Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Posts from October 2012

Wear It Under Your Hats - Creative Digital Marketing Programme

Posted Thursday 18 October 2012 by Jo Comino in Training & Conferences

Jo Comino of Borderlines Film Festival reports on the ICO's inaugural Creative Digital Marketing Programme.

Attendees with their laptops, tablets and smart phones follow Bridey Lipscombe's lead.

A professional development course that isn’t delimited by a half-day/ two-day/ one-week structure? It’s customary to attend conferences/meetings/workshops, be inspired, take copious notes, make interesting contacts and go away with the best intentions… only to return to be swamped all over again by day-to-day work demands and change nothing, or very little.

What really spurred me on to sign up for the ICO’s pilot Creative Digital Marketing Programme in mid-September was the continuum – two days’ workshop in London, a commitment to implement a new idea over the space of six months with built-in support, then meet up again and report back.

Nineteen of us from film organisations, large, small and miniscule, from all corners of the UK, took part. And hats, metaphorical, multiple hats, are what many of us discovered early on that we had in common. Multi-tasking, juggling, call it what you will.

Unsurprising therefore, with the exception of some of the larger bodies, like the BFI and Watershed, digital and fast-changing aspects of marketing are frequently left to their own devices.

Take my own case. I cover marketing and press for Borderlines, a large and popular rural film festival, in its tenth year, covering thirty-five or so venues in two counties, Herefordshire and Shropshire, within one of the most sparsely populated parts of England.

A tiny core team of three, part-time staff delivers a festival that can attract up to 18,500 attendances over seventeen days in early spring. Working from home, without a central office, we communicate prolifically by email and phone but only sporadically in person.

To compound the sense of isolation, rural broadband speeds that could make all the difference in keeping in touch with new developments are slow. Streaming moving image content is out of the question; BBC iPlayer can take all night to download, even googling an article can be mind-numbingly laborious.

Our core audience is well within the plus 50 age bracket, many have a deep disinterest in social media and overwhelmingly prefer to glean their festival information from print brochures rather than online.

Budget constraints prohibit regular, radical overhaul of our website while, as deadlines loom, our social media output can often be haphazard, perfunctory and un-strategic.

For me, the programme represents a great opportunity and an exciting one. Not only to find out about new ways to communicate what we do but also to sound them out, to put them into practice in the spirit of experiment and see if they work for us.

Some highlights from the bunch of inspirational speakers who contributed to our initial two-day workshop:

• Rob Greig, the Chief Technology Officer at the Royal Opera House, told us that microsites are dead and that data rules. Their website has a structure which sucks in ever-changing, dynamic content from Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and SoundCloud. And for the static, factual, in-depth information about the Opera, it’s Wikipedia.

• Matthew Cain from Trufflenet gave a fantastically practical run through about tools for measuring and listening to your audience based on campaigns around Norwegian Wood, a long film in Japanese that had limited appeal beyond specialist audiences and Dreams of a Life, Carol Morley’s documentary about how the death of a 38 year old woman went unmissed for two years.

• Dreams of a Life came up again in Anna Higgs’ round up of the cross-media storytelling being pioneered through the projects that Film 4.0 commissions. Pervasive games, talent development and interactive animation projects enable audiences to engage more deeply with films, the principle of ‘lure and blur’ as she told us, quoting Frank Rose’s The Art of Immersion.

Bridey surveys the landscape.

• Bridey Lipscombe from The Rabbit Agency delighted us with her account of their campaign to identify and recruit Prometheus ‘super fans’ to promote the sell-out Secret Cinema screenings in Central London all for the cost of a few boiler suits and some emails.

• Suzy Glass from Trigger (and their SYNC programme) initiated us into the essential ingredients for a fruitful Hack Day as run by Creative Scotland’s Cultural Economy Programme: data and content, geeks, food, beer, a comfortable co-working environment, fast bandwidths.

• The best way to sum up David Coombs’ (OMD) round up of ten digital developments to look out for is to quote one of my colleagues, @hexenhour: “At the @icotweets #creativedigitalmarketing shebang, where I learned that telepathic ping pong using neuro-headsets is finally a reality.”

Best of all, perhaps, we got networking time; the opportunity to share ideas with peers who face similar challenges in different situations. My favourite tip came from Kristina Johansen from Dundee Contemporary Arts, who told me about their Friday Twitter film competitions. Her team runs them at a set time within a three-hour deadline, setting open answers that stimulate quick responses and unexpected conversations. I can adapt that formula and use it.

And from Claire Stewart at Watershed, the Post-It noticeboard that allowed people to voice their often extreme reactions to Antichrist. It’s an excellent example (Anna Higgs referred to it in her talk) of how online thinking can be applied offline and made physical, something which I’ve taken on board in devising my own brief for the project.

So with huge thanks to the ICO, especially Tilly Walnes and Sarah Bourne; to Rachael Castell, our indefatigable course leader; and to the event venue, Wallace Space, which, thinking back to those geeks, provided everything in terms of drinks, stationery, nibbles that we could possibly wish for (I’ve never eaten so well on a course), here are 10 nuggets of wisdom that I took away with me:

1. Collect data and listen to what it tells you

2. Stories are everywhere

3. Share (give and take, Open Source)

4. Borrow but don't do what others do for the sake of it

5. Try things out. If it doesn't work, stop.

6. Don't wait

7. Use existing tools

8. Adapt and tweak (customise)

9. Apply online thinking to offline tropes as well as vice versa

10. Use the power of networks

Let phase two commence!

10 Questions for... a Projectionist

Posted Monday 1 October 2012 by Sarah Rutterford in Cinema Careers, General

Paul Wilmott (left) and Jason Bond in the projection booth at Saffron Screen
Paul Wilmott (left) and Jason Bond in the projection booth at Saffron Screen

For the first in a new series of posts giving an insight into specific film industry careers, we focus on one of the most crucial roles in any cinema: projection. Paul Wilmott is Technical Manager at one of our venues, the not-for-profit community cinema Saffron Screen. Based within Saffron Walden County High School, Saffron Screen is run by 15 part-time staff, including Paul, as well as over 100 volunteers. Founded in 2006, the cinema acquired a digital projector in 2011 following a successful fundraising campaign. Read more about Saffron Screen's development in our case study.

Cue the questions...

How long have you been a projectionist? How did you get started - what training did you do?

I started as a volunteer projectionist when Saffron Screen opened in 2006, although I’ve had an interest in the technical side of cinema ever since I was a child. My grandfather had an 8mm camera and projector and, as a student I got involved in making a couple of films as cameraman and film editor.

When Saffron Screen started there were 4 volunteer projectionists and we had a one-day training session at the Picturehouse in Cambridge. Afterwards we were shadowed by freelance projectionists for the first couple of months and then we were on our own! We tended to work in pairs until we were a bit more confident with the equipment. After 6 months I applied for the (still) vacant part-time projectionist role. This was perfect timing for me as I also do some work as an IT consultant but was looking to do less. Combining both jobs has worked well.

What inspired you to become a projectionist – was it an interest in the technical aspects of projection or a love of cinema, or both?

Primarily, the technical side. When I moved into my current house about 18 years ago I embarked on a project to convert my garage into a cinema, complete with 7 cinema seats, a 6ft wide screen and 7.1 Dolby Surround Sound. This was something I had always wanted to do since I was a kid. The chance to play with professional kit and screen films at Saffron Screen was too good an opportunity to miss!

Are there any particularly memorable cinematic experiences you can remember influencing your love of film?

Although it's the technical side of cinema that is of most interest to me, I am a bit of a sci-fi fan and it is easy to recall my most memorable cinematic experience. The film was 2001: A Space Odyssey and I saw it at the ABC New Bristol Centre in 1968. It was in 70mm with surround sound and I sat in the front row totally in awe – a great cinematic experience!

Please describe a typical working day in the projection booth at Saffron Screen.

I’m not sure there really is a typical day in the projection room! Because I work part-time I tend to do a few hours every day, either in the projection room or at home. Since going digital, I spend a lot of time creating DCPs for pre-show slides which contain ads for forthcoming special events and birthday messages. I prefer to create a DCP rather than run directly from a PC as they can be integrated into a playlist on the server, making it easier for my volunteer projectionists to use. Ingesting films, trailers and ads for each weekend also takes up quite a bit of time. Occasionally we screen locally made ads which also need to be converted to a DCP. At the moment I am converting entries to our 90 second film competition (both to DCP for screening and to DVD for our judges). And there are also regular checks on the equipment to make sure it is all working correctly.

I usually do one or two of the screenings over a weekend and most of the live satellite broadcasts. As we are based in a school, we have limited opening times, but we usually do 6 or 7 screenings over a weekend and during school holidays we also have some midweek shows. I have a team of 7 volunteer projectionists who do all the other screenings.

What is the busiest day of the week?

Thursday is probably my busiest day, as I have to ingest the films that have arrived and chase those that haven’t (along with chasing missing KDMs or requesting new ones if they're faulty). The ICO are very helpful here! The Pearl & Dean ads usually arrive on a Wednesday, so these can also be ingested. If I’m lucky, I can set up the playlists for all the weekend’s screenings and once the school have finished I can use the auditorium to test each playlist to make sure they all run correctly. Usually, however, there are a number of things missing and its Friday before I can check everything out.

What are the typical issues that come up?

Without doubt the main issue is films or KDMs not arriving! Occasionally the KDM does not match the film, usually a slightly different version of the film has been shipped and it has a filename that does not tie up with the KDM. Another pet hate is that KDMs are often timed to start very close to the play date and this often means that I'm unable to test the film prior to screening.

Saffron Screen acquired a digital projector in 2011. What are the pros and cons of screening mainly 35mm, and now mainly digital films?

As much as I love 35mm film, digital has been really good for Saffron Screen. We usually screen films 2nd run, 6-8 weeks after release, and many 35mm prints were not in great condition. Digital removes that problem with a pristine picture every time. It has also given us the chance to screen live content which is very popular with our audience.

Set-up time for films is very similar to 35mm, but I now no longer have to stay late to take down a 35mm film in order to get it shipped off to the next cinema the following morning! It’s also much easier to carry the films from our drop-box to the projection room!

Looking forward, I am trying to implement a bit more automation, which is easier with the digital kit. This will enable us to have a back-up in the event of a projectionist not being available.

How has going digital altered your job?

It’s much more IT-based now, but as that's my background I'm very comfortable with all the new equipment. Over the last year I have done a lot of research into the opportunities that the digital kit provides and I am sure I will be doing a lot more. Two particular areas that have proved especially useful have been the creation of DCPs using free software, and being able to ingest directly from our PC.

This is a bit off topic but, you attended the Europa Cinemas Young Audience seminar in Bologna in 2011. I wonder if you've any thoughts on the training?

I went to Europa Cinemas' Young Audience Seminar in Bologna in 2011. Although this was not targeted at technical issues, I did find it very interesting. In particular, meeting with people from other cinemas across Europe gave different perspectives on how we are trying to improve in this area.

There was a very interesting session on use of social media which we are now actively pursuing, and we are also looking to taking Saffron Screen out into the community with screenings in social clubs, youth clubs, village halls, etc.

Finally: you won the BKSTS Projection Team of the Year award in 2010. How did this come about?

When I started as a projectionist I went along to one of the annual projectionists training courses run by the BKSTS. As a result I joined the BKSTS as an associate member, and became a full member 3 years later. Attending these training courses and getting help from a number of members of the Cinema Technology Committee (CTC) has been immensely useful in setting a high standard of projection at Saffron Screen.

In late 2010, I received a call from Alan McCann of the CTC asking if he could come and have a look round Saffron Screen as we had been shortlisted for the BKSTS Projection Team Of The Year. After the subsequent visit, Alan confirmed that we had won the award, being the first community cinema to win the award. Part of the citation read:

“The projection staff are again almost all volunteers but their operation is totally professional. At a recent assessment the high standards of the projection equipment, box cleanliness and film care were evident, and the high standard of screen presentation matched or exceeded that of many commercial cinemas”.

So far, this has definitely been the highlight of my projectionist career!

Thank you, Paul!

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