Article: Independent cinema exhibition in the time of COVID-19

These are strange times for many independent cinema exhibitors. With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down all public venues, many have had to adapt in order to keep engaging their audience. Rebecca del Tufo, Programming Manager at Saffron Screen, explains what her and her colleagues have been doing over the past few weeks.

Like so many venues, we decided to close quite suddenly, after the government’s announcement on the evening of Monday 16th March, just two hours before a sold-out screening of Parasite (sob!) and, incidentally, on our new Business Manager’s first day! We cancelled the rest of our programme (to the end of April) and began communicating this to our audience, talking to distributors and sorting refunds or accepting generous donations from our customers.

We knew that we wanted to keep in touch with our audiences – to support the community during lockdown and to maintain our carefully developed social media channels and SEO.

By 10pm on that Monday, our Marketing Manager circulated ideas for our social media posts while we were shut: video snippets from staff, film recommendations for television and online viewing, competitions and ideas for asking customers to send us their creations.

By Thursday we had a weekly comms plan of:

  • Sunday – a longer read blog going behind-the-scenes at Saffron Screen, a deeper dive into a director or genre, or some of our outreach work;
  • Monday – a stay-at-home film club: we watch a film during the week and discuss it on Twitter at 7pm every Monday;
  • The Tuesday 10 – recommendations for television or online viewing – using this to maintain our weekly ‘What’s On’ email;
  • Wednesday – a weekly article of film streaming recommendations for the local paper;
  • #ThrowbackThursday to the cinema’s 14-year history or further back, such as customers’ memories of their first visits to the cinema;
  • #FollowFriday, promoting local businesses, charities, our suppliers etc;
  • Saturday – sharing customers’ videos or input.

Our Monday night film club began the following week (with Force Majeure) and we have now discussed five films. We start at 7pm throwing out a couple of questions, ensuring the hashtag is used, and engage in chat with a group of film-lovers. The chat usually lasts about an hour.

Separately we have been using our CRM system to connect with our loyalty members, ensuring they feel remembered, automatically extending all membership subscriptions and offering the 90-day free MUBI offer, and thereafter with updates and MUBI recommendations.

We soon realised if all our comms were on MailChimp or social media, the hits on our website would plummet. So we moved key information to our website, to ensure traffic was still driven there; we now regularly share films from distributors who are sharing income with us, lists for Arts on Screen which are streaming via the National Theatre, Royal Opera House and many others, our weekly film recommendation lists, resources and any other key information.

At least our website is no longer just a list of cancelled events!

Over the Easter holiday, we shared family film recommendations and a page of film-related pre-school activities, as there were plenty of resources coming through from the schools but less for pre-schoolers. As closure rolls on, this is an ongoing process and we continue to refresh our channels and share new and different content – we have more plans afoot!

For more information on Saffron Screen’s Film Club, please visit their website.

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