Jonny Tull

Connecting people with stuff

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A Day Of New Directions – at the AMA’s Digital Marketing Day 2018

I wrote a little blog about the Arts Marketing Association’s inspiring Digital Marketing Day, which I attended in December.  Read it at the following link…

Jonny Tull — a day of new directions

 

FILM INDUSTRY EVENT: Open The Gates – Getting Your Feature In Front Of Your Audience

I’ve been working with the brilliant Northern Film and Media on an industry event for north east film  production professionals for a little while and it takes place at the Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle on Tuesday 21st November, running 10.15am – 3pm.

We’ll be welcoming a range of great speakers from across the UK exhibition, production  and distribution sectors to unpick how best to get feature films in front of an audience inside a cinema.

OPEN THE GATES – GETTING YOUR FEATURE IN FRONT OF YOUR AUDIENCE is a  one-day event designed to  give practitioners working in the north east’s film production sector the chance to hear from the gatekeepers – the exhibitors and distributors who decide if films not only make the grade but also if there’s an audience for their work.

Key decision makers representing Picturehouse, Showroom Workstation, Hanway Films will be present alongside filmmakers from the region whose work has made it out to an audience and the inside of a cinema – either via a distributor or through self-distribution.

Often seen as an antagonistic relationship, the event will pull back the curtain and discuss how to better collaborate and communicate and ensure films can reach their theatrical audience…

Speakers (with more to be announced) include:

  • Madeleine Mullett, Senior Programmer, Picturehouse
  • Joan Parsons, Senior Programmer, Showroom Workstation, Sheffield
  • Matthew Baker, Director Of Acquisitions, Hanway Films
  • Magali Pettier, Documentary Filmmaker
  • Samm Haillay, Producer, Third Films

There are just a handful of tickets left for this free event. Sign up here!

Third Films and Jonny Tull unite for new approach to feature development

I’m delighted to be working with Third Films from this autumn providing audience strategy consultancy for their upcoming projects.

It’s a fantastic chance for me to be part of Third’s production process, to learn some new skills and to apply my experience in audience development and programming to a new arena.  Really looking forward to it!

Here’s the release:

North East production company Third Films looks to audiences consultant in innovative new approach to development

Production company THIRD FILMS has joined forces with a Newcastle-based audience development consultant to road-test a new approach as it develops its upcoming slate.

With 6 feature films currently in funded development Third, based in Newcastle upon Tyne, has enlisted freelance Newcastle marketing and film programming consultant Jonny Tull to give guidance and advice to the company on audience strategy for its in-development features before they head into production.

Third have produced 8 features since 2008 including the Newcastle-shot and Venice premiering BYPASS, released in 2015, and which starred rising film and TV actor George MacKay (Captain Fantastic, Pride, 11.22.63).

Where most film productions connect with the public much later in the production process, Third’s lead Producer Samm Haillay is keen to challenge this model, hoping to nurture the audience for his projects at the earliest stage of the development process.

Samm says:

“We’re doing this so we deliberately start to think about the people who want to watch our films as early as possible. That’s where Jonny comes in. His experience and understanding of cinema audiences mean he will be a great addition to our team. This is a new way of working for film production and Jonny coming on board as Audience Strategist and working alongside us from the earliest point in the production process will give us a unique insight into how our projects will best connect and resonate with filmgoers.”

Jonny recently left Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema after 22 years, where he worked in senior audience development and film programming roles. Having embarked on a freelance career he’s now working with clients across the UK. He hopes to draw on his many years of experience for this role:

“I’m delighted to work with Samm and Third Films again. Samm has always been a visionary producer and keen to explore new ways to bring his work to the public. Having only just recently branched out as a freelancer, I was eager for a production project to get my teeth into and this gives me a chance to take my specific experience in working with audiences and place it in a really useful and vital new context.”

 Jonny begins work with Third Films in September.

 

Getting The Balance Right

We know that how the public chooses how to consume film is changing FAST, so I wrote something for Film Hub North about how knowing the habits of your audience is vital – as is staying true to your organisational aims  – take a look here!

Read it here too:

 At the recent Independent Cinema Office Screening Days event (at the Phoenix in Leicester, 1-3 July) I was struck by the recurring conversations I was having with colleagues. We talked – over our lunchtime sandwiches, our end of day glasses of wine and our between-film coffees – about the movies we saw: they were ‘festival films’; or we lamented how nobody would come to the tougher titles we had loved; and we relished the dead certs’ considering the joys of a healthy opening weekend.

This isn’t new, and this discussion is one of the many great things I enjoy about attending Screening Days. But whilst I headed home after the event I pondered on how many of the films I’d watched that I would pay to see as a customer. I’ve recently left a venue and I’m now starting out as a freelance consultant, and experiencing Screening Days from my new vantage point made thing feel different…

The more I considered it, the more clearly I could picture the scale of the gulf that needed to be bridged between the customer and the venues screening specialised film. As someone who has had the benefit of a career working across both marketing and programming I’ve always tried to ensure that each element informed the other. Would a film find an audience? Who are that audience? How many of them are there? Will people REALLY pay to see this on a Saturday night? All useful questions to ask when trying to work out your slots, length of run or when forecasting your admissions, and crucial ones when you’re trying to wring the most out of the resource that is the hours in your screens.

As we now all know, we face a challenge in exhibition, and that challenge makes understanding the psychology of our customers all the more important.

Audiences have more choice than ever and their time is precious. As a society we are becoming more comfortable with technology and the quality of content premiering on streaming services is rising and rising. Most importantly, distributors – forever our partners in cinematic matrimony – are now embracing digital platforms more and more, extending their market penetration without our help.

It’s not all doom and gloom though: alongside all this change to life outside of theatrical exhibition, inside our cinemas the situation is brilliant. We develop vivid and diverse projects and programmes, we have a wealth of amazing cinema history to draw on and new film releases remain strong. At Screening Days the quality of the programme was incredible: emotionally resonant, brilliant stories are still being told and our audiences will continue to enjoy them.

But for the collective experience of watching film together I think we’re at a crossroads.

With so much distraction from our artform and the method we use to deliver it, and with so much pressure on time and easy opportunity to engage with screen-based media, the decision to go to the cinema becomes a harder one for our customers. Combine that with escalating ticket prices and audiences start to become more and more risk averse in their choices and the number of visits per person a year will continue to drop. As a customer, whilst it’s a fairly easy call to decide to head out and watch the I, Daniel Blakes, the La La Lands or the Moonlights, the perceived value (time/money/effort) of a cinema visit to see a little-promoted new documentary or relatively obscure and independent foreign language title (and which can be streamed at home for less) can start to diminish if it can be seen for less without the ‘hassle’ of going out. In turn, the impact on venues is to become as equally risk-averse, for example minimizing screenings for challenging films, and taking less leaps of faith on more ‘difficult’ titles.

My Screening Days experience really hammered it home: people are different and have different opinions, needs and desires like any animal. Facing the changes we do, I think we need to consider this to keep pace – by understanding and embracing the psychology and decision-making processes of our customers at a deeper level we will better know our playing field. With that in mind the question of “Will people pay to see this on a Saturday night?” becomes more and more relevant. Consider the entity that is your own audience. How well do you know them? What does your attendance data tell you? What excites them? Do you know what works best on a Saturday night? And at what time?

If you aren’t doing this already, interrogate at your attendance data, research your audience and ask them why they come to your venue, and learn from it.

HOWEVER…

This is all crucial information to have at hand, but whilst taking stock of the knowledge we have on customers and attendance and using it wisely to inform your marketing and programme strategy is important, we have to remember why we are doing what we do in the first place and not lose focus.

It would be too easy to fall into a trap that only reflected customers’ habits, and into a future that held an unadventurous and ‘safe’ programme. Our sector is responsive. It has moved a great distance in the last twenty years because we have listened to our customers about the experience we offer. We have diversified our income streams and we have altered our buildings, changing them into places to hang out, even when not seeing a movie. And it has worked.

This is positive change, I feel, but the danger inherent is that we could become distracted from the mission, and when the wine list becomes more important than the film schedule we will lose all that is important to us as independent cinemas.

So, whilst we must listen to our customers, learn as much about them as we can and deploy this information well to enhance our business, we must also protect and champion the collective experience we all know and love, continuing to challenge and excite the brave explorers on the fringes of our attendance figures who want more than what’s hurtling through the Oscar corridor. With so many great stories on our screens and so much brilliant film history to work with our venues are monuments to ‘specialness’, and as programmers we exist to guide explorers through that specialness, through amazing storytelling and experiences.

This diversity in our programming, above all, is the mission.

If, in service to this mission, we get the balance right – between insight and instinct, culture and commerce – then we will continue to thrive and inspire.

Cherish our artform.
Champion the collective experience we provide.
Listen to our customers.
Empathise with our customers.
Challenge them to take risks.
Enable them to do so.

© 2019 Jonny Tull

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