How to start a cinema

07 Building design

For audiences, the style and design of a cinema can be as important as the programme in making a cinema visit an unforgettable experience. Cinema has very specific design requirements and getting these right is an essential part of developing a facility that audiences will enjoy.

Briefing an architect

Whether you are aiming for a new-build, a conversion or a simple refurbishment, chances are that you will require the services of an architect. Ideally, you will pick a firm with a track record on cinemas. However, in the UK only a handful of architects can claim to be cinema specialists and, if you want to employ a local person, you may find yourself employing a generalist. In this case, it is vital that you seek specialist technical advice in order to ensure that the space is fit for purpose. Sightlines and sound performance are critical here, affecting the floor, seat layout, ceilings and location of the projection box among other things.

At the start you should be trying to build a team and the quality of that team is vital. Apart from yourself and your architect you will also need a Planning Supervisor to comply with the Construction Design and Management Regulations. He or she is the one consultant you are legally obliged to employ, not to do so is a criminal offence and punishable by a jail sentence. You will probably also need a Structural Engineer, a Services Engineer and a Quantity Surveyor, depending on the size and complexity of the development.

The Brief is the document whereby you instruct your architect as to what you want. Time spent at the start of the process will repay you tenfold at the end. You can get guidance on this from Arts Council EnglandWales or Northern Ireland or from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS). Certain topics will have to be covered:

  • Details of your organisation and artistic policy. Who is going to act as client, from who does the design team take instructions, ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ and policy issues etc.
  • Objectives of the scheme
  • Description of the site, building and the surrounding area. This can be more than just a description in physical terms. It might include a socio-economic breakdown of the neighbourhood and outlying catchment area
  • Key aspects of management
  • A detailed description of the uses and activities to be housed in the building
  • A specification of the space needed for each of these activities and a description of these spaces
  • Definition of the relationships between these spaces
  • Technical performance required of these spaces – sound proofing, lighting, heating, air handling
  • Level and pattern of use. How many people, at what time of day or night, peak times, peak numbers?
  • Expectations for disabled access. Building Regulations have something to say on this, as does the Lottery and the Disability Discrimination Act. These should be regarded as minimum requirements and a greater degree of facility allowed for
  • Budget – phased if necessary; sources may also be relevant. This item is crucial – remember that VAT is to be added to certain figures quoted to you. Your budget must be realistic. While a lot of creative ideas can be brought to fruition economically, you still do not get a Rolls Royce for the same money as a Nissan Micra.
  • Priorities – if costs exceed budget what can you sacrifice?

State of the art design

“The calling card of the contemporary cinema is the physical image it presents. Going to the movies has become more than a 110-minute long flood of images… Moviegoers want to be immersed in a different world before and after the film as well. The public is satisfied only when the total experience is unforgettable.” Roderick Hönig in Frame, Jan/Feb 2000

The heyday of extravagant cinema building is generally considered to be the 1930s and 1940s, when spectacular, ornate and fantastic interior design created an environment far removed from domestic living rooms. Now, standards of domestic comfort and home entertainment provide tough challenges for cinema exhibitors.

Cinema design itself is changing rapidly. Cinemas built only five or ten years ago are considered outdated and are being scheduled for refurbishment to bring them up to date. Contemporary audiences throughout the world are demanding very high standards of comfort, of ancillary facilities and of technical presentation. Local cinemas that fail to upgrade are quickly considered inadequate by audiences. Surveys regularly cite comments criticising old, poor quality cinemas (“pull it down”, “we need a modern cinema”, “cold and uncomfortable” are typical comments).

The quality and appearance of the building play a substantial part in the marketing of a cinema. A number of notably well designed arts buildings, including cinemas, have become leisure destinations and achieved higher than predicted attendances.

For cinema, the features that are given prominence in marketing plans include:

  • Total view seating – an unobstructed view is the ideal. A stepped (stadium) seating arrangement is preferred to a sloping (raked) auditorium
  • High quality seating – seat design has undergone extensive changes in recent years and may feature: high backs, non-tipping squabs (hinges), adjustable armrests, double or ‘love’ seats, generous leg room, multi-sensory seats (seats that vibrate and move to the action on the screen), and a side table or holder for drinks
  • Access – a high standard of disability access is required
  • Large screen – wall-to-wall screens are increasingly common, this directly affects the position of front row seating and emergency exits
  • Black box interiors – a controversial approach to auditoria interiors but the general concept of minimum distraction is generally accepted
  • Air conditioning – or at least a good quality heating and cooling system
  • Projection – in-focus and flicker free projection complemented by multi-channel sound, usually based around a digital process such as Dolby Digital or DTS
  • Concession choice – more than just popcorn, soft drinks and hot dogs. A local quality supplier might be preferred to a multinational brand. Coffee or an alcoholic drink is also welcomed by many cinemagoers. Many new cinema builds are now putting as much investment into their concession offer as they are the screening facilities – increasingly concessions provide a crucial income stream.

Number of auditoria

Almost all new cinemas are multi-screen designs. Even in smaller communities, new single screen cinemas are rare. The reasons are partly economic and partly related to programming. The economic rationale is based on the fact that there are several quite different cinema audiences and few films cross several categories. Screening one particular film will appeal to some sections of the potential audience but not others. Two or more screens increases the number of different audiences that can be reached in any one week, effectively spreading the risk and helping ensure a particular level of income for the year. Cinemas that show films on release date will usually have to offer screen exclusivity in order to secure the film. So with first run cinemas, it is only possible to offer greater choice for different audiences with multiple screens.

The programming justification involves matching different types of film to appropriate auditorium size as well as being able to launch a film in a larger screen and then let it continue playing for a second week, or more, in the smaller auditoria while allowing a new release into the larger screen. The cinema trade is increasingly focusing on the opening weekend box office for new releases and it is important that cinemas should be able to capitalise on the initial surge of attendance that accompanies popular new films.

Multi-screen cinemas provide additional benefits when a wide range of programming is being presented, such as during a film festival or when a diverse range of community and education uses is involved. In terms of operating costs, there is not a great difference between having a two or three screen cinema compared to a single larger cinema. Projection boxes are often built now so one box can serve multiple screens.  The capital costs may not be greatly different either, depending on the design.

Seating capacity and space requirements

The amount of space required for each auditorium depends on a number of factors but the figures below provide an approximate guide. The calculations are based on a modern design using 1.10–1.20 metres from seat back to seat back and 550 – 600mm seat widths.

  • 200 seats: 270m² / 2,900 ft2
  • 150 seats: 190m² / 2,000 ft2
  • 75 seats: 125 m² / 1,350 ft2

The number of screens and the auditorium capacity depend on many factors ranging from audience potential estimates and the programming range that is planned to the finance available and the characteristics and size of the site or building. In general one medium or large auditorium seating at least 150 people is required. A more typical capacity is around 200-230 seats. This auditorium should be able to accommodate the peak audiences at weekends – people turned away from a full house may not return.

Additional auditoria should be graduated in size down to 70-100 seats for the smallest screen. The variation in capacity allows films to be placed in auditoria that match their anticipated audience. Smaller capacity auditoria may prove to be viable as outlined in the section about Digital cinemas.  There are a few new community cinemas beginning to buck the trend as cities gain small single screening rooms with unusual or luxury seating.  It is, however, advisable to carefully investigate the operational economics of operating such small auditoria before including them in a new design or a refurbishment project.

Sound issues

Although film is first and foremost a visual medium, poor sound quality will ruin even the sharpest pictures. Sound is an area often overlooked but, just as you need good sightlines, you also need good sound-lines.

Apart from the obvious comfort and size considerations it is imperative that the auditoria are designed with the following in mind:

  • External sound insulation (how many times have you heard traffic noise, trains or building works over the soundtrack of the film you are watching?)
  • Internal sound insulation – this is particularly important with multiple screens where a loud soundtrack can leak into the adjoining auditorium
  • Services and equipment noise control – noises such as air conditioning, lifts, toilets and projection equipment need to be controlled
  • Acoustics – acoustic design in cinemas should be considered from feasibility stage – location, auditorium planning etc. through to final commissioning

Catering and bar facilities

Comparatively few cinemas focused on bars and cafés until recent years, however these facilities are now incorporated in to everything from large multiplexes (which may have more than one restaurant within the building) to small, part-time local cinemas and viewed as an integral part of the cinema business.

What catering can do for your venue

Catering in a cinema can mean anything from running a kiosk to selling coffee and popcorn to offering a full à la carte menu in luxurious surroundings. Your choice of catering operation will depend largely on what you are trying to achieve in terms of your audiences, the space you have available and your organisation’s finances.

Bars and restaurants within arts venues are sometimes perceived by their management as an opportunity to make a quick financial return to subsidise core activity i.e. the arts. Others may take the view that financial return is a secondary consideration and that the main purpose of the catering facilities is a service to customers that will enhance their overall experience of the venue.

These objectives are not mutually exclusive and ideally, you would aim to achieve both. However, in practice it can be very difficult to achieve either of these aims. Like any other business, catering operations experience product life cycles that means that while the potential for reasonable financial returns exists, it can take time to establish an operation that yields high return.

Typically, it can take 2-3 years for a new restaurant and/or bar to begin yielding any profit at all. Restaurants and bars are also subject to the vagaries of fashion and fashion products suffer ever shortening life cycles. What is ‘in’ today can be ‘out’ tomorrow. So, even once established, catering operations require frequent renovation and reinvention. You will probably get no more than five years for your investment before you have to start thinking again about the original concept and spending money on refreshing it.

Operationally, catering is one of the most difficult businesses to run. Both the raw materials and the end product are highly perishable and can be subject to daily price fluctuations; demand is subject to strong seasonality effects with the day, week, month and year. Production techniques can be highly skilled and good service requires articulate and talented people yet catering is one of the worst paid industries in the world and has a very high level of employment turnover. Above all, food is one of the most intimate and emotive subjects of conversation around. Everyone has an opinion and will certainly feel entitled to voice it if they are eating in your restaurant.

For these reasons and others, many establishments opt to subcontract a specialist to run their catering operations. The advantages and disadvantages of these arrangements are discussed in Chapter 11. Having said all this, catering and bar facilities can make a very significant contribution in a number of ways to your venue:

Differentiation from other venues

Bars and restaurants are another opportunity to make your venue distinctive from your competitors’. Many would argue that it is almost a commercial imperative to offer audiences some kind of refreshment before, during and after the ‘main event’. The style of operation, ambience, good food, a range of interesting refreshments can all make a contribution to the overall product offering to your audiences. The food and drink available coupled with a pleasant ambience will often be the reason why your audiences choose your venue over that of your competitors.

Enhancing customer experience

Offering restaurants and bar facilities has the potential to enhance the overall experience of your audiences during the time they spend at your venue. It will also prolong the experience. However, the converse is also true. A good arts venue can be totally ruined by poor catering services. It is therefore essential to retain control and flexibility over what is on offer. Even if you sub-contract your catering operation to an outside operator, it will still be perceived that the restaurant and bars on your premises are part of your organisation and an unsatisfactory experience for your patrons will reflect badly on you.

Financial contribution

Over-optimism about the levels of financial return available from bars and restaurants is common. Revenue levels will depend on location, competition, space, pricing, levels of activity and marketing. It is notoriously difficult to forecast levels of demand for a new catering operation and the maximisation of revenues will depend upon very careful consideration being given to each of the above factors. Levels of net return from catering operations are likely to be no more than 10-15% of turnover. Catering operations are characterised by high levels of fixed costs (in particular labour) and lack of controllability on the variable cost side. They are therefore high risk and it is not difficult with a bit of bad luck and bad management to sustain large losses.

Access for people with disabilities

This section covers a few basics but for a comprehensive guide on how to offer the best access to disabled people view the Arts Council England’s publication ‘Disability access: A good practice guide for the arts’, which contains some useful checklists. The UKCA also publish a very useful set of guidelines specifically for cinema operators.

Why is full access required?

U.N. Rules

The United Nations Standard Rule 5 on accessibility declares:

States should recognize the overall importance of accessibility in the process of equalization of opportunities in all spheres of society. For persons with disabilities of any kind, States should (a) introduce programmes of action to make the physical environment accessible; and (b) undertake measures to provide access to information and communication.

European Commission

The EU endorses the UN standard rules and requires that disabled people are included in all programmes and mechanisms of the Commission and are considered in all Directives on standards set by the Union. All citizens of the EU are entitled to freedom of movement and employment across the European States and will expect equality of access to places of entertainment – even if some of the venues are very old. There are 80 million disabled people in Europe.

The Disability and Discrimination Act and Equality Act 2010

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 enveloped now by the Equality Act 2010 but still relevant, makes it unlawful for service providers such as cinemas to discriminate against disabled people. Both Acts require service providers to make “reasonable adjustments” to the physical features of their premises to overcome physical barriers to access. In broad terms new or refurbished cinemas, including staff areas, box offices and projection rooms, should be constructed so that people with a range of disabilities are not discriminated against and can gain easy access to the cinema. The Equality Act 2010 similarly lays out legal obligations for organisations to treat all customers and staff equally regardless of their age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, race, marital status, religion or beliefs. Specialist advice is available from the UKCAShape and Business Disability Forum as well as your architect.

Funding

The Arts Councils and other major arts funding bodies such as the BFI, and the Heritage Lottery Fund will only award Lottery funding and other key funding for venues where access policies are in place which treat disabled people no less favourably than non-disabled people.

Commercial considerations

Audiences with disabilities are a large market and cinema operators cannot afford to exclude any audience in the increasingly highly competitive environment of film exhibition.

Many venues used to be equipped with the barest minimum of facilities that include: disabled parking, an adapted toilet, a lift, a hearing induction loop fitted in the auditorium and a minicom in the box office.  Now all digitally equipped cinemas in the UK have English language subtitle and audio description facilities.

The number of subtitled screenings in UK cinemas has risen dramatically as a result of digital technology adoption. More than half of all cinemas now regularly have screenings for audiences who are hard of hearing or deaf amounting to roughly 1000 screenings a week. These tend to be screenings of the most popular titles. New technologies may make screenings even more accessible to this audience and UK exhibitors are currently looking to the USA and Australia where systems adopted there include displaying subtitles on wearable glasses or small seat-mounted displays.

Although much attention is paid to restricted mobility audiences, and certainly you should make provision for wheelchair accessible performances within your programme, the needs of hearing and sight impaired audiences, as well as guests with sensory or learning disabilities such as autism are often given less attention.

A considerable number of people who are hard of hearing attend cinema and can benefit greatly from a properly installed induction loop system and/or an infrared-based system. The infrared systems can also be used for audio described performances for people who are blind or partially sighted.

Sign interpreted screenings

A sign interpreted screening will offer people who are Deaf access to a film. British Sign Language is a language in its own right and many Deaf people use it as a first language and English as a second language. People who are Deaf are often willing to travel further than most if this facility is on offer although it is probably too costly to offer on anything except an occasional basis. Try also to reserve the seats which have the best view of the interpreter for your customers who and Deaf and contact local Deaf and hard of hearing groups to let them know your schedule of sign interpreted screenings. Contact Action on Hearing LossBritish Deaf Association and National Deaf Children’s Society for further information. The ICO has a resource dedicated to providing for Deaf audience members here [INSERT LINK].

Subtitles

Although, as already mentioned, for most people who are deaf, English is their second language, there have been major technological developments brought about by the wide adoption of digital projection with new systems for ‘soft’ titling (subtitles projected onto the film rather than being ‘burnt in’). Now widely adopted by festivals and event screenings as well as some cinemas with digital projection, subtitling for people who are hard of hearing has become far more accessible and widespread.

Audio Described Screenings

Audio description works by providing a commentary on the action in between the dialogue of a film. People who are blind or partially sighted are given a headset at the start of the screening and the information is relayed either live by an audio describer or from a recording which is synchronised with the film. With the advent of digital cinema, audio description for films has become more widely available and available on a broader range of titles. The description is impartial and highlights aspects such as, for example, the colour of people’s clothes (many people with a visual impairment can still see colours and shapes).  3D presentations can pose problems for some people due to sight issues so if possible, make arrangements to have some 2D screenings of the film. Guide dogs should be welcome in all cinemas. Contact Action on Hearing Loss for further details.

Autism-Friendly Screenings

Guests with sensory or learning disabilities and those on the autism spectrum can often find cinema environments challenging. Changes to the environment that help can include:

  • The lights being kept at a low level
  • Lower sound levels
  • No trailers or adverts, just the main feature
  • Allowance for increased levels of movement and noise

One of the most important things with access provision is consultation and this should be from the outset. Contact your local disability arts group and get information on their needs. This will help prevent you from making assumptions and embarrassing mistakes. Disability arts groups can offer disability awareness training for your staff. You may want to set up a disability advisory group to help with access issues. To market your venue to people with disabilities you will need to find out which publications and other media they access, as there are many specialist ones available.

Your publicity materials should be available on a range of accessible formats such as the spoken word, large print or an online Word document that can be easily zoomed and written in ‘plain English’ (straightforward, basic English with a lack of complicated language or difficult words).

Websites also need to be accessible and you will need to consider the design.  There are recommendations in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 to make content accessible to a wide range of people with disabilities. For example online pages using structured semantic or Cascading Style Sheets (CSS2) and images with ALT tags are all far more accessible.

There is a national scheme, the CEA Card, developed by the UK Cinema Association (UKCA – formerly the Cinema Exhibitor’s Association) and overseen by the UKCA’s Disability Working Group that included people from key cinema chains, film distributors, independent exhibitors and national disability charities such as Action on Hearing Loss and the RNIB.

The scheme, which was introduced in 2004, supports cinemas and their disabled guests in ensuring that cinema environments are accessible to all. The card ensures that guests with a disability, who need someone to go with them as a result of their disability, are entitled to a complimentary ticket. Further details about the scheme are available here.  Cinemas have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for guests with a disability and cinema staff should make every effort to do this.

Outreach work and direct contact are often the most powerful publicity tools. Print and online marketing and information should also carry detail about access.  Your Local Cinema is a well-known cinema listings website for subtitled and audio described screenings throughout the UK and is sponsored by key organisations such as the BFI, UKCA and the FA.  Always make sure your staff, particularly your box office and bar staff are properly briefed so they are confident in providing assistance to disabled customers.

An illustrative specification

An illustrative specification for a well-equipped 3-screen cinema centre could be as follows (many of the facilities, shown with an asterisk below, could be shared if a combined cinema and performing arts centre is developed):

Essential facilities

  • Cinema seating capacities: 180-250, 100-140, 70-110 (aiming for a total of approximately 400-500 seats)
  • All screens equipped with wall-to-wall screens, digital and 35mm projection, adjustable screen masking, and multi-channel high quality sound
  • Stadium seating (stepped rake) with high backs and generous legroom (1.0 – 1.2 metres back to back, 550 or 600mm seat width)
  • Access, toilets and seating for wheelchair users
  • An inductive loop and an infrared system to assist people with hearing difficulties
  • The largest auditoria to have a small raised stage area capable of lecture and business presentation uses. This auditorium should have good quality video projection capable of cinema and data/computer uses.
  • Foyer with box office, information displays, sales kiosk and/or shop *
  • Bar and/or cafe facilities *
  • Staff offices *
  • Energy efficient design for the whole building *
  • Illuminated external displays and poster areas *

Desirable facilities

  • A range of film projection formats
  • Internet / new media / information centre with public access *
  • Youth area (e.g. juice bar, internet facilities, games machines, music) *
  • Flexible space for children’s parties or other leisure and business uses *
  • Meeting/education room *
  • Gallery capability within public spaces such as bar/café or corridors *
  • Media production and post-production units (some available to let) *
  • Film dump/store for general use and especially for festivals
  • Commentary/sound control booth in at least one cinema

Other building issues

Public areas and sales points

The ancillary facilities – toilets, box office, sales kiosk, display areas and so on – are similar in both single screen and multi screen designs. These areas set the atmosphere for the visit to the cinema and can range from the funfair approach of some multiplexes to a relaxed, almost hotel foyer approach with sofas and plants and a lack of strident marketing. Many cinema foyers now also include a vibrant café or restaurant often frequented by people possibly not even watching a film.  If the cinema has to accommodate a range of audiences, especially young and old, then distinct areas should be created where each audience can feel comfortable.

Concession sales of ice cream, soft drinks and confectionery are highly profitable (popcorn yields notional margins of 10,000%!) and it is essential that the cinema foyer includes a good retail space or food and drinks offer providing a range of refreshments to accommodate the preferences of differing audiences. It should be noted however that high concession prices have attracted criticism from cinemagoers and margins may decline in the future. A number of independent local cinemas include product ranges from local or independent suppliers and even popcorn has gone upmarket now with artisan ranges – apart from supporting local businesses, these products can help distinguish the local cinema from the national multiplex chains.

Transport and parking

With the exception of some city centre cinemas, the great majority of cinemagoers arrive at the cinema by car. The free and plentiful car parking at out-of-town multiplexes has proved popular and, conversely, cinemas with poor parking are sometimes criticised. Adequate, safe and nearby car parking is a basic requirement for most successful cinemas.

Government policies (there are a wealth of Local Transport Strategies and policies which are constantly being revised and new strategies introduced) aim to reduce the number of leisure journeys made by car and instead emphasise public transport. For most cinemas this means local bus services but all too often these services fail to provide a suitable evening service. In rural areas the cost of bus services may also create a barrier to cinema attendance. If a cinema is planned in an area with low levels of car ownership then the quality of local bus services should be investigated.

Expansion potential

Leisure trends change rapidly and cinema design is no exception. There are few certainties but one is that a cinema built today will be due some refurbishment and perhaps modification within 5–10 years. It is important that sites for new cinemas make allowance for future changes.

Many of the problems facing existing cinemas are due to a lack of expansion potential.

Digital cinema

Digital cinema technologies have transformed the way films are made, edited, distributed and projected.

Since 1999, when the first public screenings of digitally projected mainstream feature films took place in selected cinemas worldwide, the digital revolution has continued to gain momentum and is now firmly part of the UK cinema landscape.

In the UK, digital projection is now the norm (98% of screens are now digital) and many film distributors release their films only in digital format.

The DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives) approved digital cinema format has replaced conventional 35mm film projection as the principal format used in professional film distribution and exhibition. Most commercial cinemas and independents have made the transition to digital, installing digital projection in all their screens.

The capital cost of purchasing and installing even one digital projector has been seen as an investment in the future by commercial cinema operators, but remains out of reach for a lot of independent cinemas without additional funding sources.

The UK Film Council’s Digital Screen Network (2006-2011) was a publicly funded intervention that established a base of 230 digital screens in the UK in both commercial and independent cinemas. No further national public sector finance has been made available to take the transition to digital a stage further. New business models have however evolved within the industry, most notably around the Virtual Print Fee.

The Virtual Print Fee (VPF) model has been developed as a mechanism for sharing the financing of digital equipment. In the film process chain, the main economic beneficiaries of the transition from 35mm to digital technology are film distributors. With digital, print costs especially are substantially reduced, with a cinema-ready copy of a standard feature film costing as little as £50 as opposed to £500 – £2500 for a 35mm print. The VPF model is designed to reflect this by bringing contributions from distributors towards the financing of digital equipment. Under a VPF agreement made between the cinema, distributor and an equipment supplier or ‘integrator’, exhibitors lease the digital equipment from the supplier, who then receives an agreed fee from the distributor – the virtual print fee – every time the cinema books a film on its release date. Over the term of the agreement, it is hoped that the cumulative fees, added to the cinema’s leasing fees, will amount to the capital costs of the equipment.

Digital access to film has challenged traditional film distribution systems.  Films, particularly the smaller independent titles, are being released on multiple platforms at the same time as they are in cinemas disregarding the traditional ‘windows’ – in the UK a film’s cinema release would normally be followed by the DVD and VOD release 16 weeks later. It is anticipated that this trend will continue.

Film audiences have new choices as to where they consume film. The Video On Demand (VOD) market continues to increase and is likely to continue to do so as more people have access to content on devices through downloading or streaming via the Internet. Certainly with these new platforms film could make a wider cultural contribution, encouraging a renewed interest in film generally.

In terms of making films, a growing number of young filmmakers continue to work with camera and computer equipment purchased from high street stores to produce very low budget films many of which have achieved successes both critically and at the box office and which can be projected successfully in digital cinemas.

Not all new technological developments are likely to sustain their initial successes and this could apply to 3D. According to the BFI Statistical Yearbook, in 2013 43% of digital screens in the UK were 3D-capable and UK film distributors continue to increase the number of 3D films released. The current industry indications are that, given a choice of 3D at a premium price against 2D at the regular price, families are splitting 40/60 in favour of 2D. This may change but currently the logistics of glasses handling can be problematic and expensive for the cinema, plus smaller children often don’t like wearing them.

The key advantages of digital cinema

  • Programming – wider access to a broader range of content often much earlier, particularly with commercial or crossover-specialised titles, as the cost to the distributor of producing multiple copies of a film is greatly reduced. It is also more economically viable to distribute minority interest films and to provide subtitled or dubbed versions.
  • Ability to screen alternative content – live cultural events such as opera, sport, music, exhibitions and theatre – offers a good revenue stream, as ticket prices for this ‘event’ type cinema are 30-50% higher than for traditional film. Some cinemas are reporting revenues 200% to 400% over regular film screenings.
  • Reducing long term operating costs – the technology is relatively easy to use and could impact on many aspects of the cinema operation and economics particularly staffing costs. 1 digital projector in a projection box can simultaneously feed other auditoria so long as architectural design supports this.
  • Supporting local filmmaking talent – digital is now the most common format adopted by students and other filmmakers. A range of mediums including laptops and cameras can plug directly into digital projectors for screenings of films not already within the traditional distribution arena.
  • Maintaining a competitive edge – digital projection delivers high quality picture and sound which audiences come to expect as standard. Cinema environments are important to audiences and they will migrate to one they consider to offer a superior package although this is not limited purely to projection quality. The picture and sound quality will always be as good as it was at the première. No scratches, jumps, dirt or flicker to disturb the viewing experience.
  • Localised advertising tailored to the particular audience will be possible
  • Additional smaller auditoria become viable and provide greater choice for local audiences. A local digital cinema – a digital mini-plex – may have one or two large auditoria (150 to 250 seats) and three or four very small ones (30 to 50 seats). There are now many examples of this type of cinema in the UK and the rest of Europe.
  • Subtitled performances for deaf audiences are increasingly popular. New systems using digital cinema projectors have overcome many of the previous problems with limited availability of prints with these subtitles. The new approach involves projecting subtitles on to the screen and does not require a special copy of the film. The flexibility of this approach opens up the potential for multi language versions of films to suit a variety of local audiences.

Summary of key points from Chapter 7

  • Cinema design is changing and greater emphasis is being placed on providing a high quality viewing experience along with better social and catering facilities
  • The quality of a building can make a considerable difference to the successful marketing of a cinema
  • Few new cinemas are built with just a single screen, or even 2-screens. Even in smaller communities there are good commercial and programming reasons for providing at least two screens
  • Digital cinema technology is having an impact on the way that films are presented, and the design of auditoria. Some digital cinemas have their control rooms located remotely from the projector.
  • New cinemas can be constructed to allow for a range of community and educational uses
  • Concession sales of confectionery, ice cream and soft drinks play an important part in the economy of cinemas. Sales areas (and associated storage) should be designed to allow this income source to be realised
  • Full disabled access is required under current legislation. Provision for hearing and sight disabled customers should also be incorporated in the design of the cinema
  • Safe and plentiful car parking is required for most cinemas. It is advisable to ensure that public transport is also available
  • Cinema design and leisure requirements are changing rapidly. A new cinema development should therefore have some capacity to expand or change in response to future demands.

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