Building a diverse audience: Sophia's blog

Posted on August 11, 2015 by Sophia Ramcharan

Categories: Cinema Careers, FEDS Scheme, Training & Conferences

Broadway Reggae Symposium flyer
Thinking carefully about the flyer is one of the overlooked but all important moments when trying to engage people outside your usual audience

This year we’re running our Film FEDS scheme, aimed at giving young trainees an opportunity to learn on the job in film distribution, exhibition and international sales. Ahead of our ‘D Word’ Screening Days, we wanted to highlight a case study of engaging with diversity in a thoughtful and successful way. Here, one of our trainees, Sophia Ramcharan, working at Broadway in Nottingham (one of the ICO’s programming partners), gives her impressions of the experience.

As a film programmer I know that building an audience can be tricky, especially if you are attempting to attract new and/or diverse audiences to attend your film event in a location that is unfamiliar to them. As part of my placement at the Broadway Cinema I was asked to programme an event. My brief was simple: to develop an event that would appeal to a diverse audience,  building on our previous programming which included The Hip Hop Film Festival and black history season.

From my experience of organising film nights in the Nottingham community, with a particular focus on black cinema, I’ve identified two broadly distinct markets and platforms. The first is to provide a platform for specialised films to be showcased to a wider universal audience. The second is to screen films that would appeal to a diverse audience, in this case the African Caribbean community, with the aim to attracting them to the venue.

The best case scenario is to create a balance between the two. My intention for the brief was to create an inclusive environment that would appeal to the community as a whole that would not alienate or overly target one particular group.   My approach was to present Broadway Cinema as an event destination that would make the day as attractive as possible so that the target audience would come enjoy the films and stay to enjoy the day with food, drink and entertainment available in the cafe. In summary: to create a positive, shared experience and to demystify any negative misconceptions they may have about Broadway Cinema.

So, in June, I delivered an event at the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham entitled The Reggae Symposium of Film and Music. For me, reggae seemed to be an obvious theme for the event that would meet the aims of the brief; it is, after all, a global phenomenon.

Nottingham has a strong tradition of a sound system culture from back in the day, but also historically a relatively large Caribbean community.  My idea was create an integrated approach to a day of celebrating the reggae culture; screening of two classic reggae films, Rockers (1978) and Babylon (1980), and a symposium discussion to explore the themes of the day with a celebrated guest panel.

So how did this event become a reality?

Rockers
Rockers (1978), one of the reggae classics screened during the symposium, but more recent titles proved elusive

Titles

One of the biggest obstacles was obtaining the relevant permission to screen the films. Films that were on our wish list were not available to screen or I could not find information about the distributor. Not only was this very frustrating, this was fundamental factor in shaping the films programme which is why we settled on the two classic titles that were on the programme. I should note here that this part of the planning process can often be the most time consuming.

Marketing

Print
Deciding your marketing strategy is very important to the success of the event. Broadway is one of the few cinemas to still have a printed monthly programme and placement of the event in the brochure was very important for many reasons. Mainly, in my opinion, because it provides a clear message that the event is fully integrated into general programme and not bolted on as an after thought.

Flyer and Poster
The importance of a flyer cannot be overstated. A strong design with the key information is crucial to the distribution of the promotional material in the key places in community venues, such as community centres, hairdressers, restaurants etc.  For events that are encouraging an inter-generational audience, flyers are important because of the low levels of digital literacy in the elders in the community. This also helps to create strong recommendations of the event by word of mouth.

Online
From my experience, the target audience in the community are not really engaging with social media as the typical Broadway audience would. It is rare that elders in the community would use Twitter and Facebook.  So whilst it is important to promote the events online as normal, it is also very important to push the traditional marketing methods as described above.

Broadway Nottingham external
Broadway in Nottingham: continuing to engage with a more diverse audience

Partnerships & Sponsorship

I engaged with two community connectors to help to deliver the project.  A locally-based DJ collective and Nubian Link, an educational group dedicated to promoting the educational, cultural and economic needs of the Afrikan community from an Afrikan-centred perspective.  Both organisations were important in broadening out the marketing reach of the event into the community with a dedicated street team who were out distributing flyers and posters.  They were also very important in helping to shape the activities of the day and delivering the programme.

To enhance the programme, a sponsorship deal was negotiated with Wray and Nephew, the Jamaican white rum specialists. They provided some free product and recipes for us to create the rum cocktail. Monetary sponsorship was secured from the Nottingham Carnival and Tuntum Housing Association in Nottingham which went towards the guest expenses and the evening entertainment.

Reggae Symposium gig
Planning an event in a modular way, with a variety of activities, can make it more accessible to those who would avoid a traditional film screening; Photo credit Michael Saunders

Activities

A BBQ was planned that included authentic Jamaican dishes such as jerk chicken wings. We provided music on the outside terrace – authentic dub reggae – and live music in the cafe to round off the event.  All of the activities were scheduled between the films programme.  The symposium panel discussion had the cream of British reggae talent, including Janet Kay (‘Silly Games’), Mykaell Riley (Steel Pulse), John Masouri (Echoes music magazine) and Brinsley Forde (founder of Aswad and star of Babylon).

We developed a special promotion, if people brought an all-day ticket, they were treated to a free reggae rum punch.
From my experience, as programmers we often make the mistake of not programming enough time for an in-depth debate and integration with the audience, which can impact on the cinema schedule if the discussion overruns. That is why we scheduled the panel discussion as a separate event, the length of a feature film, rather than an after film Q&A.

To conclude, programming with the intention to engage new audience requires creativity and resourcefulness to create an event that will attract the audience that you want.

The approach with the Reggae Symposium of Film and Music was to encourage the community to experience Broadway,  enjoy the day; take one of the printed programmes and decide what the next film they see at Broadway will be and with whom. The price of a cinema ticket these days can be expensive for many people, so my philosophy is to always try and add value to the film screening for maximum effect. This can be achieved in scaled-down methods rather than as described in this article, but hopefully I’ve provided some inspiration.

I do believe that we’d achieved a balance in the audience in terms of ethnicity and age. I have worked with Broadway on a number of film events. However, this event in particular also helped to showcase the range of services that Broadway had to offer; an impressive programme of films, great hospitality, friendly staff and a space to socialise and meet new people. Whilst the goal was to engage new audiences in the films programme, many came to the cinema simply to enjoy the music, the relaxed vibe and the authenticity of the event. From that standpoint, the general feedback was also that they were pleasantly surprised that Broadway planned events like this and they would definitely consider coming back again to check out future films programmes.

To see a selection of images from the event, click here.

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