Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Posts from April 2016

How your film festival can build sponsorship and funding

Posted Thursday 28 April 2016 by Duncan Carson in Festival Reports, General, Training & Conferences

Vilnius Symposium
Mindaugas Morkūnas (Head of Festival Development, Vilnius IFF), Catharine Des Forges (Director, ICO), Brooke Duval (Director of Corporate Partnerships at TIFF) and Astrid Hallenstvedt (Director of Sponsorship, Stockholm Film Festival) at Vilnius International Film Festival. Photo: Audrius Solominas

Every film festival wants more sponsorship and stronger relationship with funders. Linking your festival's identity closely to its host city has surprisingly powerful results for both. Cementing this link is something we've discussed at our Developing Your Film Festival training over the last five years and with the continuation of the cold economic climate, there's no reason to shy away from find new opportunities. The Independent Cinema Office was in Lithuania at Vilnius International Film Festival (or Kino Pavasaris to locals) to discuss these issues at our Film Festival Symposium (in partnership with Vilnius International Film Festival and Creative Europe - MEDIA) with the some of the festivals who have made the most of this connection. So what did we learn?

How to find and keep corporate sponsors

Toronto International Film Festival generates $14 million a year in sponsorship. Brooke Duval (Director of Corporate Partnerships at TIFF) talked through ways your festival can think more strategically about reaching your sponsorship goals. In the video, Brooke covers:

  • How to broaden your target list beyond the usual suspects
  • What do potential sponsors want to know about your festival?
  • How does Toronto retain 80% of their sponsors from year to year?
  • What key trends will excite potential sponsors and make your festival an attractive partner?

How do you prove your film festival makes an economic impact?

Most festivals are good at demonstrating their cultural capital, but with funding budgets stretched, how do you show that your festival delivers economic growth? What are the key metrics that funders want to know about how your festival is adding to the city? Roberto Cueto of San Sebastian Film Festival talks you through their approach to proving their worth in this video, telling you:

  • How to show your festival adds to your city's international reputation
  • How to demonstrate that public funding for your festival will unlock big benefits for tourists and locals alike
  • How to demonstrate the value of the free advertising your festival gives its host city
  • How social media (especially Ewan McGregor's Instagram!) can help your festival profile

Here's five top tips from across the day that festivals of any size should think about:

  • You need one dedicated person working on business and sponsorship.
  • Set a goal for how much sponsorship you need, and consider (realistically) how much time it will take. There are way more prospects than sponsors. Start small, work with your own contacts first.
  • What decision makers do you know? Invite them to your festival.
  • Ensure everyone on your team is on message and on the look-out for possible partners. Don't discount volunteers - they may have contacts too!
  • Offer social benefits: invite sponsors to get together away from the festival, or hold a thank-you party for them after the event.
  • To find out more and apply for ICO's Developing Your Film Festival course, which has helped over 100 international film festivals understand and reach their goals, click here.

    Vilnius Symposium 3
    Cristian Hordila, Transylvania IFF, Catharine Des Forges, Algirdas Ramaška (Vilnius International Film Festival) and Sarah-Jane Meredith (British Film Institute Film Fund). Photo: Tautvydas Stukas 

Party at the Pictures on the Isle of Lewis: Programming in focus

Posted Tuesday 26 April 2016 by Duncan Carson in Cinema Careers, General, Pop-up and Event Cinema, Training & Conferences

Party at the Pictures Pretty in Pink
The dancefloor for Party at the Pictures' Pretty in Pink event

The business of programming is at the heart of the cinema experience, but what does programming actually consist of? We're highlighting participants from our six-month Practical Programming course, supported by Creative Skillset and the BFI's Film Audience Network, to show some different approaches to successful programming. Here Oriana Franceshi of An Lanntair in the Outer Hebrides talks about her new strand Party at the Pictures and how it successfully brought a new audience and experience to the island's mixed arts venue.  

At An Lanntair we’re lucky enough to have a large reliable audience for our (mainstream) cinema programme, made up for the most part by young people aged 18–35. What we weren’t seeing, though, was this crowd showing an interest in our wider programme.

It was with the intention of altering young people’s perception of An Lanntair – to encourage people to see us as a venue rather than just as the island’s only cinema – that I came up with the idea for Party at the Pictures (PATP).  I’d had a few ideas of how I might accomplish this before attending the Practical Programming course at ICO, but it wasn’t until I had met the other programmers attending and been inspired by their creativity and ambition that I had the confidence to suggest trying something completely new to my colleagues at An Lanntair.

Pretty in Pink decor
Party at the Pictures is an all out immersive experience for audiences

The Concept

We have just one main events space at An Lanntair: our auditorium, which plays host to live music, theatre, dance, cinema and a broad range of events in between. PATP was to turn the challenge of this single space into an opportunity rather than a disadvantage. We planned to push back the auditorium chairs to turn the space into a dancefloor with comfy chairs and sofas around the sides.

The bar would make specially-themed cocktails, not only on the night of the event but for the entire week running up to it. The staff would also continue to serve drinks throughout the film (normally cinema patrons at An Lanntair can’t buy drinks during a film, similar to the policy most theatres adopt).

Decks would be set up at the side of the stage just by the screen, and as soon as the film ended a DJ would come on stage and start playing. The film on the screen would be replaced by a montage of dancing scenes from films, and the lighting would become… disco appropriate.

Basically, we were trying to turn the experience of the cinema into a special event, and encourage the audience back for gigs and other parts of our performing arts programme. It took me a while to arrive at the name Party at the Pictures. It was far from my first idea, but Let’s Go To The Groovies was roundly rejected.

Party at the Pictures posters
Distinct visuals that stand out from the venue's standard marketing helped bring new audiences 

The First PATP: The Reflektor Tapes, November 2015

'Don’t worry, Oriana: if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Scottish people in my time living there, it’s that they ALL LOVE indie discos.' Alison Wood, best friend and personal motivational speaker

Our first PATP was a screening of The Reflektor Tapes, a documentary about Arcade Fire, followed by an indie disco. When I read about the film’s release, I saw an opportunity to attract a cross-over audience of music and art film lovers, with the hope of attracting both back to An Lanntair as a music venue.

We created a Facebook event for the night, which the DJ updated regularly with videos for the type of music our audiences could expect to hear at the event. Gradually people began to contribute their own suggestions, which was nice.

We also plastered the town with posters and publicised the event a lot on the An Lanntair Facebook page, including a 'ten favourite Arcade Fire songs' countdown in the run up to PATP. Also we had a mention in the Stornoway Gazette and on Isles FM, as well as on the Twitter feeds of various local musicians who we thought would get people through the door.

With all of the above in place, and one week to go until the first ever Party at the Pictures, I believe we had sold four tickets. I was having sleepless nights and was basically incapable of talking about anything other than Arcade Fire.

The night of the event was probably the most stressed I’ve ever been, final exams and nearly-missed flights included. I was so sensitive to the audience’s reactions to the film that I couldn’t watch it with them and ended up in the projection booth where our head technician Mike handed me a stress ball in the shape of a pumpkin.

In the end, with a capacity of 80 (due to our comfy seating arrangement) we sold 60 tickets. On an island with a small population, where nobody had ever attempted an event of this kind before, 60 tickets wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t fantastic either. The night was a lot of fun (even I enjoyed myself eventually) and the feedback we received was really positive, encouraging us to hold another PATP.

I had learned some lessons, though, to consider going forward. These were as follows:

1. Friday night is not a good party night in Stornoway.

Maybe because everything is closed on a Sunday here and so people like to do their partying on a Saturday night? I don’t know, but it was explained to me – after the event had been arranged – that it’s really difficult to get people on a night out in Stornoway on a Friday. In future, if we had to organise an event on the Friday rather than the Saturday, we would need to be aware that this might require an extra push.

2. I should start dividing the tickets

The price for a ticket at the first PATP was £10. This was pretty reasonable considering a film at An Lanntair costs £7 normally, and the only club here costs a fiver to get in to. But feedback I received from bar staff dealing with customers in the run up to the event was that a lot of people couldn’t come to both the film and the club night, and so I might have been better off offering a ticket for the film at £7, say, and for the disco at £5.

3. Even when I think that my marketing material has outlined the event as clearly as possible, people will still get confused.

I had to deal with two customers who actually thought Arcade Fire were going to be playing that night. I felt like The Grinch.

Pretty in Pink invitations
Bespoke invitations brought a personal and nostalgic touch to the marketing to Party at the Pictures

The Second PATP: Pretty in Pink, February 2016

“The best sounds a kid will get is in a movie theatre, with huge speakers, turned up loud.” John Hughes, writer of Pretty in Pink

Elly, our CEO, was keen to organise another four PATP events for 2016. Just by chance the date for the first of these was Saturday, February 13th: yes, essentially Valentine's.

I was particularly interested in attracting more women to this event than were present at the last one, which I had noticed was a little heavy on the men. I also wanted to screen something fun and a bit kitsch rather than anything too 'romantic'. In the end I settled on Pretty in Pink, which was to have its 30th anniversary that month. I thought a John Hughes film would be a good call: they’re nostalgic for a lot of people but have never really gone out of style, and their soundtracks are distinctive enough to make the Party at the Pictures link a natural one.

The plan was to deck the auditorium out like a prom from the final scene of a teen movie and to follow the screening with an '80s disco. The process of making decorations for the event (it got to the point where every time I closed my eyes I saw pom-poms) meant that we had a lot of pretty images to share on An Lanntair’s Instagram, as well as repeating the same marketing steps as we had with the last PATP. I also made up little invitations that looked like LPs and took them round local businesses (hair dressers, tea shops etc) and again we had themed cocktails and a special montage video playing in the background, this time of romantic scenes from films; it was Valentine's, after all.

Pretty in Pink Oriana
Oriana hard at work creating a mountain of pom poms!

The response to our marketing online was fantastic, and we sold out the tickets for the film (90 this time, thanks to some extra comfy chairs). We had a special Valentine's offer on tickets – the ‘third wheel deal’, whereby two people could bring a third friend for free. Seeing the potential to make some sales on the bar, our Café Bar Manager covered the cost of decorations and the DJ: this meant that we could offer the 'prom' part of the evening for free, and charge the usual £7 for a cinema ticket.

The night was really fun and included a balloon-drop to Madonna’s 'Like a Prayer', the orchestration of which may be the highlight of my career so far. I’d like to say that I was less stressed this time around, since we had sold out the event in advance and I knew that the format worked after the last PATP’s success. I was not less stressed. When people didn’t jump up and start dancing the moment the music came on, I declared the whole thing ‘a fudging disaster’ (or words to that effect) and began to seriously consider a career change. A few songs later, though, the dance floor was full and I was on it, glad that only two of my friends had been present mere minutes ago when I decided I was going to pack in programming completely and become a carpenter. We received a lot of feedback saying how much people had enjoyed themselves and asking us to organise another PATP, so we are.

The Next PATP: Chasing Zero, May 2016

“On far shores, weary mariners hear voices

Songs so beautiful they cast a spell

There is no choice but to hear.”

Dan Crockett, in Chris McClean’s short film Edges of Sanity

We have a really enthusiastic surfing community here in the Outer Hebrides, and our next PATP aims to cater to this crowd as well as fans of electronic music. The headline act will be the performance of a live score by electronic musician CJ Mirra to a collection of cold water surf films by Chris McClean. Chris was winner of Best UK Film at Approaching Lines Festival 2014 and Best Short Film at London Surf Festival 2011 and CJ Mirra, also lead singer and guitarist of the band Swimming, has worked as a composer with Film4, Mammejong, EpicTV and Vertigo Films, amongst many others. 

As well as CJ Mirra’s performance, we will be showing work by local filmmakers Mark Lumsden, Colin Macleod and Jim Hope and displaying paintings by Laura Maynard, a local artist who is a member of the surfing community and whose pieces are inspired by her experiences while surfing. CJ Mirra will end the night with a DJ set. For the first time, PAPT will bring a live music element to the event and so tickets this time will be £10 for the whole evening, or £5 for the late night DJ set only.  It’s early days but we are optimistic for ticket sales; we even bought 20 bean bag chairs to accommodate extra bums.

If you have an ambitious audience development idea, you can apply for REACH to bring it to life. Deadline fast approaching!

To read Dreamland Cinema's experience of setting up their first programming strand after attending Practical Programming, click here.

News round up... 22/04/2016

Posted Friday 22 April 2016 by Mike Tang in News Round-up

The Sky Trembles

ICO news

  • Our next training programme is reaching its deadline! REACH is designed to help build and engage audiences and the steps needed to build and execute a plan, this is an essential course for anyone in marketing, operations, programming and audience development. We had great results last time, so give it a look and apply by 28 April.
  • Having just completed our biggest ever Screening Days event, work now starts on the next one – Summer Screening Days!  We’re yet to pin down a venue and set of dates, but the last event sold out, so do sign up with our mailing list to be the first to hear.
  • The epically titled The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers will be our next release on May 6.  This is a hugely ambitious project, taking in Paul Bowles, the Moroccan landscape and resulting in a radio play, a book, site-specific installations and multiple film works. We're delighted to be taking part in this Artangel commission from one of our best artist-filmmakers.
  • In the year of his 80th birthday, we’re re-releasing Ken Loach’s debut feature Poor Cow on June 24.  Originally released almost 50 years ago, the film has lost none of its potent socio-political message – a hallmark of Loach’s work – and retains a timely relevance to modern audiences.
  • We're hiring! If you want to work on our Britain on Film touring project with the BFI, we'd love to hear from you.

Opportunities and calls for submissions

  • Film London's Build Your Audience distribution training for filmmakers has its deadline on 5pm May 4.  The course is aimed at filmmakers across the UK who are looking for the skills and knowledge to sell, distribute and promote their films.
  • Bath Film Festival are taking submissions for their 2016 Shorts. Get in by May 27 for their Earlybird offer.
  • BFI Vision Awards are now available to support a a new generation of diverse, ambitious film producers around the UK. Apply by April 29th!
  • The Insight Film Festival is looking applications to its Student Filmmaker Awards. The theme is 'The Merciful Planet?' and the prize is a six-week internship with a film production company in Hollywood.  Deadline is 1st May.

Read more

  • The inaugural Live Cinema Conference announces its line-up featuring representatives from NT Live, Secret Cinema and Picturehouse Entertainment. Focusing on the live cinema industry, the event coincides with the publication of Live Cinema’s report (funded by the Arts Council) on the industry.
  • We love this photo project of projectionists at work, currently showing at the incredible Flatpack Film Festival.
  • Variety's article weighs in on how indies can survive and even thrive in a blockbuster world
  • Jo Comino from ICO-programmed Borderlines Film Festival gives her six tips on how to build strong rural film audiences at the Guardian.
  • In recent months, few topics have shaken the sleepy world of exhibition as much as Screening Room.  The project to bring in more day and date releasing has stirred up the debate – with prominent filmmakers coming out both for and against – as to how cinemas should change and adapt over the coming years.  One to keep an eye on.  
  • On the horizon is Sundance Film Festival in London. Returning on June 2-5 at Picturehouse Central, this is a small taste on our shores of one the top indie film festivals in the world.  Passes are available from May 5 with general sales from May 9.
  • If you think music and film are a match made in heaven, then Everyman's Music-Film Festival is the perfect event.  Taking place at various venues from 11-19 May, they have a great range of films paired with live music.
  • In a call likely to find favour with our friends in distribution, President of the Film Distributors' Association Lord Puttnam calls for greater transparency on the highly-charged topic of Virtual Print Fees (VPF).  Calling on digital cinema integrators to come clear on when these fees (paid by distributors) will end, what odds the industry will see greater transparency?
  • Finally, US cinema chain AMC plans to hold film screenings where mobile phone use is going to be perfectly acceptable.  Adapting to the times or sheer and utter madness?


This is the official blog for the Independent Cinema Office, the national organisation for the development and support of independent film exhibition in the UK.


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