Confidence in Me

Back from LA, and it’s all still here. Saw a few films out there including the much vaunted Super 8 and the much vaunted, in certain circles, Tree of Life. Both seemed to promise more than they deliver, which is not to say they’re bad films by any means. Maybe it’s my age, I sometimes miss the wide-eyed wonder with which I watched films as kid.

The two films I enjoyed the most were Senna, which I hadn’t had a chance to see in the UK and Woody Allen’s latest, Midnight in Paris. The Woody Allen is kind of silly, a sort of intellectual Goodnight Sweetheart and isn’t for everybody but it had enough echos of vintage Woody to be hugely satisfying. It reminded me of being fourteen and thinking how sophisticated I must be for preferring Annie Hall over Star Wars.

I saw Midnight in Paris as well as the rather overdone French-Canadian picture Incendies at the Laemmle cinema in Santa Monica, there are several in Los Angeles and they specialise in art house films that don’t play the mainstream theatres. In truth they’re rather run down and in desperate need of some tender loving care, but as I sat watching trailers for a bunch of interesting looking future attractions I admit to feeling a kind of stabbing envy.

I’d much rather be playing these interesting films than suffering through another week of woeful business on Green Lantern.

Now this is a potentially dangerous line of thought, a lot of people like these films and It’s not for me to look down my nose at people who do.

Cinema was built on mass wide appeal pictures, but the audience I have for this type of stuff is limited or at least exhausts itself very quickly, completely at odds with the national picture.

We seem to be caught in some sort of cinema going parallel universe.  If every film were constructed around monarchy, set during the war or featured ladies of a certain age murdering Abba songs I’d be typing this from my hot tub in the Hollywood hills.  Sadly, or thankfully probably, this isn’t the case.

It appears our audience has narrowed to the point where ordinary films just don’t drum up enough business. Sure we’ll do huge numbers with Harry Potter and Cars 2 but our weekend take on Bridesmaids for instance was only OK. I’m sure multiplex managers are struggling to cope with the onslaught. For these mainstream films we effectively have the families, or the kids that can’t escape to the bigger towns because they can’t drive. Never fully understood that, we’re cheaper than the circuit opposition, our picture is always in focus and our sound is definitely set at the correct level. The older audience are simply not interested at all.

On the flip side The King’s Speech did business way, way above what would be expected in a town this small, so it’s not as if people aren’t out there and it’s not as if they won’t come if there’s a film they want to see. It’s just the films they want to see fall into a very narrow category. Or maybe I’m playing the wrong films.

Sadly it’s not that simple, basically Bridesmaids was pretty much my only option this week. I could have played Potiche last week, and in fact had it dated but the distributor in their wisdom decided to take it out to protect some of their other bookings.  Being digital there was no excuse for this, but I didn’t put up a huge fight as I couldn’t be sure it was worth it. You have to choose your battles carefully at times.

We’ve sold huge numbers of tickets for the upcoming Met Opera season, which doesn’t start until October. The Cherry Orchard, live from The National has sold out two screens on Thursday. This is all fantastic but too infrequent to bet the farm on. The entire Met season last year grossed what one very big film would, but took eleven months to do it.

So I suppose I’m asking a pretty huge question. Should I eschew the Hollywood mainstream and try going down the art house route? The answer I suspect lies somewhere in between, but  first week mainstream fayre is not something that’s easy to give up.  And let’s face it Mamma Mia and King’s Speech were pretty much as mainstream as it gets.

Another, perhaps more salient question, is my reach exceeding my grasp?

When all is said and done Uckfield is a town of 15,000 people, we punch way above our weight and having all these highfaluting ideas may not be appropriate for what is in effect a small town provincial cinema.  I’ve just spent a fortune on new digital projectors making us capable of screening films to a standard often much higher than the opposition, maybe I overdid it?

However, if I kept at it I might be able to build something quite special. I certainly don’t want to make it sound like things are really bad, they aren’t, but I suspect I could do better.

Maybe this post is too candid but I’m confused and I’d like to hear some opinions, and the idea of this blog is to give an insight into the dark corners of my cinema owner mind. Scary isn’t it?


10 thoughts on “Confidence in Me

  1. Great post Kevin…. Stick to your instinct for quality and they will come I say.

    And please keep this blog up too – it’s very entertaining and insightful.

  2. I used to live in Chichester. Admittedly Chichester is a bit bigger than Uckfield, but it also has a big multiplex cinema in addition to the wonderful New Park Cinema. Their model was to show interesting cinema, supplemented by films that were at the end of their run (“another chance to see”). But, being run largely by goodwill and less by the need to profit, I suspect their business model is rather different to yours.

    • The Chichester model is quite different, you’re right. This cinema is my living and needs to make a healthy profit, which by and large we do. It’s the ups and downs that cause the problems. It cost the same to open however many people you have in and boy does the tank empty quickly during a quiet period.

  3. I trust your instincts, Kevin. Stick with them.

    For the record I’ve been to Chichester once – to see the first Salander film when you were slow to book it. One of the very few times I’ve disagreed with you. Much prefer Picture House to Chichester complex.

  4. It’s all about squaring the circle, I suppose. Somehow or other Harry Potter 23 and Green Lantern Part 49 have to subsidise Midnight In Paris or Incendies. However, if it’s any consolation, my teenage kids and their teenage friends who come from all over Sussex, love the Picture House. To them, it’s cool: quite an accolade. They like everything about it because it’s central to their social network. And it’s a family thing: I’ve been visiting the Picture House for what seems like forever and still love it. The digital projectors were an exceptionally bold move and can only be applauded. We’ve always had a good time there and we’ll continue to support it over the multiplexes. Um … could we have a film noir festival one day?

  5. My favourite picture house and there’s usually a group of us from as far as Brighton that visit regularly, age range 24 to 66, none of us live in Uckfield. Its a fabulous treat to visit your cinema for the evening.

    You’re right about the appalling food sold at the multiplexes.

    Just a thought, this may or may not be relevant, I watched the swedish version of ‘The Killing’ thinking that I was the only person who knew about this series, until I went to a friends house and was told that all the fairisle jumpers the detective wore were sold out as a consequence of how popular it was. I know that there’s a difference between tv and cinema but it seemed to indicate that there is a real thirst for more considered and longer productions, twenty four episodes may be a bit long, I’d have come to watch once a month, but I might have been the only one.
    Probably not relevant. Thank you.

    • Thanks for the kind comments, and thanks for your support, it means a lot.

      TV is not something we can show, not least because there is no rights management for TV shows in cinemas and probably more importantly the terms of a cinematograph license state that we can only show films passed by the BBFC.

  6. I’m a little late to this post, as I only discovered your blog yesterday. I’m not in the country more than a few months in every year, but while I am I almost exclusively drive over to your cinema with my brother and friends, when you’re showing a film I want to see. We live in Bexhill.

    As far as I’m concerned there’s no competition, and even though it takes 45 minutes or so each way, for me it’s worth it for your sound and picture alone.

    I think you have a good mix of films, and while there have been many times I’ve wished you were showing a film you probably weren’t able to, and ended up having to go to the Curzon in eastbourne (the *only* other cinema in the area I will voluntarily go to as my ‘backup’), I think it’s definitely a careful balancing act you’re needing to run.

    I’m heading back to the UK again this coming weekend — hence I was checking your site in preparation, and found your blog — so I look forward to driving over to Uckfield soon for another visual and aural treat!

    As an aside, I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog posts too. They’re very honest and as a result very interesting.

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