Blue-sky thinking comes to cinema

Blue-sky thinking comes to cinema

Set programmes at multiplexes are not the only show in town for the film industry

Gerry Cottle Jr’s first memory is of being dressed “as a little clown running out of this stage that they’d just blown up”. As the son of a circus owner, he did everything from trapeze on his father’s Circus of Horrors tour to driving a “comedy car” up and down the country. Then, in his twenties, he said goodbye to the circus.

But not to the entertainment business. His Rooftop Film Club was launched in 2011, “born out of the mundaneness of the multiplex experience. When you go to a multiplex, you get your ticket from the machine, food and drink from someone who doesn’t want to be serving you. The film is great, but the rest of it is pretty stale. We wanted to put the celebration back into the cinema, to bring the community aspect back into it.”

Mr Cottle, 36, is not alone in thinking that the cinema industry is in need of a little blue-sky thinking. The corporate giants may have their eyes on a big picture of takeovers, global empires and potential flotations, but smaller operators see niches where they can connect more closely with their audiences. In Mr Cottle’s case, that means outside, on city centre rooftops, with audiences seated on deckchairs and sporting headphones.

Given the British weather, there seems to be an obvious drawback and sure enough in “year two, I was drying my socks out it was raining so much on the rooftops and I thought to myself, ‘There’s got to be an easier way of doing this.’ ” Rain, though, rarely stops play at the Rooftop Film Club, even if expansion is being aimed squarely at sunnier climes. As well as its four venues in London, the company has rooftop cinemas in Los Angeles and New York and plans to open in Miami, San Diego, Boston, Chicago, Austin, Barcelona and Dubai this year. It expects to have generated revenues of £3.6 million in 2017, set to rise to £6 million this year.

Mr Cottle’s target audience is clear: “When you go to a normal cinema, you’re not going to take a picture sitting in a black box. We’re in the sky, so we are great for the Instagram generation.” All those pictures of people sharing their experiences on social media helps to encourage brands, such as American Airlines and Grey Goose vodka, to sponsor events, while film distributors jostle to use the company to get their new releases seen by a younger audience.

If Rooftop Film Club has one eye on the rise of social media, Ian Cartwright, 40, and David Kapur, 39, launched Ourscreen to appeal directly to a generation used to getting content on-demand via streaming services such as Netflix. Under their crowd-led model of programming, any individual or company can request a screening of a particular film at one of the 110 cinemas around the country that has linked up with Ourscreen. Once the cinema sells the minimum number of tickets required to make it financially feasible, the screening will go ahead. Any proceeds above that threshold, usually about 30 tickets, is split three ways between the cinema, the rights-holder and Ourscreen.

Mr Cartwright says that the organisers “get the kudos, the choice of bringing a film to your local cinema”. The company is experimenting with giving them a share of the profits, too. “Hosts that have done a few screenings, we give them part of the proceeds. With this tool of Ourscreen, there is a role for cinema promoters, if there are people who are in tune with the zeitgeist.”

That zeitgeist can be fairly varied: 89, the story of Arsenal’s unlikely triumph over Liverpool to win the league championship at Anfield in 1989, has been a recent hit for the service. As well as fans keen to share their love for Spice World, the Spice Girls movie, companies have used Ourscreen to run promotional events: EE brought La La Land back to 20 cinemas as part of a celebration of its association with Bafta; record companies have used it to offer fans the first chance to listen to an album.

Ourscreen films on average are better attended than others shown in the same cinema at the same time, the company claims. About 40 per cent of its audience are first-time visitors to the particular cinema showing the Ourscreen film. According to Mr Cartwright, that could boost cinema-going overall: “Chains are making a big investment in UK cinemas at the moment, improving seats and the ambiance. Let’s get people in to reappraise the cinema space.”

He also believes in the social experience, arguing that the normal “conversation around content” that comes with popular films and show is diminished by people watching box-sets at home at different rates, unable to discuss them for fear of spoiling the story for a friend. “Bringing on-demand to the cinema and having that people-powered element allows you to celebrate the shared experience of cinema.”

If that, perhaps, suggests a similar buzz to that when audiences emerge from a circus big top, marvelling at the trapeze artists and magicians they have just seen, Mr Cottle, for one, may recognise it instantly.

Going with the flow

Netflix and Amazon are set to overtake cinemagoing, according to PWC, which has predicted that revenues from streaming film and television shows will exceed box office takings in the UK by 2020 (Josephine Moulds writes).

Gerry Cottle Jr, founder of the Rooftop Film Club, argues that this is not as much of a concern for those in the cinema business as you might expect. “If the new Bond film comes out, never mind how big your TV is, it is not going to be the same sitting on your sofa. You want to get out there and watch it in the cinema with your friends.”

He pointed to some of the Rooftop Film Club’s most popular film screenings: Top Gun, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Back to the Future, all of which are easily accessible on streaming services.

Ian Cartwright, co-founder of Ourscreen, sees cinemas evolving to show more diverse content: “It’s not just a film venue, it’s a venue for people to have a shared experience. That for me is beyond film; it’s a place to get together to experience great entertainment, whether that be film, music, sport or gaming.”

Source: The Times

Image: Gerry Cottle Jr’s Rooftop Film Club was “born out of the mundaneness of the multiplex experience” in 2011
TIMES PHOTOGRAPHER JACK HILL

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