The Boy Who Loved The Spy Who Loved Me

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The Spy Who Loved Me was Dodger’s, as we affectionately called Roger Moore, third outing as James Bond 007 and without a doubt his best. You can judge for yourself this Friday Sept 29th. I’m very excited to be showing the newly restored digital print at my cinema. We can even discuss its place in the James Bond pantheon over a drink afterwards if you like.

Growing up in a cinema James Bond films were very important to us, they weren’t simply a nice opportunity for the family to go to the pictures, in fact a nice family outing to the pictures was not something we ever did, coals and Newcastle obviously spring to mind, that and Dad always working at the pictures put paid to that.

No, James Bond films were something you cleared the decks for, something that meant more shows, more staff and a chance to make lots of money. In our house the films didn’t didn’t have actual titles, they were just “The Bond”.  Dad’s going to be busy this week because it’s The Bond. We booked The Bond, not The Spy Who Loved Me, you get the idea.

A new Bond was also something special because we had spent the last two or three years playing all the old ones. In those days you could do that, often in a double feature. Thunderball and You Only Live Twice was always my favourite. Not only was it a double dose of Sean Connery, always a good thing, it went on forever. The Bond is rarely under two hours, often more, so two of them and ads and trailers, you were in the cinema for what seemed like an eternity. From Russia with Love and Godfinger was also cinematic bliss

Bond Double

In later years The Bond double bill became a thing of the past like all double bills, but I still mourn their passing. Bigger, Better, Bond and Beyond!

All this means that a new James Bond was a big part of my growing up, not just because they always put a smile on my Dad’s face, but because The Bond was one of those times when we, the cinema, became the focus of everyone’s attention. It happens from time to time, when a film becomes a cultural phenomenon. It happened with Grease, it happened with Mama Mia, it happened, of course, with Skyfall.

Spy Soundtrack

I still have the soundtrack album I bought with my hard earned wages in 1977. Probably from Fred. (Uckfield reference there, sorry.)

The Bond is always a cultural phenomenon, even the less successful ones. The fortunes of The Bond go up down over the decades but in Uckfield he is always popular. Maybe it’s where we are, maybe his simple brutal patriotism appeals to the with us or against us sensibility in such an obviously Conservative borough.

However, when The Spy Who Loved Me came out none of this mattered to me a jot. I was approaching my 15th birthday and very excited. It had also been four years since The Man with The Golden Gun, which I remembered, but was truly too young to appreciate. This was the first new Bond that I would take real ownership of and as I was already working front of house on Saturday afternoons, be part of.

I’d had to wait far too long for us to play it, the reason being the release pattern of The Bond at that time. In those days United Artists had very specific ideas about how The Bond should be released across the UK. The world premiere took place in early July 1977 and then it would have played in the West End at the Odeon Leicester Square for a few weeks and then it had what UA called a coastal only release in time for the summer holidays. Because obviously everyone was going to boarding houses in Bournemouth or Blackpool for their holidays. Nonsense of course, but the UK cinema industry at that time wasn’t blessed with particularly imaginative or forward-thinking executives. It was still an industry set up to protect the circuit dominated duopoly.

Although hilariously some very low status halls suddenly won the movie lottery because of their geographical location when it came to the release of The Bond. It used to drive my dad nuts, to paraphrase, any old shit hole could come in on The Bond as long as it had the bloody sea lapping at its front doors.

So being an annoying 25 miles inland we had to wait. There was what they used to call a London release late August and then we were allowed in two weeks later. So, a full two months after its UK premier and after multiple weeks in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings, we finally started our two week booking of The Spy Who Loved Me on September 18th 1977.

Ledger Entry

Here is my dad’s record of the two weeks we played The Spy Who Loved Me for the first time in Uckfield back in 1977. Not bad considering it had played almost everywhere else by then. The first column is admissions then gross take.

I went every day. I loved everything about it, not just the film but the artwork, the soundtrack album, which I still have, and again that feeling of being part of something special. It’s a privilege to be in our business a lot of the time and this film was the first time I understood that. Audiences loved it, they loved Dodger’s raised eyebrow, his keeping the British end up and particularly his union jack parachute just before Carly Simon’s iconic title song.

In many ways The Spy Who Loved Me was my Star Wars. By the time we got round to that film I was already a sullen, grumpy 16 year old determined to be more impressed with Annie Hall.

The more forgiving 15 year old me though, was ready to take all the action and camp sophistication Bond could give me. The film also gave me Barbara Bach in that black evening dress, something for which I shall be forever grateful.

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I have seen the future…

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Apologies for the rather lame teaser of a title. What I actually mean is I’ve been to the Toronto International Film Festival or TIFF as cool industry insiders such as myself call it.

Of all the festivals around the world Toronto is the most useful for exhibitors, particularly for a cinema such as mine, TIFF always has a strong awards baiting line up aimed at the upper end of the cinema market. In past years they have premiered American Beauty, The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire, all very much our kind of thing.

Most Sundance films rarely get out of Sundance, at least not over to the UK. In fact a Sundance film seems to be a genre in itself. Cannes shows a high proportion of die hard art house along with a few commercial titbits. The winner at Cannes is rarely a commercial proposition.

On the surface then it’s a mainstream festival, but that’s not strictly true. This year there was a total of 296 feature films to choose from including 138 world premiers from 83 countries, and I thought I was doing well seeing 30 of them.

Outside of the gala presentations there is a wealth of first features and some very die hard art house indeed as evidenced by the having sex with an alien octopus movie I saw called The Untamed. Unlikely to play Uckfield if I’m honest.

As my wife, proving she has missed something quite fundamental about me over the last 30 years famously pointed out, “it seems a long way to go JUST to watch films”.  While that may be true for most people, most people don’t own a cinema and Toronto is extremely useful for seeing what’s coming up over the next few months, the few months that are usually the best of the year for my theatre. It’s also quite useful for knowing what to avoid. Not that having sex with an alien octopus films were ever high on our must play list.

So what did I see? Some very fine films indeed actually. My personal favourites included Kenneth Lonergan’s heartbreaking Manchester by the Sea and Tom Ford’s gripping Nocturnal Animals, proving A Single Man was no fluke.

Like everyone else it seems, I was powerless to resist Damien Chazelle’s cute musical La La Land which went on to win the audience award, surely a sign of impending Oscar glory?

Also look out for Dennis Villeneuve’s arty sci fi, Arrival with Amy Adams. Far more accessible than the extraordinary Under the Skin but it certainly owes it a nod of thanks. Jackie was quite something, not least because of Natalie Portman’s amazing portrayal of Jackie Kennedy leaving the White House and Mica Levi’s fantastic score.

The films my audience are going to love the most were the world war II comedy/drama Their Finest featuring Bill Nighy at his most Bill Nighy and a strong central performance from Gemma Arterton. Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom Kingdom should appeal, the true love story with Rosumund Pike and David Oyelowo as the white girl from London who marries an African king, much to everyone’s chagrin.

Lion will make even the hardest heart melt, another true story, Dev Patel plays an adopted boy from India trying to find his way back home.

From the UK I particularly enjoyed Ben Wheatley’s everybody kills everybody else retro thriller Free Fire and Alice Lowe’s magnificently dark horror comedy Prevenge.

So when I wasn’t busy attending show business parties, which was never, I also sat and watched many films so you don’t have to. However, as I still hope one day to be invited to at least one showbizz party, I shall refrain from naming them.

I dd have a nice chat with Noah Taylor on the plane from Gatwick though. Which was as showbizz as my week got.

70mm Ultra Panavision or The King is in the alltogether.

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I have just been to Odeon Leicester Sq to see Hateful 8 in 70mm, and really wanted to share my thoughts. Having already seen it twice, once via a screener on my 3 meter ‘scope screen at home and once in screen one at my own cinema on DCP (The digital file we use instead of film these days), I absolutely wanted to see the only 70mm print of the film in the UK, having missed out on Interstellar.

Truth to tell I haven’t seen any actual film for quite some time, and with the current fetishisation of projecting knackered, wobbly old scratched prints reaching new proportions I thought it time I took another look for myself.

Given the amount of money exhibition has invested in switching to digital technology it’s very irritating when film makers like Christopher Nolan try to give the impression what we present is somehow inferior. To a large degree we were getting on fine, we all had film projectors that worked and broadly the customer didn’t care as long as they got to see the film.

The digital switch was partly driven by 3D and some pressure from the studios, but that argument is in the past now and not worth resurrecting, we’re all digital. Film, like Elvis, is dead, live with it.

I went in with an open mind, I swear. I wanted to wowed, I wanted to be disabused of the notion that actually DCP is better. It doesn’t wobble, it doesn’t scratch and it stays in focus.

I wanted it to be an experience like seeing the restored Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm at the Odeon Marble Arch in 1988 or the brand new 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Curzon Mayfair in 2001.

But it wasn’t.

Back in 1988 and 2001 no one had seen digital 2K or 4K projection, of course a film captured on 65mm and projected on 70mm stock was going to be miles better than our vanilla old 35mm.

Razor sharp, clean steady images are now the norm, would the gap between 70mm and 35mm be the same in a straight fight between 70mm and DCP?

No.

It was a perfectly acceptable image, it moved around a bit and the OLS need to change their lamp as the light was not at all steady. It may have been shutter timing, but I don’t think so. But better than a DCP? Absolutely not.

Also, because QT insisted on using Ultra Panavision, an extra wide process that was rarely used even in the heyday of film, the OLS have simply dropped the top masking. They may have pushed the sides out a bit, but it looks less impressive than normal 2.35 as a result.

If QT really did want to emulate his hero Leone, he would have shot on 2 perf 35mm Techniscope, a cheap way of getting CinemaScope.

All this talk of film is utterly Emperor’s New clothes stuff and total nonsense.  Hateful Eight looks as good, I might argue better, because it appears subjectively larger, in my own theatre.

It’s most definitely a film you should see, and most definitely a film you should see in the cinema, but don’t let them make you believe you are missing out if you don’t see it on film, and definitively not worth all the fuss and unpleasantness QT’s decision has caused some UK exhibitors and distributors.

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?

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.