2015 Box Office So Far

Second Best Marigold didn't let us down.

Second Best Marigold didn’t let us down.

Incredibly we are already half way through year we’ve all agreed here in the west to call 2015.

So what are the ten top performing films of the year so far? Nobody who reads this blog regularly will be surprised to learn it bears only a passing resemblance to the national top ten.

I’ve put the national placing in brackets.

1.The Second Best Marigold Hotel (10)
Another massive success for the old ducks in India, more of the same of course, but crowd pleasing colourful stuff. Please get a move on and make number three, just saying.

2. The Theory of Everything (5)
An Oscar for Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking and good work all round bringing a complex story to a mainstream audience.

3. Far From The Madding Crowd (21)
Wonderful looking and affecting adaptation of old happy chops Hardy’s novel. Still hanging on.

4. Shaun the Sheep (12)
Tremendous, inventive fun from Aardman animation.

5. Paddington (1 – in 2014)
So massive in Uckfield that despite starting in November 2014, it has still made the half year top 10. Incredible.

6. Cinderella (6)
Rather anodyne take on the traditional fairytale. Desperate not to offend or upset anyone.

7. Home (4)
I quite literally have nothing to say about this film. You lot seemed to like it.

8. Testament of Youth (35!)
Solid if slightly passionless take on Vera Brittain’s classic tale of a generation lost to war.

9. Fifty Shades of Grey (3)
There was a film. Lots of ladies came to see it.

10. Big Hero 6 (7)
Agreeable and painfully right on animated adventure.

I suppose the notable absences are Avengers: Age of Ultron, the number one film in the UK so far this year comes in 12th us. Furious 7 the number 2 picture is  our number 27!

For what it’s worth the films I’ve enjoyed most so far this year, bearing in mind I’m a bit behind having been looking after the restaurant for the early months of the year. In the mainstream, Mad Max was bonkers fun and as a big Sondheim fan I was always going to enjoy Into The Woods. A Most Violent Year and Taxi have been my favourites otherwise. My biggest personal disappointment has to be Inherent Vice.

The second half of the year is going to be all about James Bond and Star Wars of course, but look out for Suffragette, Bridge of Spies and the startling looking adaptation of Macbeth with Michael Fassbender. The summer’s biggest hits for the family are bound to be Minions and new Pixar, Inside Out.

NT Live continues to be hugely popular with Uckfield audiences.

NT Live continues to be hugely popular with Uckfield audiences.

Live opera, ballet, theatre and all the like are now a huge part of our core programming, and these are the top performing events.

1. View From The Bridge (NT Live)
2. Pirates of Penzance (ENO)
3. Merry Widow (MET)
4. Cavalleria Rusticana (MET)
5. La Boheme (ROH)

Obviously the opening of the restaurant has been a seismic event and so far very successful, we also continue to refurbish, admittedly at a slower rate than I would have liked, but we’re getting there. Screen two will reopen on July 10th and trust me it’s going to be as sexy as the previous two refurbished screens. Then we move on to the foyer, at last.

So all in all a pretty groovy half year, with potentially the best half to come. Well done everybody!

Ah, Mr Bond, we’ve been expecting you.

If it’s not film, what is it?

It’s impossible to overstate what a seismic technical change has gone on behind the scenes in the last few years. Out went the physical medium of film, in came the ones and zeros of digital picture technology. It’s a change on a par with the coming of sound in the late 20’s, and if you didn’t keep up and invest, you’d be left horribly behind.

Of course, some people held out longer than others. They are probably the ones still on the fence about whether they should get a website or not.

Inevitably though, and after long arguments about who was going to pay for it and horror stories about distributors controlling what screen their film is in and the performance times (which actually they could do, but have so far resisted) everyone has now gone digital.

Or more accurately DLP, data light processing. We use projectors capable of a maximum 2K resolution or 2048 x 1080. There are 4K projectors, with 4096 x 2160 resolution.

Our NEC2000C projector earlier.

Our NEC2000C projector earlier.

Now beware here, because although a lot of multiplexes are fond of telling you they have the latest 4K resolution technology and indeed they have 4K  capable projectors, that doesn’t mean you are seeing a 4K picture. The vast majority of releases are 2K, with only a handful a year in 4K.

Obfuscation really is one of my least favourite things in the world, that and red cabbage.

Anyhoo. Are you still with me? Have you glazed over yet? I just wanted to give you a broad idea of what has replaced film in a practical sense. So here goes.

Instead of a pile of heavy old cans, the film now arrives either on a physical hard drive, like the ones in your computer, or increasingly down the broadband lines coming into our servers.

Either way, that collection of data is called a DCP. If you want an in depth look inside the exciting world of the DCP click here. The DCP contains all the sound and picture information, and once delivered to us we have to get that information onto our projectors.

Here’s a handsome young man to show you how.

So once that film is “ingested” as we say it just requires a KDM or key to unlock it as it won’t play without one. The KDM is a digital file that tells the projector and server that it’s allowed to play that film.

KDM’s are the pointless work of the devil and whoever invented them should be summarily executed. But as the kids so often say these days, let’s not go there right now.

They come separately from the feature and once loaded on the server they enable the film to play. But there is a lot more to do before we let you guys see it. We need to add adverts, trailers and automation queues.

I love automation, after five years of it I’m still staggered when the lights go down and the curtains open, ALL BY THEMSELVES!

So here is a playlist:

A playlist earlier.

A playlist earlier.

We create the playlist on an incredible bit of software that controls all the projectors from a central point. It’s called a TMS. Theatre Management System, it’s fantastic. It means I can sit at my desk all day like Baron Greenback overlooking the technical marvel I have created with only £160,000. Did I mention this stuff is expensive?

On the left are the elements, adverts, coming soon snipes,trailers and the feature. The black is to be able to use queues with no picture on the screen. On the right are the queues, so you can see start show, tabs close etc. The zero point is the start and you can see that the performance ends 2hrs 41 minutes and 50 seconds after the start. Lovely.

Here you can see the playlist playing on the Doremi server attached to the projector:

Mad Max playlist playing on the server.

Mad Max playlist playing on the server.

 

We have to make a playlist for each film playing that week and then add them to a timeline on the TMS. This then disseminates content and playlists to the designated projector.

It’s witchery plain and simple.

Here is today’s films on the time line:

Today's timeline on the Theatre Management System.

Today’s timeline on the Theatre Management System.

And that’s it, we arrive in the morning and fire up the projectors and the TMS and the automation does the rest for the whole day.

Now, the technology is wonderful, but still a wee bit flaky. Sometimes queues don’t fire leaving us with picture and no sound say. Which is why I believe to maintain standards having technical people on the building is a must. Sadly most circuits have got rid of all their projectionists, running everything from a central hub. I guess they have worked out it’s cheaper to lose a show or two here and there and give refunds rather than pay someone who knows what they are doing to run the box properly.

Ok, did you get all that?

Any questions?

Buried Treasure

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Facebook followers will have seen this already, but last week while removing the old worn out floor from screen two, previously the balcony in the single screen days, we found an old programme from November 1941. Quite a thrill. Not so much because of it’s age, I have some that are older, but because it’s been sitting under there all those years, waiting to be discovered.

It also comes from a time when cinema was a very important part of life in the Britain. This was a dark time, it was in November 1941 the Ark Royal was sunk off Gibraltar and the Nazi attack on Russia was in full flight. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was a few weeks away, finally bringing the United States into the war.

I wonder who was it that dropped the programme? Someone local, someone who still lives in the town, or someone who went off to war to die? We’ll never know, but holding it in my hand this week, particularly in light of the V.E day celebrations, it feels like a direct physical connection with that far off, yet still vivid time in our history.

It’s a minor piece of ephemera of course, but it’s a wonderful window on an era when cinema wasn’t just the place to see newsreel footage, it was also a vital form of escapism. The ability of cinema to transport you from your own life and it’s troubles, the delicious vicariousness of the big screen was at it’s most essential during the grim times of war.

How incredibly exotic Down Argentine Way must have appeared, in glorious three strip Technicolor. A colour process that made ladies lips glow an irresistible scarlet and the impossible glamour of a Buenos Aires nightclub, so far from bomb ravaged southern England, come vividly to life.

Remember, no T.V then, no constant barrage of entertainment round the clock. To go shopping for the meagre rations the people of Britain lived on at the time and stop off to watch a couple of hours of handsome Don Ameche  making love to sweetheart Betty Grable must have been not merely diverting, but positively invigorating. Unless it had the opposite effect of merely underlining the desperate situation we were in. I doubt it though, cinema rarely seems to work in that way.

Some of the films are lost in time, some of them were old favourites returning as second features, such as Ronald Coleman’s Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond in Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back.

Because in those days, you got two films for the price of one. There’s another British favourite in the cockney detective played by Gordon Harker, Inspector Hornleigh, another colourful musical,  Tin Pan Alley with Susan Hayward, actually retitled for UK cinemas from it’s US title With a Song in My Heart.

The plot of Public Deb No 1 has to be one of the most bizarre listed on IMDB.  “When a waiter gives a society girl a public spanking for attending a Communist rally, her soup-tycoon uncle makes the waiter a vice-president of his company.” As elevator pitches go, you have to say it’s original.

The eagle eyed among you will notice the second feature for that show is Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise. Inconceivable as a portrayal of a US Chinese today, nevertheless the detective series was incredibly popular during the thirties and forties. Sydney Toler would play him in no less than 11 Charlie Chan films, proving that Hollywood’s propensity to repetition is certainly nothing new.

The best film that month, by some margin, is The Mark of Zorro. A 24 carat classic, the swashbuckling story of  a young 19th century aristocrat, Don Diego Vega, who leads a double life in Mexican California. By day the foppish son of wealthy land owners, by night as El  Zorro, the righter of wrongs and the champion of the common people.

A top drawer 20th Century Fox production, produced by the great Daryll F Zanuck himself and directed by Robert Mamoulian, it really is rip roaring, sword fighting fun, not least because of the tremendous central performance by Tyrone Power and a fantastic moustache twirling baddie played by the inimitable Basil Rathbone. If you’ve never seen it then I urge you to seek it out, it beats the pants off the Antonio Banderas version and invents the dual identity concept copied by Batman all those years later.


You may also notice we weren’t open Sundays then either, in fact it was my father who finally started opening Sundays in the mid sixties. Also the concept of continuous performances is something almost impossible to describe to people today, the idea that you came in at any point and could sit round until the point you arrived. Very strange, but there’s another blog post in that.

It’s almost impossible to imagine us showing The Mark of Zorro as a run of the mill thing, being the classic it is, but we did. That’s what I find one of the most affecting things about such an innocuous looking piece of cardboard, I have a direct line back to that time as the person looking after the cinema now and programming the films. The man listed on the front as proprietor, P V Reynolds, is the previous incumbent to us and he took it from the original owner.

It also illustrates how relentlessly the old girl has sat at the top of the hill presenting the world in all it’s glory to the people of Uckfield and it’s surrounding towns and villages. Through the good times and, as then, through the bad, sometimes taken for granted but more often treasured by the local community.

So as I look at this thing that has survived, like both Britain and The Picture House, against all the odds, if it’s not to grand a thing to say, I feel just a little of the weight of history, and I feel proud.

Off we go again.

Grubs up.

Grubs up.

Ereiamjh. (Name the film for a bonus point.) I have emerged blinking into the sunlight, a full six months after making what turned out to be the monumental decision to acquire the restaurant over the road.

Having run restaurants before I can’t imagine why I didn’t think me and my family’s life wouldn’t be turned upside down.

Half a year down the road we have started to build something quite groovy over there. Inevitably not everyone agrees, but that’s the nature of business. Most people though, seem to think we are doing a good job.

What Tansy, my wife, and I want to do is make this part of the high street a genuine destination for the complete night out. Dinner, movie, me talking bollocks. What more could you possibly want?

Anyhoo, enough of the propaganda, brain washing marketing tosh. I’m back in the land of the living, older, wiser and recovering from plantar fasciitis. That’s a bad foot to you.

Six months on my feet every night did it in. It’s getting better now though, thank you. Our new restaurant manager, Gary, is doing a fine job, which means I can go back to doing what I do best, sitting around cooking up more plans to improve our lovely cinema.

Which also means the refurb we started in 2014 can now continue. Screen two has now closed and will emerge in six weeks as dead sexy as the other two theatres we finished last year. Increased legroom, those lovely seats and the best picture and sound around.

I have to say I’m so proud of the screen one and three. They have turned out so well. Screen one particularly is a marvel, with the larger screen and 7.1 sound. I sometimes just go in there and sit and look. Is that a bit weird?

Screen One Done 2

Screen One earlier today.

 

Inevitably the restaurant has sucked up a lot of the resources we were going to spend on the foyer, but we will still be tarting that up. New bar/kiosk, groovy new decor, that sort of thing. All being well we should be finished by the middle of the summer. Then I’m going to have a lie down.

Anyway, I’m back, and as belligerent as ever.

I’ll post more refurb pictures as we go.

Kev. X

Refurb Update

The old girl is undergoing a facelift.

The old girl is undergoing a facelift.

Work is well underway, colours picked out and the new seats are apparently in a container on their way through the Suez canal. Given how it looks, it seems impossible that screen one will be finished around October half term, but hopefully it will.

The Facebook page is proving very popular and gives a nice timeline of the work so far, it’s also a chance for people to interact and give their opinions about what’s going on.

Pile of Seats!

Pile of Seats!

First to come up were the seats. My boy Joe and his mates toiled all night and did a great job, while I slept soundly in my bed. It’s good to be the king.

Notice just how Coca Cola stained the carpet had become, and this was only cleaned about six weeks before we started. The new seats have cup holders which should reduce that problem.

Screen comes down.

Screen comes down.

Then it was time for Powell & Co to pop in and take the screen and frame down. I would have done it, but would have probably killed myself and everybody else in the room. The speakers have gone into storage to avoid putting a foot through them.

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All the timber surrounding the stage is out.

Old stage area now almost gone.

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Screen and staging gone, floor coming out.

Cleared and ready to take up the floor.

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Joists revealed. Weird.

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Looking house right.

Taking the screen and stage out revealed the old colour scheme from when I was a kid and it was all one big (ish) cinema.

Sadly I have no pictures of the single screen auditorium. We will be on the hunt for them next year as we prepare for the 2016 centenary celebrations.

Annotated-Building-Site!

Echoes of versions past.

With floor right out, many of the original features were revealed. Remember the screen was on the wall to the right of the picture in the single screen days.
I posted this annotated picture on our Facebook page.

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Joanna repository.

This is a close up of the well where the piano went during the silent days, which has been hidden under the floor for 35 years.

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Extra wallage.

We’e had problems since the advent of turbo nutter six channel digital sound with breakthrough between screen one and two, which is actually the old balcony.

This new, incredibly dense (and expensive!) second wall between the theatres will eliminate most of those problems. I hope.

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Door.

So the old entrance to screen one is now blocked by the extra wall. As part of the larger plan a new corridor will serve all the screens and the toilets, the new door into screen one off the existing corridor is the start of that process.

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Scissor brothers.

The soundproof wall is now finished and the chaps make good the last remaining gap. This is the boxed in area that will house the new curtain and masking tracks.

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At last.

Now the new, all stepped, groovy floor is finally going in. You can see that the back row will be quite a bit higher than before from the outline of the old one!

 

Meanwhile, outside…

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Redecorating and new roof tiles on the turret.  Also awaiting a replacement for the gnarled and rotten old flag pole.

Sunday 12th October sees the closure of screen three and the work on the new air conditioning begins.

So far so good, and by the first week in November we will have two refurbished screens out of three.

Good job I’ve got a full head of hair, For the moment.

Punch Drunk Love

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In non refurbishment related news, I’ve just returned from my first visit to the Toronto International Film Festival. I know that probably looks like a dereliction of duty, given the chaos we’re currently in, but don’t worry I left the place in capable hands.

Toronto seemed like a really groovy place, sadly I didn’t get to see much of it. I sat through 26 films in 6 days. Most people seem horrified at the idea, but for me it was hog heaven. My natural habitat, the inside of a cinema.

Believe me when I tell you, I watched some of these films so you don’t have to and there’s no chance of them ever playing. Sadly the current climate of fear around posting negative comments about studio films prevents me from naming them. They’re watching.

What I can tell you is to look out for a few titles that are so far up our street, they’ve put down an offer on a house in Ridgewood and enrolled the kids at Harlands.

Among that group are The Imitation Game in which Benedict Cumberbatch gives a moving performance as Enigma code breaker Alan Turing ably supported by Keira Knightley and Charles Dance. If it doesn’t quite face up to the way Britain treated Turing, it’s still an affecting and hugely entertaining piece of work.

Another Oscar baiting turn is given by Eddie Redmayne as Professor Stephen Hawking in the very neatly packaged The Theory of Everything. He really does inhabit the part and looks eerily like Hawking all through the picture. Both Theory and Imitation game are 3-4 hankie films, so come prepared.

The really big one for us though is Mr Turner, Mike Leigh’s beautiful rendition of landscape painter JMW Turner. It features a towering, sensitive and utterly convincing central performance by Timothy Spall who was rightly lauded at Cannes, where he picked up the best actor prize. An Oscar nom is a certainty.

Whiplash is great fun , the story of a music student who dreams of becoming one of the great jazz drummers. He encounters the worlds toughest teacher played wonderfully by J.K Simmons and comes to learn you should be careful what you wish for.

Honourable mentions for Nightcrawler, featuring a bug eyed emaciated Jake Gyllenhaal as a sociopathic, ambulance chasing video news gatherer. Foxcatcher is a strange and uncomfortable film with Steve Carell and St Vincent is tremendously entertaining, not least because we get to watch Bill Murray do what Bill Murray does best for 90 minutes.

One of my particular favourites  was Peter Strickland’s latest exercise in 70’s nostalgia The Duke of Burgundy. I can’t see it being a huge commercial hit, but those who seek it out will be rewarded with a unique tale of a testing lesbian relationship set in an unspecified time and an unspecified place that looks like a Silverkrin hairspray commercial from 1974. It’s amazingly entertaining, even if you don’t fully appreciate the references to 70’s European exploitation cinema. It stars Borgen favourite Sidse Babett Knudsen.

All these films should be released over the next 3 or 4 months. Lucky us. So despite lack of tourist based activity, a very successful trip. And we sat next to Adam Sandler in the pub. I didn’t tell him about how his films are banned in my cinema.

Next year I’ll try and hit 30 films, and make an effort to go up the CN Tower.

 

Here goes then, point of no return approaches.

Screen One earlier today.

Screen One earlier today.

 

Tonight (August 28th 2014) we close the number one screen and start ripping out the seats. At this point, there’s no going back. I’m spending ½ million pounds, not much if you say it quickly. Actually it is quite a lot, I’ll still be paying it back when I peg out probably.

It’s been a long time coming this refurbishment, mainly due to a combination of indecision and health and safety gone mad stuff. I reckon it was much easier building Ely cathedral, so you had to hang from rickety wooden scaffolding and a few surfs died in the process, but anyone who’s had a nice picnic on the lawn surely agrees that’s a small price to pay.

The work will be in two phases. Phase one, starting tonight, involves the complete refurbishment of screens one and three. Screen one is being utterly gutted, floor out and screen coming down. This will expose the dividing wall between screen one and two, where we have the worst sound proofing problems.

When we converted to two screens in 1977, creaky old mono sound barely got to the back row, let alone through a wall into another room, however, with multi-channel turbo nutter digital sound it needs sorting out. Two noisy films don’t cause too much of a problem, but if Thor is banging his hammer in one and Judi Dench is having a quiet cup of tea in the other the rumbling in the background sounds like a distant war.

To fix this everything is coming off the front wall of screen one and we are building another soundproof wall from floor to roof, isolating the two halves of the building. Lord Dench should then be able to enjoy her tea in peace.

When this is done a new floor goes down, introducing steps all the way as opposed to the back four rows, this will make the back row higher. New carpet and dead sexy new seats. The new seats have cup holders at last, and I’m taking a row out to improve the legroom.

The entrance is being moved to the side, meaning we can take the curtains and screens all the way across the front wall. This means a bigger picture and with the groovy acoustic fabric going on the walls, watching a film in there is going to be an even more wonderful experience. I also intend to upgrade the sound to 7.1.

 

Phase one plan. Great reading for builders and architects, probably confusing for everyone else.

Phase one plan. Great reading for builders and architects, probably confusing for everyone else.

 

Screen three will also have new seats, carpets and acoustic treatment. I’m raising the screen up a bit to improve the sightlines and a new air conditioning system that will be much quieter.

Once all that is done we stop for Christmas. There are simply too many good films to have nay part of the building out of operation November to March. Once we have squeezed every last drop out of Marigold Hotel 2 the work will start again.

That’s the really challenging bit, completely removing all the walls in the foyer and building an extension on the north facing part of the building. We can then accommodate you all in more comfort and with the new bar we can offer the complete night out. At that point we refurbish screen two.

Then I pass out and retire to my bed until Christmas 2015.

The point of no return is always good to reach. When the work started on building number three in 1999, I remember clearly standing outside as a JCB gently nudged the back of the building off, thinking there’s no going back now.

It’s oddly calming, because from this point on the only way out is to finish.

Wish me luck.