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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.

 

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.

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The first part of the year is always a good one for us as all the distributors release their top-drawer awards baiting fare. Generally these films are catnip for my lovely, sophisticated, and let’s face it, demanding patrons and we’ve been bursting at the seams with 12 Years a Slave, The Railway Man and Mandela.

Inevitably when distributors decide to release all the films we could happily play at exactly the same time, something is going to get left out, and some people are going to get grumpy. It’s the way of things.

American Hustle is one such film.

Let me take you now in to the dark, arcane world of film booking by way of justification.

When booking a film there are several main criteria, the first being a subjective judgment about whether it will take money in my cinema. I’m not always right, sometimes I’m spectacularly wrong, but given my length of service I hope I understand my audience better than anyone.

It’s also important to consider what impact that film will have on those dated around it, both before and after. A film may well be worth a punt, but if it means taking a film off to accommodate it we judge will do better, then it becomes more risky.

There could be be an important film dated behind it as well, so I can’t commit to the two week playing time usually demanded by the distributor. All of this is irrelevant of course if you have fifteen screens. Then you can do what you like.

The glut of product at certain times definitely gives multiplexes an advantage, although ironically most of the awards baiting product does far better in situations like Uckfield. When the opposite is true, i.e there are no decent films released then that’s how we end up with dumb films about robots hitting each other.

Sometimes we ‘re in the position of picking the best one for us, sometimes picking the least worst.

Back to American Hustle.

I should also bring Inside Llewyn Davis into to the discussion. I can’t say we’ve had many enquiries for it, but it’s a good film and under less crowded circumstances would definitely have played.

American Hustle is also a fine film, however without the advantage of hindsight, it was far less Uckfield than the other three films on offer. I could have dated Hustle the week it came out, but only for a week as Railway Man and 12 Years a slave were sitting right behind it and I couldn’t take Mandela off after just one week. We also had to allow The Hobbit to run for a week after Christmas. It’s a nightmare!

So American Hustle had to go.

That’s no reflection on the film, but given how indifferently we did with Silver Linings Playbook  (same director and cast) and how confident about 12 Years A Slave I was, that’s the decision I made. So shoot me. I’m just trying to do the right thing OK?

I know we have lost some customers to the opposition, which is frankly a bit disappointing. However, given the awards traction and the requests we are getting it will play at some point. I don’t like playing films late, but that’s a whole other blog entry.

I’m writing this on the opening Friday of August: Osage County. All of the above applies and I made the decision that Llewyn Davis was the one that had to go. I figured Meryl Streep chewing the scenery was going to be far more attractive to my audience than the hipster folk singer shtick of the Cohen brothers.

Let’s check back in a week or so to see if I was right shall we?

You wait all year for a new blog post and then two come along at the same time.

It’s not been a bad year at all, I assumed we would see quite a dip without the behemoth that was Skyfall but the combined power of The Dench in Philomena and Gravity sort of filled the gap. We love The Dench.

So here are our top films of the year, once again we run contrary to the national chart, which can be found here in Charles Gant’s really brilliant Guardian Box Office column.

I don’t think there are too many cinemas out there that recorded Quartet as the second biggest film of the year. Planet Uckfield again.

What we clumsily call Alternative Content or the preferred Event Cinema, is the big news box office wise. Live opera, ballet and particularly theatre now account for over 15% of our ticket sales. The top titles in 2013 were: 1. The Audience 2. Richard II 3. Othello 4. People 5. Nabucco 6. This House 7. The Magistrate.

As you can see, apart from Nabucco they are all NT Live, remarkable. This side of things is only going to grow.

So here are the top films for 2013, I sincerely hope you enjoyed those you saw and that 2014 will be equally groovy.

Happy New Year everyone!

1. Les Miserables

1. Les Miserables

More emoting than has ever been put on the big screen.
A film that starts at 11 and pretty much stays there. Our biggest film by quite some margin.

2. Quartet

2. Quartet

More feisty veteran acting than has ever been put on the big screen.
If they’re going to make a sequel they should probably pull their finger out.

3. Despicable Me 2

3. Despicable Me 2

The number one film everywhere else. Despicable Me 3 an inevitability.

4. Philomena

4. Philomena

More Judi Dench than has ever been put on the big screen.
Even they can’t make a sequel to this one.

5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Hello and welcome to the middle of the film.
It’s had to go some to make number 5 given it only opened on Dec 13th.

6. Lincoln

6. Lincoln

More Oscar winning stove pipe hats than have ever been put on the big screen.
Sequel also unlikely.

7. Captain Phillips

7. Captain Phillips

Wobbly cam based action thriller. Oscars likely.

8. The Great Gatsby

8. The Great Gatsby

Baz Lurhmann’s bonkers adaptation of the beloved novel.

9. Frozen

9. Frozen

More Disney Princess based entertainment.
Also had to go some as it only started December 6th.

10. Gravity

10. Gravity

The film that even I would recommend in 3D. Staggering stuff.

And the wooden spoon for lowest seven day gross? The Fifth Estate. Shudders.

K

New Ground Floor Layout. Subject to tweaking of course.

New Ground Floor Layout. Subject to tweaking of course.

The sharp eyed among you will have noticed we submitted a planning application to Wealden District Council which has now been granted and after Easter 2014 we can start our big refurbishment.

There are two main objectives, the first being an overall refit, decor, seats, carpet, that sort of thing. It’s been a twelve years since we did any significant work and whilst still lovely, the place needs a refresh. When we are done the old girl will be even more gorgeous.

The second and radical part of the plan is a completely resigned  foyer and new entrance corridor to the theaters.

If you’re a regular customer you will know the foyer layout is not favourite. As soon as it gets busy, nothing moves and there’s no space to buy drinks and generally hang around. It’s intimate to say the least.

The kiosk is also outdated and a wee bit gnarly if I’m honest. The bar sales part is rather apologetic and not especially appealing, so Sean Albuquerque of ABQ Studio architects has come up with a plan so cunning etc.

In very simple terms we are going to remove the old, rarely used box office and make that the way up from the front door into the foyer. The old kiosk will be removed and a new entrance to the theatres will appear there, turning left into a new extension housing a wider corridor along the north side of the building. All the theatres and the toilets will be accessed from this new extension.

Foot traffic will no longer need to go through the centre of the foyer, meaning we can build a big sexy new bar along the back of the foyer with room to linger. I also plan to improve some of  the acoustics in the theatres.

It’s all very exciting and once I get the costs locked down, I can go and do the dance of the seven veils in front of the financiers. It’s not going to be cheap, seats alone are over £100 each, but by next summer we should be in great shape to meet the demands of modern audiences for both film and the increasingly important live events.

We’ve also been working hard on the new membership scheme that is going to be rather fab and a massive new design of the website. No wonder there’s been no time to blog properly, this isn’t as easy as it looks you know.

Keep checking back or better still subscribe for updates to the madness, stress, tears and triumph that is going to be 2014.

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Waiting in the rain for the excellent Selfish Giant. Cannes 2013. Go me.

Thanks for asking. There’s been all sorts going on around here, not least the latest version of the refurbishment plans which are a step closer to being ready for submission. Very exciting and when I can tell you more I will.

I went to Cannes last week which was very pleasant, when it finally stopped raining. Met lots of wonderful people and managed to see some good films, most of them will never see the inside of a commercial cinema, some of them are lucky to have seen the inside of a cinema at all.

The Cannes film festival always feels to me like one of those inside the industry things that a lot of people spend a lot of money swanking around, feeling very self important and rushing to get their opinions out on TwitBook or whatever, while the rest of the world doesn’t give a flying Dingo’s kidney.  Acres of print coverage, web blogs, live text updates and reports from the red carpet.

Here’s a test, industry types are not allowed to compete and you have to answer without Google.

1. What won the Palme d’or last year?

2. Name one other film that has won a Palme d’or.

3. Name four of the films in competition this year.

4. Who was the head of the Jury this year?

You might get the last one, but there is a good reason for that, he’s the most famous film director in the world. My theory’s not in the least scientific or even tested if I’m honest, but I reckon if you stopped 30 people in the street you’d be hard pressed to find one correct answer. In fact, I’m not sure I can answer.

1. I think that long one about the nuns won last year or was it Amour?

2. Something by Michael Haneke probably. Or Jean Luc Goddard.

3. Now, I think I can do this. Nebraska definitely because I saw that one, it was great. The Cohen brothers film, whose name escapes me, probably blotted it out because I queued for hours twice and didn’t get in. Only God Forgives was certainly one. How many is that? Three? There must be one non American film I can think of. I’m struggling. The lesbian one? I don’t think that was in the main competition. Arse.

4. Steven Spielberg! Come on, you’d have to be an idiot not to know that.

It’s not that I can’t look them up, God knows that would be easy, but I can’t remember off the top of my head. That might have something to do with turning 50 of course.

The other thing about Cannes is that it’s full of young men and women, most of them expensively educated, running around taking important meetings about their slate of films and non of them will produce a single film, ever.

Still it’s nice we all get to go on a jolly and feel very special, and it proves just how much more exciting our lives are than every one else’s.

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression, I had a brilliant time. Great food, even better company and I wasn’t in Uckfield. Who could want more?

I was just making a general point that it’s nothing like as important as everyone there thinks it is, that’s all.

If you want to know what did actually happen at Cannes this year, unfiltered by my whinging load of self loathing, I can recommend The Guardian film pages. They saw everything, at least twice, and were probably invited to every party. Unlike me. I wonder why?

Oooh look, I'm on film!

Oooh look, I’m on film!

As of April 2013 75% of the world’s cinemas have converted to digital and at the speed it’s going I would imagine that number has already increased considerably. I saw some figures at the recent Digital Cinema Conference that indicate the UK was sitting at 91% digital as long ago as January.

Any cinemas sitting on the fence, and incredibly there are still one or two, are going to have to pull their finger out. Almost certainly by the end of 2013 most of the major distributors will have made the decision to drop 35mm film imminently or have done so already.

A cinema without digital projection by the end of this year is doomed. Fortunately we went completely digital three years ago, one of the first multi screen independants to do so.

Three years is not long at all, but 35mm feels like a lifetime ago. The prospect of going back to film would be horrific. If it was discovered that digital projectors were ticking time bombs that could destroy the high street at any moment and all film projectors had to be restored, I would give serious consideration to changing my career. Something that would be less traumatic, say like cutting old ladies toe nails in the local retirement home.

Not having to lump the heavy transit cases up and down the stairs alone is a cause for rejoicing along with the other physical requirements which make every performance a potential hazard.

Perhaps I overstate the last point, but the fact I can run all three screens without leaving my office chair is perfect for a lazy git such as myself. I can even run the show from my iPhone should I so desire. Truly the future is now.

Inevitably though, the Luddites and nostalgia fans have already come out of the woodwork. I must admit to being rather surprised at just how quickly.

Already some cinemas are promoting 35mm screenings as if they are both special and superior. They pick themselves up a scratchy old join riddled print of say, Silent Running, and promote it as cause for celebration.

A celebration of all that is good about cinema. To paraphrase Adam Buxton, nonsense! nonsense! nonsense!

Everytime I sit and watch a film in my cinema I’m still staggered at how bright and sharp the picture is. How it doesn’t have marks on it and it doesn’t jump up and down. The framing remains constant and it doesn’t change colour every twenty minutes.

Film looks fantastic, when all the elements are right. When the laboratory work is spot on, which it rarely was in the last few years. When a popcorn monkey let loose in the projection box hadn’t inadvertently used the print as a stair carpet.  When the lamp was correctly lined up, the portholes and lenses were clean and the intermittent shaft wasn’t bent out of shape and the sprocket teeth not worn down to a nub.

Am I getting a bit technical? Sorry.

The point is that it’s very difficult for cinemas to sod up digital. Which is why it’s perfect for multiplexes, where often no one ever bothers looking out of the porthole to check the picture is actually on the screen let alone in focus or framed correctly.

It makes the customers experience far more consistently good. Which is the most important thing, not how much you like mucking about with strips of plastic.

Where has this affectation about 35mm come from? It feels pretentious and ill informed. 35mm projection is not better than digital projection, you may prefer it, but it’s not better, and the benefits far outweigh the perceived losses. I’m not even sure what we have lost, can someone explain?

There will always be a nostalgia for film, because it’s in the past. Like rationing and ricketts.

But don’t you dare suggest my cinema is inferior because I merely show films digitally.

I bet you probably paid £50 for an HDMI lead too.

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