We’re Still Here Then?

 

 

I know, I know. Let’s crank this up again..

A strange year one way and another, started off better than any year has ever started, then took a steep nosedive. A slow period of recovery and then a stonking finish.

Because we’ve such a discerning audience, yes I mean you, January to March is always the best period of the year for us as all the award baiting stuff is released.

The football and Olympics did us no favours at all, not necessarily because audiences didn’t want to go to the pictures, but because the distributors abandoned us. Not one of them had the balls to release a decent film, instead using the time to dump their rubbish films on us.

Therefore no one in the cinemas and pretty much a self fulfilling prophecy all round. We even had two films open on a Monday in August to avoid the final Olympic weekend, which is bordering on insanity.

This means we’re supposed to survive on scraps but still be here warm, welcoming and paying through the nose when the perceived better date arrives to release films, and all of them at the same time. Everyone of them expecting all performances.

By that I mean no other film is allowed to play in that screen. Something that really is going to have to change if distribs continue to bunch films around certain dates like bees around a honeypot.

Particularly for sites like mine where we only have three screens.

Does it sound like I’m complaining? I am a wee bit I suppose, but in reality we’ve had a very good year. If the middle bit hadn’t let us down it would have broken every record going.

There’s no pleasing some people is there?

The end of the year has risen again to record breaking heights, mainly due of course, to Mr Bond. The live streaming of opera, ballet and theatre goes from strength to strength.

3D took a hammering. Audiences really do seem fed up with it.

Next post, up soon, I will detail our top ten films of 2012. Which you can be sure will not look anything like national chart.

Podcast is go!

I have been enjoying myself immensely presenting a radio show on the mighty Uckfield FM Monday nights from 9pm. I appreciate it’s not always possible for people to listen, at least that’s what they tell me.

So iTunes has now approved the podcast which leaves no excuse not to take me with you on your iPod.

Why have your shoulders dropped?

 

Click on this link for details.

Would be really lovely to have some feedback.

All Opinions Are My Own

No one could read anything into this picture. I hope.

Am I allowed to have a personal opinion? I’m in the business of selling films to the public, yes, but I’m also a passionate film buff.

Seriously, nobody loves movies more than me.

I was recently hauled over the coals by The Very Large Corporation of The World for proffering a rather mild opinion online about one of their films.

The argument being that we are partnering to sell this film and I should in no way say anything negative regarding the “product”.

Should I continue to do so, then our business relationship would be under review.

Now the VLCOTW has a big stick to beat me with. Not least hampering my ability to put food on the table for my children. So at this point discretion was the better part of valour.

It was put to me that it would not be very nice if the VLCOTW posted comments about my cinema being a flea pit.

Not quite the same thing. At no point have I ever bad mouthed the VLCOTW itself, I would never ever do that. Apart from anything else that would be very rude, and I like to think of myself as a polite man. I have also, until now, never had reason.

The world, his ex wife and his new girlfriend have posted opinions about the film in question and I can’t imagine my pointless moan affected the 40 Zillion pounds the picture took globally.

I also make sure never to post opinions like this on official channels such as the website or the Picture House facebook page etc.

Of course I accept that me and my cinema are inextricably linked, so my personal opinion counts.

In fact I would argue precisely for that reason, trying to sanitise my online presence can only harm sales. I like to think people trust my judgement and my passion so when I take the time and trouble to point out an exceptional film it has real impact.

But everyone knows most films are not truly exceptional and bland press junket style pronouncements mean nothing. My patrons are not stupid, they make up their own mind about what they want to see and it’s only in rare instances I may be able to sway them.

Like when something is truly exceptional but they may have not considered seeing it because it’s a musical about a hush puppy salesman from Penge.

The rest of the time the spangly trailer and a persons natural predilection to that type of film is probably enough. My stupid offhand comments on my personal Facebook or Twitter page aren’t going to make any difference.

I have spent a lifetime working hard for the film business and specifically for individual films, so to paint me as a fly in the corporate ointment rather hurts.

So, proper juicy opinions, which is all they are, yours will certainly vary, OR bland pronouncements?

(If, as a result of this post I am bundled in the back of a large black car and not heard of again, tell my wife and children I love them. Also please ensure who ever takes over the cinema never books an Adam Sandler or Steve Carell film. Arse, I did it again…)

Track Listing for Radio Show July 9th 2012

Here is the tracklisting for last nights radio show. Any comments or suggestions gratefully received. You can tune in every Monday 9pm – 11pm on Uckfield FM either online or if you are local on 105FM.

I have to say I’m really enjoying doing the show.

Mayor of Simpleton – XTC
Tosta Mista – Hooded Fang
Lines – Lucy Rose
Dust it Off – The Do
Peaches en Regalia – Frank Zappa
Everybody Got – Ivor Cutler
Oberhofer – Away From You
Don’t Stare at the Sun – Richard Hawley
Promenade Sentimentale (Diva) – Vladimir Cosma
Cest Le Vent Betty – Gabriel Yared
Jesusland – Ben Folds
Emmy Lou – First aid Kit
Third Floor Hallway – Jon Brion
Rain Dogs – Tom Waits
The Conversation – David Shire
The Lives of Others – Gabriel Yared
Starman – David Bowie
I’m Shakin’ – Jack White
Winter – The Rolling Stones
Great Expectations – Elbow
Lah De Dah – Jake Thackary
Just Like Heaven – The Cure
Swinging Safari – Bert Kaempfert

2012 so far..

So here we are half way through the year, and with typical exhibitors optimism I can’t see us having another half like it for some time, it’s been quite spectacular.

Candidly, admissions are up 15% on 2011 which I didn’t think was going to be possible after Her Majesty The Colin of Firth gave us such an enormous start to last year.

As much as I’d like to think it’s because I’m the smartest cinema owner on the planet, it’s mainly down to the right films at the right time. Rarely has there been a run of films so perfect for Uckfield, it’s akin to those times the planets line up once every three hundred years.

To give it some perspective, here is our top ten so far this year, with the national position in brackets. Bear in mind The Avengers is number one by an enormous margin, over double the number two picture of the year.

1. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (6)
2. War Horse (7)
3. The Artist (15)
4. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (24)
5. The Iron Lady (16)
6. The Pirates! in An Adventure with Scientists (10)
7. Woman in Black (4)
8. The Muppets (8)
9. The Avengers (1)
10. The Hunger Games (2)

With such a strong line up of films so right up our street it would have been quite difficult not to have a great six months.

There have been low points inevitably. The wooden spoon for worst performing film is Fast Girls and the glum Robert Pattinson fest Bel Ami not much better. They did so badly they made John Carter look like Avatar.

One of the great things about the cinema business is that you can be sure when things are bad, sooner or later they will turn around. Conversely, when things are good you just know the arse is going to fall out of it eventually. I suppose the secret is to enjoy it while it lasts.

The big advantage we have is constantly changing what we sell.

So, I can almost sense you asking, how is it going to be for the next six months? I’m cautiously optimistic we could have a record year as the upcoming product is pretty damn groovy.  Dark Knight, Brave etc for the summer hols.
Skyfall, the new Bond is going to be very strong of course. The end of the year sees the arrival of The Hobbit.

All those titles are the obvious ones, Uckfield will inevitably thrive on something we haven’t quite heard of yet. If anything the list above makes clear, it’s that.

The live presentations of opera, ballet and theatre continue to grow. The National Theatre Live sales are simply fantastic and The Met season for 2012/2013 is starting to sell in significant numbers.

And I am working on the refurb, honestly. I’m only one man!

Track Listing for Radio Show 2nd July 2012

As requested here is the track listing from my debut radio show on Uckfield FM last night. Once again thanks for all the lovely comments they mean a lot. See you all next week for more of the same I hope.

Suede: Filmstar
Jake Bugg: Lightning Bolt
Jesca Hoop: Born To
Tex Williams: Smoke Smoke Smoke (That Cigarette)
Richard Hawley: Leave Your Body Behind You
Frank Zappa: Sleep Dirt
Asteroid Galaxy Tour: Major
Matt Munro: From Russia With Love
Guillemots: Southern Winds
Laura Veirs: Spelunking
George Baker Selection: Little Green Bag
Nelson Riddle: Witchcraft
Nick Lowe: So It Goes
First Aid Kit: The Lions Roar
Ennio Morricone: Deborah’s Theme
Tom Waits: Shore Leave
John Barry: The Ipcress File
Roy Budd: Carter Takes The Train
Kings of Convenience: Misread
When Saints Go Machine: Mannequin
King Creosote & John Hopkins: Bats in the Attic
Nico: These Days
Mr Scruff: Fish
The Cure: Lullaby
College: Real Hero

Bond Section written and presented by Cheyney Kent. Mixed by yours truly.

 

 

Pop it in the basket, I’ll read it later.

The late great Charles Hawtrey in Don’t Lose Your Head

Well it looks like the sun is finally going to come out and the stay of execution we’ve had for the last few weeks is finally going to catch up with us. Or, as James Burke might say, is it?

Normally Easter is the finishing line after which business falls flat on its face. Distributors abandon us to our fate, using this period to dump their hideous Katherine Heigl or Sarah Jessica Parker movies in to the market.

This time last year we were suffering through Something Borrowed, a Rom Com so witless I had eradicated it from my consciousness until I looked back at the records.

Thor was struggling and Water for Elephants had already run dry. Things were so desperate I even booked Hangover 2.

But this is nothing unusual, May and June are the pits. The overdraft goes to the limit, tedious, panicky financial directors decide now is the time to assert their authority, simply compounding our misery.

Not this year though and it all feels rather odd. The start of the year was quite extraordinary and although we aren’t reaching those heights, it’s all been very steady indeed.

Mostly down to Salmon Fishing in the Yemen if I’m honest. A Billy bonus of a film if ever there was one although The Avengers hasn’t been bad at all, but it most definitely had a major boost from the bad weather. If the sun had been out it would have taken far less.

So it was an unusual experience last week when I went to the Cinema Exhibitors Association centenary lunch and encountered all my fellow independent cinema owners wandering around calm as Hindu cows. Trust me, a room full of happy cinema owners is unheard of.

We’re even cautiously optimistic about June, Men in Black 3 is a better film than it has any right to be and should run on. The buzz around Prometheus is strong, although that might just be the fan boy in me. I have a feeling it will play quite upmarket and not simply be multiplex fodder.

At this point I would like to make it clear I am in no way being smug. We will almost certainly get our comeuppance a bit further down the line, but for the moment let us just enjoy it will you?

I remember clearly wandering around the cinema the night after we opened the new third screen in 2000. All houses were full and a wave of self-congratulation overtook me. Look what I have created I crowed to myself.

Almost immediately business collapsed and went through one of the worst periods I can remember.

It’s going to get bad again, that’s the nature of the business, but it’s also its nature that it will certainly get better again afterwards.

We’re lucky because we constantly change what we are selling. If you don’t like that film, another one will be along later that you do.

Just no more I Don’t Know How She does It please.

It’s all groovy baby

I thought men are supposed to get better looking as they age..

I’ve noticed a curmudgeonly streak making its way into the blog lately. In fact I’ve noticed a curmudgeonly streak running through most of what I do at the moment. Maybe it’s the approaching birthday that dare not speak its name, a turning point signaling a change in the way mood is defined. At a certain age I’m assuming one becomes curmudgeonly as opposed to say acerbic or merely sarcastic. Eventually I suppose I’ll just be described as a grumpy old bastard, if I’m not already.

So in a rare moment of contrition, and with one eye on the aforementioned birthday of horror, I want to redress the balance ever so slightly with something warm and fuzzier and reflect on just how lucky I have been.

I’ve been doing this job for an awfully long time. I started Saturday afternoon usher shifts when I was 14 years old and before that had been running around the cinema as often as I could. There is no time in my life the cinema has not been a part.

I pretty much spent all my free time here as a kid. My first girlfriend and I had our first date here. Incredibly my dad made me pay for her, but that’s a whole other story.

All those films growing up, not only did I see them, I saw them a lot. Several times in a week if I felt like it. The great flowering of American cinema in the 1970s took place as I was a teenager, endless delights, often with me the only one enjoying them among the staff. Taxi Driver caused particular disbelief I recall. Why on Earth would anyone want to see that depressing rubbish? A Star is Born, that was lovely. I was less able to defend Scorsese’s film at the age of 14 but knew it was something thrilling. Not least because it was an X cert. Another perk.

Mark Kermode tells a funny story about trying to get into see a AA film at his local cinema, dressing up and putting on big shoes. No such chicanery for me. Outside of the tedious soft porn films of that period I was pretty much allowed to watch what I liked.

Did it affect me adversely? Only you can decide.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Network, Marathon Man, Dog Day Afternoon, Rollerball, the list is wonderful and long, and all were available to me in the cinema when they were brand new.

Not that I was only interested in the swanky stuff. I was almost totally indiscriminate at that age and would watch anything apart from those horrible boy dying of cancer in Italy films. I even enjoyed Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

It wasn’t simply wide eyed film loving joy, however. All my memories of these films are tainted by the business they did. My father was as grumpy as I am now when films didn’t drag people through the door. He didn’t care how good it was really, if it died on us it was to be despised.

Taxi Driver died, Network was even worse. Cuckoo’s Nest took lots of money, Rollerball was good for one or two day bookings for years. Marathon Man another stinker. Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger took a great deal of money.

It’s a strange way of seeing film history, but quite a unique one I should think.

If you will forgive me a short lived dewey eyed Spielberg moment, it all makes me incredibly fortunate. Not only because those cinema experiences are indelible and precious but because it means I understand the history of my business with a great thoroughness that also helps me make decisions about it’s future.

Normal curmudgeonly service will be resumed as soon as possible.

In the meantime here is some music…

P.S.  AA film = one you had to be 14 years old to see. Not a film about roadside assistance.

Tickets Please?

 

Not all of you are going to agree with me here, but I’m going in anyway. Let’s talk about refunds, always a thorny issue particularly when the number of admissions shoot up like they have the last few weeks.

We do make it very clear to everyone that buys a ticket, we don’t refund or exchange tickets once sold.

Whether you agree with me or not, if you buy a ticket on the web it’s all there in black and white, if you buy one over the telephone we make a point of telling you this and carefully reading back the booking to make sure we have it right. If you buy tickets over the counter in advance we make sure you understand that once you buy them they are yours forever. There is also a sign hanging over the counter underlining the aforementioned rule.

Despite all of those precautions as soon as we start to get busy we have the occasional, sometimes quite unpleasant, argy bargy with customers demanding refunds for screenings they can no longer make or asking for swapsies.

I don’t mind you asking, actually I do but that’s just because I’m a grumpy git.

However, the rule is no exchanges or refunds. Not, no exchanges or refunds unless your name is Harrington and you forgot you were playing bridge with the Davies on Wednesday afternoon.

It’s not always overcrowded social diaries, it’s booking the wrong day by mistake or my husband booked the wrong day by mistake, which is more common.

On the surface this attitude seems harsh and inflexible to say nothing of being the wrong side of the customer is always right. But we have these rules for very important reasons.

We deal with around 140,000 tickets a year, if we allowed swapping or canceling willy nilly, chaos would ensue. You would be really miffed if you turned up and your seats weren’t there because of all the swapping about.

Trust me, years of experience has taught me not to mess with the seating plan. It can only end badly.

We also sell out quite often and last minute returns are impossible to sell as we’ve been telling everyone all day we’re full.

It’s also worth remembering that tickets are valuable and are the distributors only way of measuring how much money we owe them. So you can imagine they have to be strictly accounted for.

Try calling the London Palladium and telling them you want to swap you tickets for another night. You wouldn’t would you? No.

The value of tickets is something that I’m used to people dismissing, and it still makes me cross.

When I was a kid other kids would ask me for free tickets all the time, and because I was a curmudgeon even then, I would ask them what their dad did and whether they could could give me some freebies from his work?

Strangely no items were forthcoming.

We have on average two or three requests per week for giveaways to village fetes or playschool prize draws. Rising to about about six per week in the summer months or around Christmas. I’m happy to do what I can, but there is a limit. Each set of tickets I give out represents quite high value.

Tickets are not disposable bits of paper to be treated like confetti, they’re my livelihood.

There, I’ve got that out of my system and we shall not have to talk of it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planet Uckfield

"What do you mean we're number one!?"

When box office results are published on a Monday morning it often comes as quite a shock just how out of step we can be with the rest of country.

It was becoming increasingly clear over the last couple of weeks that booking Disney’s expensive effects bonanza John Carter was a mistake.

Although booking Bel Ami was an even bigger mistake. There are times when I really shouldn’t be left in charge.

Sure enough the weekend business was appalling, although I’m not entirely sure why. The weather didn’t help admittedly, it was gloriously springlike. SFX magazine has a rather good analysis of the broader situation here.

Imagine my surprise when the numbers came out Monday and John Carter was number one at the box office. Wait, what?

Here is Charles Gant’s excellent weekly blog in the Guardian that dissects the weekend figures. Charles understands the business very well and writes with rare authority about the UK box office. When my bank manager is trying to understand why there’s no money coming in during the quiet times, I always point him in the direction of Charles’ Guardian blog.

So here is the UK top five for the weekend of Friday 9th March 2012:

1. John Carter, £1,960,414 from 456 sites (New)

2. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, £1,787,352 from 499 sites. Total: £10,855,596

3. The Woman in Black, £1,131,402 from 435 sites. Total: £19,485,541

4. This Means War, £1,017,075 from 439 sites . Total: £3,591,896

5. Safe House, £774,745 from 382 sites. Total: £6,131,580

Yep, there it is. Top film.

Now consider this, we sold 122 tickets for John Carter over eleven shows in three days. Terrible. Marigold Hotel, however, sold 1200 tickets. Ten times the number.

How can we be that far adrift of the rest of the nation? Is Uckfield and it’s surrounding area really that much different from everywhere else?

Even allowing for the slight bump from 3D that John Carter had (we didn’t bother with poxy 3D) it doesn’t explain such a disparity.

We were always going to punch way above our weight on Marigold I understand that, but john Carter should really have done better if Disney’s figures are to be believed.

Bel Ami was a stinker everywhere, so our figures were about right. Which actually came as a relief perversely.

It’s going to be up there with our worst grossers of all time. The only way it could have taken less money is if Adam Sandler had been in it.