Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Posts in FEDS scheme

What do young people really want from your cinema?

Posted Thursday 20 July 2017 by Duncan Carson in FEDS scheme

Daphne
Daphne, one of two titles selected for the new youth-focused BFI FAN New Release Strategy

Guest post by Alice Quigley, Marketing Manager, Film Hub South West & West Midlands

On a fairly frequent basis - at events, during workshops, in articles - I’ve heard people say that young people aren’t that interested in the cinema anymore. Which would be a huge cause for concern if it were true. However, in her excellent recent article for Sight & Sound, Screening it for themselves: young DIY British film programmers, Simran Hans points out that 15-to-24 year olds are in fact the largest sector of the cinema-going audience and last year accounted for 29% of the UK cinema audience and goes on to spotlight some of the many interesting events young programmers across the UK are working on. Admittedly a decent swathe of this percentage are watching blockbusters at the multiplex, but that isn’t the full story. Loads of independent venues are doing great work already to welcome this age range, but there is plenty more we as the independent exhibition sector can do to make sure our doors are truly open to people this age.

Since BFI announced a focus on developing young audiences, specifically aged 16-30 in their recent BFI2022 strategy, there has been a flurry of activity to come up with the answers to get this age group through cinema doors. While 16-30s are frequently cited as ‘hard to reach’, from what I’ve seen, heard and experienced via various projects, the key to reaching them is relatively simple and can be boiled down to one piece of advice: talk to them. 

It’s something I’m conscious of trying to do more of, especially now that the BFI Film Audience Network’s New Release Strategy (NRS) is also focussing on the 16-30 age (more on that at the end of this article). So, while hosting a Young Creatives Focus Group at ICO’s recent Screening Days in Leicester to get their thoughts on the NRS shortlisted films, I thought it would be a good idea to start off by asking them what they thought we could do to get more people their age watching independent films at the cinema. The dos and don’ts that they came up with are disarmingly straightforward and form the beginnings of a solid roadmap for anyone interested in reaching out more to young audiences.

God's Own Country
God's Own Country, one of two titles selected for the new youth-focused BFI FAN New Release Strategy

Do: Add Value

Competition for time and hard-earned money is stiff, and young people expect more from their entertainment activities. They don’t want just a film - they can get this from the comfort of their own home - they want a night out. Think about how you can make a screening a more social experience with post-show conversations, party nights and themed food and drinks. (My favourite example was one young programmer who served up Chicken Kievs at their Eurovision night held this year in Kiev, Ukraine.)

Do: Work with young people

Why waste time second guessing what will get a younger audience into your cinema when you can work with young people to programme, promote and run events? Yes it does take time to support them through the process, and it does mean handing over control to an extent, but if you empower young programmers and producers to create, promote and manage events the rewards are plentiful: new energy and ideas, a surprising amount of fun and potentially lots of new, younger faces in the audience.

Do: Price your tickets to suit

Harking back to young people are skint - they really, really are - this was a unanimous point by all the young creatives at the Focus Group and is backed up by various pieces of research citing price as a key barrier to entry for young people.  Having a clear, simple, consistent and well-communicated youth ticket offer does pay off.

Young Audiences focus group
The assembled young audiences focus group at Screening Days in July, including some of our FEDS trainees!

Do: Go to where young people are

Think about taking events to where young people hang out. If that’s not an option, then make the effort to go and talk to them (or get other young people to go and talk to them) where they hang out. Find out what they’re passionate about and what they want to see in the cinema. Listen to them and, most importantly, respond to what they say. It can be pretty disheartening if you don’t pay heed to their ideas, which will naturally be different to yours.

Do: Get on board with GIFs

A cute cat GIF can go a long way. Love it or hate it you’ve got to embrace it. This generation are visual animals so leave the lengthy copy behind and get on board with good quality social assets. If you’re not a natural social media user then get someone that enjoys it to take the reins. 

Don’t assume

Think that young people are only interested in super-hero franchises? Think back to your late teens and early twenties. This is a time of cultural awakening and young people are more interested in the experimental and avant-garde than a lot of older people (who can get tired and just want to watch First Dates and drink wine, no blame here). There is a world of amazing cinema to discover, both new and old, and many of the people I spoke to were fed up with the risk-averse nature of youth programming.

Don’t make nominal gestures

The young people I talked to were well aware when venues made nominal gestures - suddenly programming one or two youth events and getting disheartened when not a lot of people turn up. Maybe you didn’t get it quite right this time but stick with it. If you don’t believe you are building a relationship (which takes time) then it’s never going to work. Talk to people, make changes, see what works, build trust and sustain a consistent offer for young people in your area.

Graffiti
Sadly, it's going to take more than emojis and graffiti fonts to get young people interested in your cinema or film festival (Photo by Paulette Wooten on Unsplash)

Don’t use youth speak

Overcome with a desire to speak in emojis? Think that jazzy graffiti-style font is going to attract a youth audience? They are going to smell your over-30-year-old-self a mile off. By all means work with young people to write copy and come up with promotional ideas, but if that’s not possible at least keep your tone and marketing simple and authentic.

The BFI Film Audience Network have announced the next two titles to receive New Release Strategy support:God’s Own Country (1 Sept, Picturehouse) and Daphne (29 Sept, Altitude). These films were presented at ICO Screening Days and discussed in detail with the Young Creative Focus Group. Surprise surprise, the Focus Group had lots of different ideas about the two films, underlining that young people are not a homogenous group who all think the same thing. Their campaign ideas will form a key part of our approach to these films, so you can expect to hear lots of opportunities and ideas for engaging with audiences aged 16-30 in the coming weeks. As with all NRS films, you will receive an expanded marketing pack containing everything you need to successfully promote the films including top quality social assets, engaging copy and great event ideas. Both films are now available to book via the distributors.

If you show NRS films and are interested in additional event or marketing activity, you can also access support from your local Film Hub: get in touch with them to register your interest and for more information. 

The young creatives who attended the Focus Group were reached via BFI Young FAN (previously Young Programmers Network), a source of advice and opportunities for people working with young programming groups. If you’re interested in finding out more, please visit their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/BFIYoungFAN/.

Diversity on screen: what does that really mean?

Posted Thursday 29 June 2017 by Ellen Reay in Cinema Careers, FEDS scheme

mikaela

We asked Mikaela Smith, one of this year's FEDS trainees, about how her host organisation Showroom Cinema is thinking about diversity in their programme and how they are trying to improve representation on their screens.

As many independent and community cinemas will know, funding deadlines for 2017 have been looming: in my first few months at the lovely Showroom Cinema, our little programming and development team were squirrelled away with funding bids aplenty: creating plans that will shape our cinema’s output for the next three years. Hefty stuff. Having worked for a non-profit in the past, I know a little of what a monumental task getting funding can be, and how important it is to not only have your goals and objectives set out, but to understand what your current output is. Who are you helping? Why? With the BFI’s focus on diversity, it is an important subject across the UK film industry, and it’s also not something that can be taken lightly. If any change is going to happen, people need to get serious.

It’s a topic I am willing to say I am pretty enthusiastic about. There are many personal reasons I won’t get into, but in short, I grew up mixed race in a very white area. Growing up is harder to do when there is no one that looks like you to help you understand yourself. It’s even harder when this is stretched across all the media that is available to you, and when all the media that is available to your peers portrays people that look like you in an unfavourable way. But enough with my life story: let’s get back to business.

Showroom Sheffield

Image: Showroom Cinema, Sheffield 

Joan, the Showroom's Senior Programmer, tasked me with analysing the last year of programming at the Showroom: every film that played on one of our screens over a twelve month period. She asked that I complete this small, simple task, so that we could really understand what our output was, and how we could use that understanding to set goals for diversity in our future programme. I was looking at writers, directors and protagonists: are they male or female? Are they BAMER? Are they LGBT+? (The latter was specifically looking at narratives/characters, rather than directors/writers, as I am not a wizard that can predict anyone’s sexuality).

Note: We chose to categorise ethnicity using the BAMER (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnicity and Refugee) tag, rather than BAME, which is a slight divergence from industry standard. For us, BAMER represents a progression, and we think it is important to recognize refugees as an important minority audience. BAMER is also the standard of our local audience: we work with the Sheffield equality hubs and try to connect with the needs and voices of the people that fill our city – we have a BAMER equality hub for Sheffield, and it made sense to align ourselves with them.

It was a mammoth task, but I was ready for it. I could see the importance in knowing this information, because if you don’t know where you are, how can you really make a conscious effort to move forward? Unfortunately, as soon as I got into the swing of things, I faltered. There were many films popping up that were representative of what I would call ‘diverse’ cultures, but that I struggled to categorise. Important films that teach us about traditions, religions and parts of the world we don’t always understand. Mustang, for example is a beautiful film about young women coming-of-age in a restrictive environment that is different from the one lots of you (and certainly I) grew up in, I would call it diverse, but are those young girls BAMER? Or are they white? How can you shoe-horn the melting pot of culture that is independent and foreign language film into a yes/no checkbox?

Mustang

Image: Mustang

I checked in with Joan. ‘Meaningful representation of diverse subject matter’: an extra column on my now far-too-wide Excel spreadsheet, but it did make all the difference. Now I could still recognise the importance of ‘diverse subject matter’, but not be forced to mix it in with non-white narratives. This may seem ridiculous but it’s important to recognise both: there are many meaningful stories including white-majority casts, but they do not serve a BAMER audience in the same way that a film featuring BAMER characters does. The only issue with that column is that in order to do it right, you need a pretty great understanding of the programme (it was around 500 films, and though I watch a lot of films, I do also enjoy going outdoors from time to time: Nosferatu I am not.). Thankfully, the Showroom programming team is made up of a selection of truly bad-ass ladies that have a collectively fantastic knowledge of film, they have also worked at the Showroom far longer than I have. Together, the task was tackled.

How Did We Fare?

Our statistics came out better than I had expected, which isn’t to say I don’t think the Showroom’s programme is fabulous and diverse; I do. But I don’t think I am the first to suggest the film industry is not the most diverse, and a film programme can only be as good as the films available to it, really.

When I crunched all the numbers into some sort of a sensible report, I did so comparatively against Creative Skillset statistics, BFI statistics and a number of other sizeable reports from development/production areas of the film industry. I will mention that I would have loved to have had data from more independent cinemas to see where we really sit: are we behind the times, or daring and progressive? We can only find out if we share our information, but that might be a debate for another day.

Doc Fest 2017

Image: Sheffield Doc|Fest

We fared better than the UK industry output - which is in part thanks to the Showroom’s commitment to foreign language film, and specialised festivals and seasons: our ever popular selection of East Asian cinema and annual Japan Season (thank you, Japan Foundation) helped with our BAMER representation statistics, which were significantly higher than the UK employment rates for BAMER directors and writers. Doc/Fest also provided an enthusiastic boost to the number of female directors employed on films we showed: our statistics for this jumped from 13% to 17% with the inclusion of festivals and seasons. Doc/Fest’s programme for films on our screens (I can’t speak for their entire programme) was around 39% female directed (high fives all round for Doc/Fest).

Overall, our on-screen statistics were considerably better than off-screen, with 36% of films with a notable protagonist having a female lead. Interestingly, when looking at the programme in terms of the F-Rating, 40% of our programme was F-rated - the closeness of these numbers suggests a correlation between films written/directed by women also being the strong players in terms of leading ladies. This is why it is so important to have more diversity off-screen: it’s really the only way to get these stories told, and have them told right. Similarly, 18% of the Showroom’s programme features a director of BAMER background and 17% of programmed films were from BAMER writers. This is in spite of the UK film production workforce only employing 3% of workers from BAMER backgrounds. In supporting a vast programme of foreign film, the Showroom actively encourages much broader representation both on and off screen, and more accurately reflects the multicultural nature of the UK.

What Does it All Mean?

As much as I would like to shout about these statistics - and I would like to: across the board, percentages for female and BAMER writers, directors and protagonists, and LGBT+ narratives were strong. But were they strong enough? Do the films on our screens serve the communities in our city and across the UK? I think as much as they can, yes. But there is certainly room for improvement.

I’ve started analysing this year’s programme more in-real-time (I figure month-by-month chunks are much easier than analysing 500 films at once). I’ve added two new columns to the ever-growing spreadsheet: admissions for each film, and how many shows they get. As soon as I started writing the report, this became information I wish I had. Moving forward, we’ll be able to see how heavily our programme supports on and off-screen diversity, both in terms of what is programmed, but also how much time we give those films to find their audience. Both factors are important for monitoring how well we serve diverse audiences. We’ll also be able to see what audiences get behind, and if audiences for more diverse content are growing.

Daughters of the Dust

Image: Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust

It’s going to be an exciting year for the Showroom: the newly-implemented F-Rating is a call to arms, not just for our programming team, but our audiences. F-rated and Triple-F-Rated films now proudly wear a stamp across our website, print and box office marketing: if people are really keen to support women in film, we’re making it as easy as possible for them to see where and how they can vote with their seats. We’ve also just implemented Cine26, a fabulous initiative offering cinema-goers 26 and under £4.50 cinema tickets, all day, every day. It is a perk of the job that I get free cinema tickets anyway (all my childhood dreams have come true), but believe me: it takes me half the time to convince my friends that they want to spend two of their precious hours watching a bizarre French cannibal-horror (Raw, I’m looking at you), or better yet, a dreamlike re-release title musing on Gullah culture (thank you, Daughters of the Dust), when they know it will only cost them £4.50. It opens up a wider range of films to a wider range of people, and though the scheme is aimed at young people across the board (us millennials have it tough), I think it is important to recognise that this is also a great offering for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds (who are, statistically, more likely to also be young BAMER people). Combining a more accessible cinema pricing (we also offer benefit claimant tickets at concessionary prices), with more active and more open analysis of what our programme offering is and who it really serves, are solid first steps in chipping away at the daunting industry issue of diversity on and off-screen.

Have any of your organisations carried out a diversity audit on your programme? What did you discover? We'd love to hear about your strategies for ensuring a diverse programme.

Want to learn about what our other trainees have been up to? Rico Johnson-Sinclair recently let us in on the secrets to surviving a film festival.

Nine Tips for Surviving a Film Festival

Posted Thursday 15 June 2017 by Ellen Reay in FEDS scheme, General

Rico

We caught up with Rico Johnson-Sinclair, one of the trainees currently taking part in our FEDS scheme, to mine him for tips for surviving a film festival. Less than a month into his placement, Flatpack Film Festival kicked off. Here's what he learned from his baptism of fire.

I was ridiculously secure in my own skills before starting work at Flatpack Film Festival. Some might say I was even arrogant. Having volunteered at most of the festivals in Birmingham and having been praised for my production prowess and work ethic, I was sure I'd make it through the festival unscathed.

Cut to me, in bed, with my foot elevated to alleviate the pain.

I think my one downfall was assuming because I'd worked as a volunteer, I had an understanding of what actually goes into a festival production. I can promise you that working as a core member of the team is an entirely different experience and at least ten times as exhausting.

I barely escaped festival life with my pride intact. But I survived it all the same.

I guess that makes me qualified to tell you all how to do the same. Here are nine tips to prevent you from losing any of your lives.

flatpack 2017

Following images courtesy of Flatpack Film Festival

Learn to understand different personality types if you have people working for you

During the festival, I was in charge of my own group of volunteers. Let me start by saying how difficult it is to be in charge of other people when you are snowed under yourself, your patience isn’t what it was and all you can hear is the sound of each passing minute bringing you closer to opening time. The last thing you want is abrasive volunteers rubbing you the wrong way because of your own lack of understanding. Some people’s personalities do not match, and it’s your job as the superior to accommodate their personalities. I wish it was something I had considered before crunch time.

Never let the general public see you sweat

The last thing the paying public need to see is the literal sweat running down your face as you attempt to carry a chaise lounge down two flights of stairs in a listed building with a number of priceless artworks. A great way to avoid this is to choose the right times to move furniture. Also, there’s the non-literal interpretation. Practise smiling in the mirror every morning because you’ll be doing a lot of it. And DO NOT LET THAT SMILE FALTER. In all honesty, this was probably the easiest aspect of the festival as I’m always pretty ‘smiley’ anyway, but there was a measurable improvement in communication when there was a smile on my face.

flatpack 2017 2

Always have emergency snacks and water on your person

This one is so important. The festival production period will leave you without a minute to spare. Thankfully Flatpack runs mostly in and around Birmingham city centre, meaning I could easily grab a burrito, whilst carrying venue boxes and flyers to various venues. In our temporary office sat a plethora of sweet treats, water and coffee and, of course, tea thanks to Abbe, our Ops Manager. But at certain stages that becomes unfeasible, I clearly remember being tasked with the get-in at a venue that was slightly further away from the city centre. It was 7pm and I was particularly up against it. I hadn’t eaten since about midday, and I had been running (and I do mean running) around all day, and I could have killed my best friend to have one bite of a petrol station sandwich. It was not a good look, I was not en vogue.

Everyone will piss you off at some point. It’s not them, it’s the pressure

I spent around 20% of the festival period in an undetectable strop. I got annoyed with everyone at least once, but I knew from previous production experiences that this happens when you’ve gone three hours without a cigarette, five hours without nourishment, simply because you forgot to eat, and have ten people feeling the same way as you in close confines. I think that knowledge prevented me from losing my cool. Or what little of it I have.

flatpack 2017 4

When entertaining guests, always drink water between alcoholic drinks, if you have to drink for the sake of being polite. Don’t mix drinks and eat before bed.

My day started at around 7.30am, and before I knew it, it was around 2am on a Thursday, Degenerates Social at Centrala as part of Flatpack Film Festival was winding down.

After a brisk walk home and an 8am start, I’d all but accepted that this would be how my life ended. Until I realised I had to be at the Kino Train at 9am and quickly showered off my querulous mood.

That was a terrible day, unsurprisingly.

Do not attempt to take care of things in your personal life during production.

Of course, payday for me was mid-festival and having just moved into my new home, I was keen to make a start in filling it with home comforts, as well as the essentials. I ordered from Amazon Prime and ended up having my packages delivered at 7pm while I was still in a midday festival flurry. The delivery guy left them outside my door and they were stolen. I had to get the items delivered the following day, delivered directly to me at work, but when the festival came to an end, I was stuck with carrying a cutlery set, plates, pans and glasses home. My birthday also took place during the festival which got ignored for a couple of weeks by myself. The team got me a cake which I was too busy to eat. Oh and, whatever you do, don’t try and make it to the gym after a production day. You’ll regret it.

flatpack 2017 3

This is England: dress/pack for all weather types

The first days of Flatpack were dull and grey. By the weekend it was swelteringly hot and clear with highs of 23 degrees celsius. On Monday the sun was out but it was deceptively cold, I left my house in shorts and would have been late if I turned back. I got the flu almost immediately after the get-out.

Never overestimate yourself

I assumed that all the running, dancing, jumping, standing and walking I did during the festival production period wouldn’t catch up with a fit, 27-year-old like me. On the last day, I could barely walk and ended up curling up into a small ball for an hour to sleep and rest my leg. It didn’t help, but it was my own damn fault. Can’t resist a good dance to LCD Soundsystem though.

flatpack 2017 5

No one can really give you specific advice about working production

Your experience of working in production is completely different from mine. There are so many variables. All I know is that it’s all worth it because what you end up with is a labour of love you are willing to put your heart and soul into - so make sure it gets the recognition that it deserves and pleases the people who really matter, the audience. It makes me immensely proud that I could be a part of this year's festival in such an instrumental way. That also did wonders for my ego.

It’s a shame perspective like this doesn’t come to visit until it’s all over. You just do your best and hold on tight.

FEDS 2016: Krushil's experience with Glasgow Film Theatre

Posted Wednesday 21 December 2016 by Ellen Reay in FEDS scheme, Training & Conferences

krushil

We spoke to Krushil Patel, one of 2016's FEDS trainees, about what he learned during his time with Glasgow Film Theatre and what advice he'd give to those wanting to get started in film exhibition. Krushil is now a full time member of staff, having been hired by his host company straight out of the scheme. To find out more about FEDS and to apply click here. The deadline is 3 January!

My placement was at the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT), an independent cinema at the centre of Glasgow. As a Programme Assistant, I was able to get an excellent overview of the nuts and bolts of programming at an independent cinema.  As part of my placement, I was able to assist with ideas and selection advice to the wider programming team; research rights and print sources; write copy and proof read; and assist with planning and execution of specialised events. After the placement, I was offered the position Programme & Events Assistant with the Glasgow Film Festival.

What are the experiences you most enjoyed while working at GFT?

Working at the GFT, firstly as part of the programming team and now as part of the film festival, has been a very insightful and rewarding experience. The first few months started off a little slow as Glasgow Film Festival 2016 had just finished, and so it was a massive drop off period for the staff. At the time it was a little frustrating as I was itching to get stuck in, but in hindsight it was probably a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to get used to a new city, accommodate to my new surroundings and settle into a new working environment. By May, things began to pick up and I was into the full swing of things. My placement occurred at an interesting time, with the biggest screen (around 400 seats) being closed due to refurbishments in the cinema and the GFT launching its new website over the summer.    

Over this period, being able to work across different areas of programming and seeing how the various elements combined to put together a monthly programme was, in itself, a thoroughly valuable and enjoyable experience, one that reinforced my desire to work in film programming.

But if I had to go with one particular highlight, it was attending Gdynia Film Festival in September to identify potential films for Glasgow Film Festival. It was the first time I had gone to a film festival as a guest, wearing my work hat, and it was a fabulous experience. Through this I was able to learn a little about Polish cinema and to use the knowledge and understanding I had developed about GFT audiences to identify quality and interesting films that would work for Glasgow Film Festival. I always thought there would be nothing better than getting to watch films for work, and although viewing four films a day with little breaks was quite tiring, it's still something I would love to do again.

Image result for it's a wonderful life
It's a Wonderful Life is one of GFT's annual bestsellers.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to break into working in exhibition?

Getting your foot in the door

One of the key things I learnt from my placement was that the film industry is a small world and everyone seems to know everyone. To some extent, from the outside it had always seemed like this, but having spent a good stretch of time in the industry, it was reinforced and this always felt like a barrier, especially coming from a non-film background. When roles need to be filled quickly it’s easier to opt for someone who’s recommended to you. 

So how can you make your way and get your name out there? Unfortunately there aren’t enough schemes like FEDS, especially ones that pay and allow you to support yourself, so you may have to look into other options. My first steps into the film industry came through volunteering at a small film festival. This was an invaluable experience that allowed me to see the inner workings of a film festival, while keeping a part-time job. Volunteering at a smaller film festival can allow you to do more than just ushering duties, so you can get to grips with the nitty-gritty side of film festivals, which can be useful for the future.

Building relationships is essential

Once you’re in, building and maintaining relationships is paramount. With the film world being so small, you’re bound to bump into familiar faces. Often you will be dealing with many of the same people, whether it’s distributors, other venues, programmers or individual organisations. Contracts are usually temporary and job-hopping may be the only way early on, so maintaining these relationships will allow you to discover opportunities earlier and make you more likely to be recommended for openings elsewhere. However, beyond the opportunities it can afford you in the future, it will make your life easier in the workplace.

Trying to be Flexible

I moved from London to Glasgow for the FEDS placement. This was a big move but one that I definitely feel has paid off. Only after moving did I realise that being able to move around, especially when starting out, is key, affording you more opportunities to work throughout the UK and abroad. Of course, this is not something everyone can do, but it has been a huge benefit to get away from the London bubble and realise that there are good opportunities outside of London!

Opportunities a-plenty

There are various aspects to working at an independent cinema. If programming is not your thing, then there is finance, marketing, front of house, projection or events and all the departments that exist within a cinema environment. My biggest take-away from the placement was how close together all these departments work to allow for the smooth running of a cinema.   

If you're a talented person of colour or someone who considers themselves disabled, we are looking for people like you to apply for FEDS. Click here to find out more and apply.

About

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.

Categories

Recent posts

Archive

Follow us

Independent Cinema Office

3rd Floor, Kenilworth House, 79-80 Margaret Street, London W1W 8TA
T: 020 7636 7120 F: 020 7636 7121 E: info@independentcinemaoffice.org.uk

Registered in England and Wales. Company 5369193.
ICO is a registered charity No. 1109053