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

Posted on April 26, 2016 by Oriana Franceshi

Categories: General

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

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

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

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

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

The Concept

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

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

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

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

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

The First PATP: TheReflektor Tapes, November 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.I should start dividing the tickets

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

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

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

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

The Second PATP: Pretty in Pink, February 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Next PATP: Chasing Zero, May 2016

On far shores, weary mariners hear voices

Songs so beautiful they cast a spell

There is no choice but to hear.

Dan Crockett, in Chris McCleans short film Edges of Sanity

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

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

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

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