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When the UK went into Lockdown In March, I was reeling in shock. Over two days I had dozens of film bookings postponed or cancelled, and the exhibition projects that I was working on were all suddenly on pause.
I felt that I had to try and process this situation in some way and to look ahead to consider how we in exhibition might begin to talk to our customers and encourage them back to cinemas after this enforced intermission.
It became very clear very quickly that it would be relevant and helpful to talk to my peers and colleagues in exhibition about their own plans, anxieties and expectations, so I created Pressing Play, a snapshot survey which aimed to take the pulse of the current situation we’re in, specifically by asking exhibitors to consider venue closures and life on the other side of Lockdown.
Based on the number of people working in programming roles or similar and who may not have been furloughed the target sample of respondents was set at 100.
This felt realistic and meant that the sample would still maintain as minimal a margin of error as possible. It also meant that I could access input from a broad mix of venues working across the sector, hearing from cinemas, arts centres and film societies.
In all, there were responses from 97 exhibitors.
It was completed by representatives of 49 cinemas, 29 arts centres and 18 Film clubs/societies.
The size of conurbations represented scaled from those with under 10,000 residents to those with over 200,000 residents.
The number of screens each organisation programmed ranged from 1 to more than 5.
The questions asked in Pressing Play revolved around the areas of:
Our own fears about attending events.
How we feel future attendance by different audiences may be impacted by COVID-19.
Specific barriers to attendance we might want to consider.
The nature of the messages we may use with our audiences to encourage them back into our cinemas.
And what type of activity we may present as part of our reopening strategies.
The survey ran from Wednesday 1st April until Tuesday 19th May 2020.
Written within responses is a note of uncertainty, but as time and responses have moved on we can see that confidence is returning to the sector.
Ultimately Pressing Play is an exercise in understanding and empathising with audiences – and one which I hope may help the sector find an easier route to returning and celebrating our artform with our customers.
I hope that it proves useful.
When audiences will return
63% of respondents are very worried about the speed that audiences will return to the cinema.
45% of us are particularly worried that audiences may not return to cinemas at all after restrictions lift.
Impact on particular audience segments
We are less anxious about the impact on younger adults and families’ cinema attendance.
60% of respondents to Pressing Play believe that attendance by older audiences (60+) will be greatly affected (over 25% reduction).
Barriers to attendance
93% of respondents are worried about the impact that fear of infection may have amongst audiences.
49% of exhibitors are worried about the impact of the pause on audiences and the industry.
48% of respondents are anxious about the possible impact of new VOD practices and strategies.
33% of exhibitors are anxious about what will be available to screen when cinemas reopen.
Exhibitors’ outgoing communications on reopening will be made up of an offer of safety, togetherness, a request for support and patronage, and exciting programming.
58% of respondents will lead with ‘Our venue is clean and safe’ as a key message.
72% of us want to make a fuss of reopening, marking it with a special event or activity.
33% of organisations will launch new pricing initiatives and 32% will offer free tickets.
Exhibitors are now resigned to opening with restrictions.
58% of exhibitors who have completed Pressing Play have not undertaken any online activity with audiences.
Now. Here. This. Is a collection of stories of new and old relationships, life-changing revelations and big nights out.
As part of this week-long event, the Encounters team will be also hosting a live Watch Party broadcast of the programme on Tuesday 5th May at 4pm. The online event includes a chance to find out more about the films from the people who created them (subject to BSL interpreter availability)
The screening and Watch Party event is available via multiple platforms. You can find it at:
This programme and the Watch Party are also free to stream.
Rich Warren, Festival Director of Encounters Film Festival said:
“It’s fantastic to be able to present these films to the public. The world is in a unique place right now and cinema has the power to bring people together – even whilst our auditoria are closed. We think that the films that make up Now. Here. This. represent a fantastic selection of terrific talent working today and we hope that audiences around the world enjoy watching them and enjoy finding out more about the creation of them directly from the filmmakers.”
The films featured in the programme all competed for the Deaf Shorts award at the 25th edition of the Encounters Film Festival in September 2019. The total runtime is 47 minutes.
All films are subtitled for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
WELCOME TO THE BALL
A child learns sign language in the hope of making a new friend. USA 2019 | 5 mins | Language: English/ASL Director: Adam Vincent Wright.
IF YOU KNEW
After months of fighting and no communication, two teenager twin brothers come together to spend a day in Canvey Island.
UK 2018 | 5 mins | Language: English/Subtitled Director: Stroma Cairns.
In this comedy about misunderstandings, Ben tells a deaf couple a joke about a deaf man’s house burning down. Will they see the funny side or not?
UK 2019 | 2 mins | Language: English/BSL Director: Charlie Swinbourne.
Hope is a carefree, fun-loving Deaf teenager. But a fatal cancer diagnosis is about to turn her life upside down.
UK 2019 | 27 mins | Language: English/BSL Director: David Ellington.
SIGNKID – DUMBASS (MUSIC VIDEO)
Dumbass is an artistic short film exploring the history of the word dumb and how it has marginalised deaf people. Opening with a short history lesson to set the record straight, it then celebrates the talent of a deaf artist SignKid, who raps to the camera with signsong.
UK 2019 | 4 mins | Language: English/BSL Director: Alexander Darby.
A babysitter takes over for the night. There are some unexpected consequences.
UK 2019 | 4 mins | Language: English/BSL Director: William Grint.
If you would like to find out more about the programme or Encounters Film Festival members of the public should visit www.encounters.film.
Encounters Film Festival is the UK’s foremost international short film and animation festival. Taking place every September in the city of Bristol, Encounters is a platform for new and emerging talent in the film industry, widening the lens of the sector with a diverse and inspirational selection of international talent.
As I write it’s been about four weeks since cinema exhibition was upended by the Government’s advice about staying away from public spaces and the subsequent UK-wide Lockdown measures were put in place.
Like many working in exhibition and distribution I have been in shock, and like many I spent the next few days making changes to distribution plans, postponing cinema bookings, talking to clients about suspending exhibition projects and mentally processing the position we suddenly found ourselves in.
As I surfed through the DABDA curve I started to think about what happens next and how we can best emerge from the other side. As a punter who enjoys cinema, arts & culture, bars and restaurants I began to consider which messages might encourage me back into a public life, and what we might need to keep at the forefront of our minds whilst contemplating our reopening plans.
However quickly we come back, on the other side of this closure the world will be a different place for cinema. We will need to have more empathy than ever with our customers in order to ensure that they continue to be our customers.
What messages should we use? What might our programmes look like? How can we reopen safely and reassuringly and also give the celebration of our art form priority?
To try and find some insight into how we may react to this pause I have created Pressing Play, a short snapshot survey for exhibitors. The survey asks questions about reopening plans, expectations of attendance, impact on specific audiences, and more. I’ll be releasing the complete findings after the survey closes on Monday 4th May, but there is already some initial feedback emerging which may help shape our planning and communications going forward.
RETURNING TO OUR SOCIAL SELVES
We are presented right now with an unprecedented playing field in terms of marketing messages, where our aim must be to focus on the very concept of going to the cinema and on resuming our social lives.
This is reflected in the many conversations taking place around possible national/international marketing campaigns by industry bodies to reignite attendance and bring the public back to cinemas with confidence.
As a starting point my survey asks respondents how they themselves feel about going out in public again. Responses have varied wildly, with some people not worried at all and others placing themselves at the very top of the anxiety scale.
The result is that the mean average from a scale of 1-10 is a fairly hopeful 4.8/10, but perhaps a more robust statistic is that that 60% of respondents have rated themselves as a 5/10 or higher on the scale, with 20% as 7.5/10 or higher.
Concern is in abundance, as we should anticipate.
The survey also looks at potential impact on attendance and our expectations of how specific segments of our audiences may react when we are able to reopen. Setting audiences into 5 basic segments – families, young adults, adults aged 30-60, senior citizens aged 60+ and audiences for access programmes – respondents were able to consider the potential behavior of each segment.
Here is a short summary of how we feel attendance may be impacted from initial findings taken at the time of writing:
Won’t change dramatically (up to 5%)
Reduction up to 25%
Heavily impacted (25%+)
Families with children aged under 18
Chosen by 35% of respondents
Adults aged 18-30
Adults aged 30-60
Adults aged 60+
Audiences for access screenings
We can see here that respondents feel fairly confident about younger and older adults and families returning to our cinemas, but less so about adults aged over 60 or audiences for access programmes.
Looking at barriers to attendance in the surveynaturally fear of infection was understandably selected by most respondents (90%), followed by the change to habits caused by the cultural impact of Lockdown (56%) and the results of the public’s engagement with new VOD strategies (50%). Also, 34% of respondents are worried about the nature of content available to screen when cinemas are able to reopen, and 13% see priceas a potential barrier, post-pause.
Pressing Play also addresses communications, specifically what the backbone of our messaging might be.
There are multiple and varying messages emanating from our sector at the moment – watch parties and online events are connecting organisations with their communities whilst their venues are unavailable, many organisations have made requests for public support, and we are seeing venues proactively looking to the future, reflecting on what we are learning right now and beginning to discuss what’s next, visibly planning a way forward in partnership with their communities.
It is the sense of ‘community’ that resonates with many respondents when considering their communications plans.
From initial survey results the strongest marketing message was being able to offer a shared experience once again. This was chosen by 52% of respondents.
50% recognise the significance of identifying cinemas as community hubs;
45% chose a key message being about the cleanliness and safety of the environments we offer;
and the need for the public to support cinemas, and the content of our programmes were each selected by 35% of respondents.
These messages echo Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs, a psychology theory which considers levels of human motivation. These levels/needs begin with the baseline of Physiological needs (food, shelter etc), and escalate through Safety, Love/Belonging, Self-esteem and Self-actualisation.
Using Maslow as a reference point, cinema is potentially in a stronger place right now. Following Lockdown we will be able to offer our customers deeper, more magnified versions of pre-Lockdown levels of safety, belonging, self-esteem and self-actualisation.
So what will we actually do when we get the green light to fire up our projectors?
Plans are forming nationwide for reopening parties, seasons, audience votes, free ticket offers and more, but how quickly can we return to business? 58% of us are anxious about the speed customers will return, and only 19% of us are anticipating returning to normal levels of screenings when our doors reopen.
We’ve never been more in need of our customers, and they’ve never been away from us for so long. It is clear that we must make our return to business count.
In coming weeks I would suggest that we begin to ask ourselves the following questions:
How can we mitigate the greater risk that is now temporarily attached to our cinemas – what programming will make going to the pictures ‘worth it’ for our customers and get them out of the house?
We know there’ll be limitations on content available to us for a little while – how do we open our doors to our communities and still have something they want to enjoy on our screens? Recent experiments in China with reopening cinemas with repertory titles didn’t work – might that work in the UK, or could we reactivate different segments of our customers with different types of programming and events?
How can we make the cinema feel like a safe place for them and convey that with confidence?
What will we say, and what visible reassurances might we put in place? Will we temporarily reduce seating capacities, introduce new training programmes for staff and tell them about our new cleaning schedules?
What is your core message to your community when you reopen?
Looking at the messages that emerged above, what might the most powerful marketing messages be for your audiences?
Which of your audience segments might need more careful consideration?
How might you talk to young people, families, or older audiences? What programming and activities will you offer for them?
How can we celebrate our artform with our customers and not to our customers?
Are there ways we can programme with our communities – introducing audience votes or other similar initiatives may give us relevant and dynamic platforms with which to screen older and more readily available titles – and sell some tickets too!
How flexible can we be with ticketing?
Should we change our pricing policies, offer season tickets or look carefully at our refund policies to help alleviate any worries that audiences may have about visiting?
How soon should we – and can we – start?
The world will return quickly and we’ll need to be ready to put our plans in place – whatever they are. It’s paramount that we continue to talk to our customers during this time, keep them at the heart of our plans, and ensure that those plans are transparent.
Should we maintain our new online communities?
Those close links to customers that many of us have nurtured online whilst our doors are closed has been a terrific outcome. Have our watch parties and online events given us a new platform to use in order to keep our conversations going outside of the cinema? Do they add value to our offer and help bring audiences closer to us?
After witnessing the energy of the exhibition sector in recent weeks, and the ways in which organisations have adapted at a time of crisis I’m confident that we’ll bounce back. It might be a slower return to full-time operations than we’d like, and there may be more hardship than we’re comfortable with, but we’re hardwired to want to be together and enjoy social experiences, and in this situation that’s one thing firmly on our side.
The Pressing Play survey is open until Monday 4th May. If you would like to complete it and receive a copy of the results, please visit bit.ly/pressingplayJT
Jonny Tull is an exhibition and distribution consultant.
I’m beyond thrilled to announce that two films that I’m releasing in the UK, David Kenny’s It Is Not One Way and Sarah Outen & Jen Randall’s Home will both be screening at the Central Scotland Documentary Festival at the Macrobert Arts Centre on Sunday 13th October.
I’m so pleased for these brilliant filmmakers and chuffed to be part of their journeys!
Find out more about the releases i’m working on HERE.
What happens when a Muslim city councillor, a key figure in the English Defence League and a member of ANTIFA have a meal together?
In 2015 North East filmmaker David Kenny picked up his camera and set out on an unusual project. Having become frustrated at the political and social divisions in UK society, at increasing anti-Islamic sentiments and at more and more media reports of civic unrest, David wanted to try and understand how the opposing views in Britain’s communities might be better articulated and understood. Rather than left and right wing taking to the streets was there another way for opinions to be conveyed?
To answer this question, David invited three people with disparate and opposing societal views to dinner.
Newcastle Muslim Labour Councillor Dipu Ahad, English Defence League member John Banks, and Rob Sands, a member of ANTIFA, all met for the first time in a restaurant in Cumbria, and the resulting documentary, IS NOT ONE WAY, shows what happened that night.
Before making the film, with such a challenging and far-reaching project, David knew the result would offer different answers than purely seeking a response to anti-Muslim sentiment.
“I know that it would be naive to expect any solution to such a huge social issue so my intention was to try and encourage Rob, Dipu and John to better understand one another as people, and to begin to respect one another’s views by the time they had finished their desserts.”
The resulting film is a thought-provoking insight into the mindset of our three subjects and in a way offers its own insight into a fragmented Britain. David says:
“I’m really happy to have undertaken this experiment and with how it has turned out. John, Rob and Dipu were all amazing to have dedicated themselves so fully to the film, and they were all really open and honest. The three have met again since and whilst they will never relate to their differing worlds, they all now have a better understanding of each another’s situations.”
Understanding that the idea of screening a film about societal unrest might make some cinema managers cautious, since completing the film; David has been carefully preparing for a UK cinema tour, going so far as to screen It Is Not One Way in London in a private showing for political and film journalists. He now feels he is ready to unveil his film, with the first public screening taking place at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema on Tuesday 26th February at 6.30pm.
Director of Film Programme at Tyneside Cinema, Andrew Simpson says:
“I was very keen to bring It Is Not One Way to Tyneside Cinema as part of our Frontline series of films. Frontline is all about taking issues or subjects that matter to people now, and starting a conversation which is driven by cinema, and within the cinema space. In this film, David Kenny does exactly that – it perfectly embodies what we are trying to achieve with our Frontline programme. I anticipate a lively discussion after the screening too!”
The screening will be followed by a panel discussion to discuss whether ‘swapping demonstration for dinner’ is a practical option. The panel will include Peter Hopkins (Professor for Social Geography from Newcastle University), Tony Dowling (Chair, People’s Assembly North East & local anti-fascist) and David himself. It is chaired by Richard Moss, the BBC’s Political Editor for North East and Cumbria.
“I’m thrilled to be able to screen It Is Not One Way in the north east. After this screening, I have plans to take the film to other cinemas in the UK during 2019. The release of the film has been supported by over 100 people via a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, and it will be really interesting to meet the people who supported it – whatever their perspective. I’m expecting a healthy debate, and I really want to hear what the audience think of our project.”
2018 was going to be the make or break year for me in my endeavour of Connecting People With Stuff, and to have not only survived it but also be looking forward to the next year is unbelievable.
I look back on the last 12 months and see the peaks of happy clients, setting out into film distribution, finding new colleagues, enjoying a slate of work which expanded across the UK and the world, lots of recommendations and repeat engagements. I experienced loads of travelling, new learning and skills building – and the sheer sexiness of having a film I’m working on be made The Observer’s Film of The Week by Mark Kermode!
I also see the lows of missed opportunities, the anxieties of where the next gig might come from, a little bit of ill-health, and the normal insecurities that occasionally cloud our feelings, strategies and judgement.
Cinema is in my blood. After 20+ years of bringing a world of film to my region, and trying to replicate the deep journey I had into cinema for countless others I can’t let go. In 2017 I refused to let the trepidation I felt about major career change push me into another sector and into a role that didn’t involve cinema or an audience sat in front of a big screen.
I’m never going to let go of that fascination of engaging audiences with cinema.
I set out on this new path to learn new skills and develop. After a wildly successful and satisfying career, this necessary new chapter had to be about exploration, growth, and self-affirmation.
It hasn’t disappointed.
The last 18 months of being a freelancer have been tough, really tough, but it’s also been the most rewarding period of my life and through it, I’ve found untapped resolve, new skills and an eagerness to push ahead and build myself into something bigger, better and bolder.
2019 is the next stage. I head into a new year with pencil sketches of plans – films to help distribute, projects in place across exhibition, programming and audience development – and more teaching. I also now have a network of people around me to talk to, seek advice from and take inspiration from.
Once again it’s a make or break year, but this time I head into the fray with more support around me than ever before, more experience, more confidence and a little bit of a strategy.
Time to learn, once again. So if you booked a film, offered advice, hired me, or were just there with support, thank you for everything and have a good one!
Really excited to announce that I’ll be teaming up with distribution company Day For Night and founder Sonali Joshi for the UK release of the terrific New Zealand drama WARU (currently rated 100% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes kids!).
More details announced soon, but follow the link to info and trailer below if you fancy a peek.