Monday, 9 January 2017

My Life in Cinemas

The cinema that started it all. Just look at that 90s line-up!

   I've been thinking about cinemas lately (well, more so than usual!). It's a well-known fact that the increased popularity of Netflix and other on-demand services over the last few years has caused the cinema industry to struggle, but I don't think they'll ever disappear completely. Cinemas offer something that television and films watched at home cannot offer: the experience. People still go to cinemas for dates, for parties, even educational trips - or, for a lot of people, it's just a place to escape everyday life.

   Having my films played in cinemas is still the main goal for me. It will take a lot to beat the feeling of seeing Night Owls shown on the big screen at London Short Film Festival this time last year, and the brief cinema run of Stop/Eject (the fantasy drama I produced between 2012-2013) is still one of the highlights of my career.

  But interestingly, looking back at the main stages of my life, it feels as though there was a different cinema there, every step of the way. I bet a lot of filmmakers and film fans feel the same. So, in celebration of the silver screen, just because I feel like expressing some love for them, here are the cinemas that made me who I am today (along with the dates when they were most meaningful to me):

The first cinema - UCI Derby (now Odeon)
1992 - 2007

   Growing up, this was the only cinema in my area - and it was still a fair drive away. My earliest cinema memory was when I was around three years old, watching The Jungle Book on a re-release. I got such a buzz from being there - I still remember being fascinated by the strings of lights along the aisle, marking the way to our seats, and the way Dad used to wear his light-up watch in the cinema to check what time it was. The UCI was also the first place where I experienced that 'coming out into the daylight after sitting in the dark' feeling. I had birthday parties there, and I went there with my family until the early noughties, but continued to go with my friends in my teen years (mostly to watch Tim Burton films). The cinema still stands today, but as it's no longer my local, I haven't been in years.


Farnham Maltings, near my old university campus in Surrey

The university cinema (and my first independent cinema) - Farnham Maltings
2007 - 2010

   During my Film Production degree, my class watched films on a daily basis, and there was a multiplex in a neighboring city I visited with my uni mates. But the cinema I remember most fondly from my university days was Farnham Maltings. I was quite antisocial during my time at university; I was frequently homesick, and I chose to stay in my room and study, paint or write rather than going to parties. Farnham Maltings was the first cinema I chose to go to on my own, on the days when I needed a bit more quiet time to myself, and I discovered that I liked watching films this way (not all the time, but sometimes). I remember the cinema had a nice little bar and fold out seats, and it was more of an art centre than a cinema, but I definitely watched The Edge of Love and The Lovely Bones there, on my own. Sounds of a crowd in the Maltings (on one of the busier days) were also featured in my graduation film, The Opening Night, because the film's sound designer worked there.

The cinema I worked at - Showcase Cinema de Lux, Derby
2012 - 2014

   Two years after graduating, I handled my first attempt to go freelance badly. I gained lots of experience, but I ran out of money, so I had to get a part time job. The Showcase Cinema de Lux in Derby was fairly new at the time, and when I visited as a customer, it was the biggest, most impressive cinema I'd ever seen. Working behind-the-scenes ruined that illusion for me a little bit (I certainly got fed up of the smell of popcorn!) but it actually taught me more about the business of film - and the way audience members choose which films to watch - more than anywhere else, and I'll always be grateful for that. I also made some really good friends amongst my colleagues, some of who were filmmakers that I have worked with since.


Introducing one of many films at Five Lamps Films in Derby Quad

The cinema that has supported my career - Quad, Derby
2011 - present

   Quad was built around the same time as the Showcase, but it was much smaller in scale, and functioned as an arts and community centre as well as a cinema - similar to Farnham Maltings. I was introduced to the Quad's 'open mic night' for films, Five Lamps Films, about a year after I graduated, and it gave me the opportunity to not only show my films but also to network with local filmmakers (I'd left the majority of my contacts down South after I graduated, and was in desperate need of some local collaborators). Since then, the Quad has been a huge asset to me. They allowed director Neil Oseman to do a talk there when we were trying to raise funds for Stop/Eject; they allowed my team to film a scene of Songbird within their walls; and their great bar has provided an ideal meeting spot on many occasions over the years. They show a great range of films from different eras, favouring great indie films rather than blockbusters, and it's always a comfy cinema experience.

The coolest/most in-demand cinema - The Ritz, Belper
2007 - present

   The Ritz cinema was restored during my final year of high school, having been left abandoned behind a Bingo hall for about 50 years. When it was purchased by the present owners, they maintained all of its art deco charm; it has just the one screen, on a little stage, and it was the first cinema I went to where I could take a cup of coffee in and sit on a sofa (before then, I'd mostly been to multiplexes). I actually applied for a job there twice - once before uni, and once after - but the staff love it there so much that there rarely seems to be any openings. Equally popular are the tickets - the memberships are highly sought after, and you have to book in advance if you want to get in. But if you do manage to get a seat, it's one of my favourite date venues, and the local community atmosphere is buzzing amongst the audience. The Ritz has also supported my films over the years; they've put my Kickstarter/Crowdfunder flyers in their window, and they were one of the cinemas to screen Stop/Eject during its cinema run.


The Ashes premiere at the Lexi Cinema. Photo credit: Lawrence de Gruchy

The first premiere cinema - The Lexi Cinema, London
2013

   When I directed the short film Ashes between 2012-2013, it was the first time I'd directed a professional crew (outside of university) and I wanted to do a 'proper' premiere. The cinema we used was recommended by male lead Adam Lannon, who had connections with the owners, and it was perfect for us; small enough to suit an indie production, but grand enough to make the event feel special (partly because of the beautiful feature lighting in the main screening room). I hired a presenter and a photographer, and Adam even managed to get top casting agent Amy Hubbard to join the audience as a VIP guest, sat alongside some representatives of War on Rape and Wan2Talk, who were supporting the film due to its subject nature. Although I haven't been back since, due to the distance, I still remember this cinema fondly as being the setting for such a special occasion.

The many-premieres cinema - Broadway, Nottingham
2014 - present

   The more local filmmakers I collaborated with, the more premieres I got invited to. And at least 90% of those have been at Nottingham's Broadway cinema. They're incredibly supportive of local filmmakers, so much so that I held the Night Owls premiere there as well. Similar to Derby Quad, they also show more indie films than blockbusters, and their bar has also proved to be a great meeting spot. They even have some underground studio rooms which you can rent out; these proved very useful when I had to hold auditions and rehearsals for Songbird. Two of the main networking events for Nottingham filmmakers - Shooters and Short Stack - have recently found their homes within Broadway too, so I expect to be visiting this cinema more in the future.


Wirksworth's Northern Light Cinema - isn't it adorable?

And finally - the cinema I want to try, but haven't yet! - The Northern Light Cinema, Wirksworth

   Hidden in the heart of Wirksworth is a cinema with a similar screening ethos to Quad and Broadway, but it's similar in size to The Ritz. One of the factors that really excites me are the chairs; all of them are covered in colourful printed fabric, and none of them match! I haven't been to Wirksworth since my drama rehearsals in 2006, but I've heard good things about this cinema, so I must head over there at some point. 

   I hope you all enjoyed my list. As I've attended many film festivals over the years, I couldn't include every cinema I've been to, but these are the main ones from key parts of my life. One that didn't make the list, which I went to for the first time recently, is Nottingham's Savoy Cinema, and I definitely recommend it for a traditional cinema experience. There's also lots of great 'hidden gem' cinemas around the UK which I haven't tried yet - including some great ones I've heard about in London - so I'm happy to hear some recommendations.

   My next cinema trip? Derby Quad again, to see La La Land with my filmmaking partner-in-crime, Tommy Draper. I'm really looking forward to it - because the excitement of those lights going down and the screen turning on never goes away!

Sophie