the commonly used metrics they lay out, citing numbers without gaining any real insight. Google Analytics is no different, offering metrics such as Bounce rate, Time on Site and Site-wide Averages, but there are much greater insights on offer if you dig a little deeper. From event and campaign tracking to setting goals, Google Analytics can provide the data you need to back up your hunch or challenge the ways you’ve been thinking your audience engages with your site. There are a number of great free resources to help you get to grips with Google Analytics: Analytics Academy’s Digital FundamentalsAnnielytics’s Guide to Campaign Tagging and Koozai’s Event tracking guide.

5. Put the time in: segmentation is your friend

It can take some time to segment your audience, but it pays off. JP from Picturehouses explained demonstrated how their goal of sending more targetted email campaigns and less blanket emails, led to a drastic increase in open rates and click throughs.

There are four broad ways in which you can segment your audience: demographically, geographically, behaviourally and attitudinally. Each of these can be useful, but behaviour and attitude give the most away about how, when and with what method your audience likes to be contacted.There are a number of models of segmentation. Dan Cowley from The Audience Agency talked us through their model, the Audience Spectrum, in which the UK’s population is divided into ten segments reflecting their habits and preferences. You can find out more about the Audience Spectrum here.

6. Don’t fear a data cleanse

It can be daunting to see your subscriber list drop so drastically in numbers, but it’s worth checking in on those people who’ve stopped opening your emails. Beyond being good practice and keeping down the number of unhappy subscribers, a data cleanse helps you truly see what’s working for your audience when you try a new slant or message through A/B testing.

7. Automate where you can

There are simple ways to maintain non-invasive contact with your audiences. Set up automated messages of thanks for bookings, or celebrate their loyalty by recognising membership anniversaries.

8. Data doesn’t always mean digital

It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of e-newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, e-newsletter… but data can help you take informed risks in other styles of marketing. Faith Taylor from eOne spoke to us of their approach to marketing I, Daniel Blake. Given the lack of similar films, they started cold, analysing who interacted with the trailer through Facebook and how, which led to investing in grassroots marketing in areas of high engagement and a campaign that celebrated the thought-provoking content of the film.

data discussion

9. Communicate!

One of the biggest takeaways from this course was the need for better communication, internally and externally, and the role data can play in fostering it. Four key areas where data could help:

  • Between your organisation and your audience: it goes without saying that data lets you know how, when and with what content your audience likes to be contacted.

  • Within your organisation: dashboards can help create easy visuals around your data to show your colleagues what’s working and what’s not.

  • Between exhibitors: take a leaf from the theatrical world and start sharing your findings with other independent exhibitors, learn about shared problems and triumphs so you can recognise your own

  • Between exhibitors and distributors: we share the same goal; get people to see more independent film!

10. Start small and learn as you go

The data maturity levels - we’re all aiming for Level 3 but it takes time!

It’s tempting to believe ‘We don’t have the resources for a proper data strategy’ and it’s often true that you’re already pressed for time, but it’s not the case of a complete overhaul and heavy financial investment. Start small, do some A/B testing on your next social campaign and e-newsletters, or follow one campaign through on Google Analytics. Little by little you’ll work out what data and platforms work for you.

If you found this blog post useful, how about coming on our Data-Driven Marketing course? Deadline for applications is 1 December, so don't wait!

Looking for more insights around data? There are a number of great newsletters you can sign up to, here’s a handful we’d recommend: Katie Moffatt’s Digital Snapshot, Stephen Follows, Chris Unitt's Cultural Digital.

News Round Up January 2017

Posted Thursday 19 January 2017 by Duncan Carson in News Round-up

Mulholland Drive

ICO News

We've got TONNES of great projects keeping us busy this month, so let's get straight to it:

  • The big news for us is the relaunch of Cultural Cinema Exhibition. This is one of our most loved training courses and with good reason. People are always asking how to break into the indie cinema scene, and this is genuinely one of the best ways to do it. If you're dying to become a programmer, or want to start a cinema, or generally do amazing things in film, this is the big one. Applications needed very soon!
  • Screening Days, your chance to see all of the upcoming indie releases that matter before anyone else, is taking great shape. We'll have over twenty films in the final line up, but what we have already is looking strong with some of the big festival films making the line up. Lady Macbeth, Berlin Syndrome and I Am Not Your Negro are all going to be buzz titles in the next few months, so why not come and get ahead of the curve?
  • We're always telling people we only work with the best, and so it's a delight to be able to announce that we're reissuing 'the greatest film of the 21st Century' in April. Mulholland Drive is David Lynch's noir headtrip starring Naomi Watts and is available in a new director-approved 4K restoration. We're releasing it on 14 April and you can feel the pure existential dread of what lies behind the diner once more!
  • Speaking of classics, we're bringing La Strada back to screens in May. It's sixty years since Fellini's classic won the first ever Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, so it's a good chance to look back at past winners and relive Giulietta Masina's incredible performance and Nino Rota's fantastic score.
  • Releasing Power in Our Hands last year gave us a clear idea of how much Deaf audiences love the cinema how much needs to be done to make it a welcoming space for them. We're running six free workshops across the UK to help your venue understand Deaf people's needs. We're stopping at Home in Manchester, Broadway in Nottingham, Stratford East Picturehouse in London, Tyneside in Newcastle, Plymouth Arts Centre and Queens Film Theatre in Belfast. See how to get involved here.
  • We are always looking for ways to make the big screen experience as powerful as possible, so we're very happy about our FREE Film Formats workshop at Showroom in Sheffield. Whether you're looking to start showing films on 16mm or 35mm or you want to upgrade from DVD screenings to DCP, this is the place to get started.
  • For the fourth time, we're sharing the incredible British talent in the BAFTA Shorts touring programme. Watching shorts is a rare and compelling experience in the cinema and we can bring one of the filmmakers to your venue for free. Check out the details here.
  • Developing Your Film Festival is our biggest international course and this is the first year it'll be at Edinburgh International Film Festival! If your film festival could do with bigger audiences, better profile and larger income (and who doesn't?) this is for you.
  • Britain on Film: Rural Life is ready to go out to venues. This is a moving, funny and eye-opening view of our countryside. Our Railways package proved that there is a big audience for archive film. Check out the trailer to get a flavour of the breadth of what we've crammed in.

Opportunities and Calls for Submissions

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Taking smart risks with audiences at Lincoln Film Society

Posted Thursday 12 January 2017 by Ellen Reay in General

lincoln film society masthead

We spoke to Richard Hall, John Rossington and Philip Stonehouse, some of the key figures behind Lincoln Film Society, about what it takes to run a thriving and long-lasting film society. Film societies play an important part in championing and celebrating independent film in the UK. If you're interested in starting your own film society, read this for some great tips, then take a look at Cinema For All!  

Lincoln Film Society was established in 1953. How and why it’s lasted 63 years and is not just alive and kicking but arguably in the rudest of health, comes down to 4 factors: circumstance, the willingness to seize an opportunity, remembering that we’re a Society not a business and the films we choose to show.

Circumstance first. Currently, Lincoln has no fewer than 5 venues where films are shown (not so very different from the 1950s, when there were at least 4.) There’s plenty of choice: but none of them offer anything from Europe or the rest of the world. Lincoln’s geographical setting means that to see such films usually involves a trip to Nottingham or Sheffield: but, by specialising in showcasing subtitled and limited release cinema, we found there’s an audience clamouring to see them.

One of the biggest contributors to our success is seizing opportunities. 30 years ago, we screened on 16mm in a draughty canteen to very modest audiences. Now, we’re in a purpose-built performing arts venue, with top-of-the-range projection kit and audiences that currently average 175 per film. How come such a transformation?

Lincoln film society venue

We need to go back to 1987, when we were invited to become the first community tenants of a new theatre on the Bishop Grosseteste campus (then a highly-regarded teacher-training college, now a university). Such a bespoke community venue (with its own projector room!) allowed us to develop. Upgrading to 35mm (with anamorphic lens) and a screen big enough for cinemascope, meant better quality films and projection. We began to attract new members. Within 15 years - and with the city having established a university in the meantime - we had a waiting list to join. Offering these people membership increased our revenue and allowed expansion in the programme. This fed further growth in members.

But by 2012, with digital film becoming the norm and 35mm harder to find, we took the biggest chance of all, pitching to our hosts a proposal to partner with us and install full DCP projection and surround sound in the theatre. They saw the community and business opportunities this offered and took it. This relationship has seen our membership increase to 375 and our programme grow to 26 films per season.

Our status as a Society is crucial. Our members are known to us and are friends and fellow travellers in the world of adventurous film. Most are over 50, but they are not risk-averse. They come along to socialise, have a chat and a glass of wine and watch sometimes very challenging films. It’s friendly, safe and stimulating. It’s also great value for money - a single membership per annum costs £35 with no entry fee, meaning people are watching some of the best films around for as little as £1.30 a time.

So what constitutes a film society film and persuades our audience to keep returning? Understanding this is a critical element of our planning and we consulted our members on what drew them to the Society and keeps them coming back. As you might expect, there were many suggestions: one member recalled the excitement of meeting the power of Chinese cinema for the first time through the films of Zhang Zhimou. Another referred to the delights of French film. Latin American film is another discovery that has thrilled our audience. But when we discussed it further, three films stood out as exemplars of the kind we look for.

Lincoln film society films

One was Rams. This beautifully shot, wryly humorous film brought us our first full house of the current season (and for some time.) This view seemed to sum up the reaction: “It’s a slow-burn film that draws you into the lives of its characters so that you feel you not only get to know and understand them, but you also get to know and understand the culture from which they came.”

A second was Nostalgia For The Light. This elegant documentary was praised on so many levels as the kind of film they want: a visual treat which illuminated the common humanity of us all, above all a documentary that fused together literature, poetry, social history and politics in an entirely original way.

The third film was Compliance. This nomination really surprised and interested us. When we probed deeper into the reasons, the consensus was  that the film completely confounded expectations as it unfolded: what appeared to be a simple story on the surface changed direction to reveal something much deeper, darker and much more thought provoking. 

Using those pointers to help, our programmers regularly attend UK film festivals and the wonderful ICO Screening Days to sample what's coming up in the months and year ahead.  We try to ensure films on the long list have been seen by at least two people, so that no one view, genre or opinion predominates. The meeting to choose the season is always exciting, strong opinions are often voiced and the selection is both democratic and meritocratic.

As a result, we've managed to bring some wonderful titles to Lincoln which would not otherwise be seen, often going that extra mile to get them. We recently screened the stunning documentary, Sherpa. The process was tortuous and ended with us talking directly to the producers in Australia, but it was well worth it, with a huge audience and the highest reaction score of the season.

Les Demoiselles de Rochefort
Les Demoiselles de Rochefort: a surprisingly controversial pick at Lincoln Film Society

The programming committee is always keen to include a number of "challenging" titles among the 26 films selected each season. We have fought a long battle to get documentaries included but it’s now a well established genre. And we don’t shy away from films with graphic content - providing they merit inclusion!

The programmers’ lot is not always an easy one however! Although theme and content of all our films are clearly flagged in the programme notes, we still occasionally have "walk-outs" (increasingly rare, we're pleased to report). Surprisingly, the film that provoked the most walk-outs recently was not one of the usual suspects: The Piano Teacher or The Duke of Burgundy perhaps (which, for all its flaws, especially its leisurely pacing, was a visual treat) with their sado-masochistic themes?; or Shame, with its sex and nudity? Blue Ruin, with its lashings of blood and gore...?

No, it was none other than that delightful, pastel-hued, classic romantic musical, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort! Well, you can’t win them all.

You can find out more about the Lincoln Film Society on their website. Would your film society benefit from moving from DVD to DCP like Lincoln? Why not come to our free Film Format training in Sheffield? Thinking about starting your own film society? Check out our handy tips. For more advice, get in touch with our pals at Cinema For All, the national support and development organisation for community-led cinema.

Glamour and comfort: Cinemagoing in the 1920s and 1930s

Posted Thursday 5 January 2017 by Ellen Reay in General

Picturegoer 1922

Images courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter

From the first theatres that dared to show pictures at the end of the 19th century to the current networks of competing chains and small independents, cinemas have changed drastically in the course of their lifetime. Alongside the shifts in the cinemas themselves, our relationship with these spaces has changed too. We wanted to delve a little into the history of cinemagoing in the UK, so we asked film academic Lisa Stead about what she's learned about the cinema culture of the past in her research into the cinemagoing of the 1920s and 1930s.


Images courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter

What’s the biggest change in cinema going from the period you’re researching?

The biggest changes that take place within the period I research – the interwar years -- are about gender, and about class. What those changes produce are different textures of cinema-going. As more women and more middle class folks are targeted by the film industry as everyday cinemagoers, the venues that house cinema change to accommodate and attract them. So into the 1920s and 1930s we get the rise of the Picture Palace and super cinemas in Britain. These are palatial venues that can offer you everything from shopping to crèches to powder rooms and tea rooms, and replace the benches and uncomfortably chairs of the flea pits with red velvet seats and grand balconies. Of course, not all cinemas were super cinemas, and smaller and grottier venues lived on, but there’s a real push to cinema as being a more luxurious and grander affair. If you look at some of the programmes for these venues, you could see how much they foreground the pleasures of the cinema environment, alongside the pleasure of the film programme itself, emphasising their exotic décor and dazzling exteriors and the finery of their uniformed commissionaires. Cinemas were much greater in number at this time: urban and suburban spaces were peppered with theatres presence as cinema building expanded and some of the major early chains – like Odeon and Gaumont – took hold in the 1930s. This made cinema increasingly a major part of everyday life. In contrast, this is one of the biggest changes to cinemagoing now. Cinema is far less embedded in our day-to-day lives: it no longer occupies our everyday spaces so immediately, nor takes up so much of our leisure time. But in the days before competing technologies like television, cinema was one of the primary leisure options for British people, and into the interwar years more and more people went to the pictures.


Images courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter

What about the people going to the cinema: how have they changed?

Cinemagoing was much cheaper between the wars, and was screened in a quite different ways to cinema today. Films would play as part of a continuous programme, meaning that people had quite a different temporal relationship with cinema spaces and cinema fictions. This emphasis upon flow fits with cinema’s larger presence in everyday life at this time: people could come and go from cinema venues during the day and the evening, drop in after work, attend a children’s cinema club at the weekends, and generally spend more time in these venues.  

Between the wars, women also constituted the majority of the cinemagoing audience, which is quite different to how the film industry thinks about its audience now: there is a great emphasis upon younger male cinemagoers in film content and film marketing.

I think some of the biggest changes are around affordability. One reason we go to the cinema less these days is simply because it costs so much to do so. We are also arguably less likely to be drawn to the cinema for the experience of being in the cinema venue in the same way as earlier cinemagoers.  What cinema gives us now is in some ways a spectacular alternative to home media: the big screen, the immersive sound, the exclusion of distraction in a hypermediated everyday world. Back then, cinema wasn’t competing with smaller screens: it was spectacular, but it was also a place of luxury, a respite from the streets, a ‘dream palace’ – to use the popular term for movie theatres in the 1930s – where, as Dorothy Richardson put it writing in 1927, you could purchase shelter, stimulation and excitement at ‘less than the price of an evening’s light and fire’.


Images courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter

What’s one thing that you wish you could resurrect from cinema going in the past? 

I would love that have that experience of grandeur – to put on a cloche hat and wear a marcel wave and dress up for a night at the picture palace! I would want, in essence, to resurrect that sense of place and purpose and light and colour that I don’t feel when I step into a multiplex.  I’d also want to connect to the kinds of relationship cinema-goers had with stars in this period. In a social media age we’re so very saturated with their personal and private lives; in the 1920s and 1930s, cinemagoers had access to the ‘real lives’ of screen personalities through things like fan magazines and tabloids, but there was much more mystery and romance about their personas, and the big screen was the place to see them embodied. If picture palaces were akin to cathedrals of the movies, stars were the idols worshipped in those velvet seats. I’d love to connect with that sense of glamour and romance. 

Lisa Stead is the author of Off to the Pictures: Cinemagoing, Women's Writing and Movie Culture in Interwar Britain, published by Edinburgh University Press and is a lecturer in Film Studies at the University of East Anglia.


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