Hosting a watch-along is a great way to stay connected with your audience but what if you’ve never hosted one before? Women Over 50 Film Festival director, Nuala O’Sullivan, hadn’t hosted one either – until recently. Here she outlines the key elements she considers each week as she puts together the WOFFF Watch-along and encourages you to set up your own.
More than 80% of our festival and tour audience is over 50 years old, and the tour sees us in church halls, residential care homes, mainstream cinemas and pop-up venues. When COVID-19 struck we knew, because of the age of our audience and the kind of venues we visit, that it might be a long – a long, long – time before we‘d be able to host film screenings in a venue with an audience again.
When I took part in the Reframed Film-hosted watchalong of Lucky Jim, early in the COVID-19 period on 22 March, it got me thinking this was something that could work well for the WOFFF audience. It could be a good way to keep our audience engaged in what might be a long period without seeing them or them seeing WOFFF in the physical venue; a way of connecting people; a way of sustaining and building the WOFFF community.
After that Lucky Jim screening, Claire Vaughn from Reframed and I got together – virtually – and talked about co-hosting virtual screenings. And that’s how our weekly #WOFFFWatchalong and #ReframedWatch Thursday night screening events were born.
This partnership sees each of us – WOFFF and Reframed Film – in alternate weeks selecting a feature film and being the primary host of the weekly Watchalong and an online Twitter conversation after the screening.
Reframed Films supports WOFFF on the weeks when WOFFF is the main host and vice versa when Reframed Film is the main host.
The feature films WOFFF hosts have a woman over 50 at the heart of the them on screen or a woman over 50 as the writer, producer or director and are always free to access for people in Britain and Northern Ireland. While Reframed Film features a mixture of arthouse, independent, and classic films, with a focus on Welsh cinema. Reframed Film hosts free-to-access films but occasionally hosts films on pay-for platforms.
For our first WOFFF Watchalong, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool on 26 March, we selected the film, posted about it on social media and hosted a discussion about it online afterwards.
Over the weeks and months since then we’ve increased the number and scope of the additional activities we bring to each Watchalong. Now each week’s event – whether a Reframed pick or one of our own – consists of:
- 1 feature film selected and promoted for our Watchalong
- 1 WOFFF pre-recorded, self-taped introduction to the screening giving audiences an overview of what’s in store. You can see one of them here.
- 2 WOFFF shorts which bookend the feature film and reflect the themes of the feature film. Here’s THE SINGER’S TALE from Barry J Gibb which we screened alongside the feature film KATE NASH: UNDERSTIMATE THE GIRL.
- 1 or 2 Film Talks – pre-recorded, self-taped pieces to camera from filmmakers, actors and documentary subjects from the WOFFF shorts, giving our audience more background, context and insight into these films. Here’s one from Guatemalan filmmaker Vivian Rivas about her short film EBB TIDE.
- A post-screening Twitter conversation to involve and engage the audience on what they have experienced, to build community and create connection
Bringing the WOFFF short filmmakers onboard has been crucial in terms of adding value to these Watchalongs for our audience. Our Film Talks are on Youtube and receive regular visitors before, during and after each Watchalong, as do the WOFFF shorts. Bringing the WOFFF filmmakers onboard has also demonstrated our continued commitment to our filmmakers to find as many opportunities to re-screen their work as we can, even in the midst of a pandemic.
What you need
We use free-to-access online and social media resources – either because they’re free for everyone (e.g. YouTube and Vimeo basic packages) or because we can get a deal on software because we’re a Community Interest Company (e.g. Canva). If you are a charity, there are probably even more IT resources you can get a good/free deal on (e.g. Gmail and other Google products).
Here are the IT resources and platforms we use each week to host and publicise our Watchalongs.
- WordPress: The viewing schedule and links to all the elements of the Watchalong are hosted on the WOFFF WordPress website. We create a page each week to host all the elements of each Watchalong. You can see one of our Watchalong webpages here:
- Twitter: We host the online discussion after the screenings on Twitter (we’re @WO50FF) and encourage people to use the hashtag #WOFFFWatchalong so that they can see what other people are saying and can easily join the conversation themselves:
- Canva: We use Canva to create images for our website and social media posts:
- Vimeo and YouTube: We link to our WOFFF short films from the platform the filmmakers have posted their films on – usually Vimeo or YouTube – and we host the Film Talks on WOFFF’s own YouTube Channel. In the example below from our website, the filmmaker Film Talk is on YouTube and the short film is on Vimeo:
- Feature film and short film hosting platforms: WOFFF made a commitment when we started hosting the Watch-alongs that we’d only select feature films that are free for UK audiences to access. So far, all the films we’ve hosted have been available on the BBC iPlayer. One film that Reframed has hosted was from Channel 4 (free for UK audiences) and one was a paid-for film (which was “free” with Amazon Prime).
We can’t find a way to embed BBC iPlayer, Channel 4 or Amazon films onto our website, so we place an image of the film on our Watchalong webpage and hyperlink to the hosting platform from there.
Some of the shorts are available for us to link to online for only a day or two (often because the film is still being submitted to festivals), while others are available indefinitely (usually because the filmmaker has already made them publicly available). Once a short is no longer available to us online, we replace the YouTube or Vimeo viewing window on the WOFFF website with a still image or the trailer, if it’s available, from the short. That way, visitors to the site can still see a clear record of the film/s we showed for each Watchalong, even if the films themselves are no longer available to watch there. In this example, we replaced the full film version of short EBB TIDE with the trailer, after the film was no longer available online.
Spreading the word
We post on WOFFF’s social media channels and send out targeted fortnightly e-newsletter to our subscribers about the Watch-alongs.
Participants in Watch-alongs help us by getting the word out to people about the Watch-alongs. Participants include filmmakers who record their Film Talks and WOFFF Board members, sponsors and supporters who present the filmed introductions.
We engage friends and supporters of WOFFF to spread the word out about our Watch-alongs. Our regular festival partner (Depot, Lewes), other cinemas (HOME, Manchester) and WOFFF sponsors (The Whickers include details of the Watch-alongs in their regular e-newsletters and on their social media channels.
Our Watch-alongs are featured on the BFI FAN Film Feels Connected website here. This is a UK wide virtual cinema season designed to promote online activity during Lockdown
We aim to make our festival and other events inclusive; Action on Hearing loss points out that 40% of people over 50 are living with hearing loss. Since 2017, with Film Hub South East and National Lottery funding we’ve been able to create subtitles for all our festival short films (about 150 films).
All the feature films on BBC iPlayer or Channel 4 we’ve screened in our Watch-alongs have subtitles and/or closed captions available.
All the WOFFF shorts in these Watchalong are captioned. If we are screening an older WOFFF short film which doesn’t have subtitles, we add subtitles to it on Youtube (THE SINGER’S. TALE from our Watchalong on 21 May 2020 screened originally at WOFFF 2017 without subtitles).
We make use of the automatically generated subtitles that YouTube provides for All the Film Talks and the WOFFF intros we host there. We then edit those subtitles for spelling, punctuation and grammar, as well as making them appear on screen in a more user-friendly format for d/Deaf and hard of hearing people.
Training and support
WOFFF has created a number of How-To guides which we share with the people who are working remotely with us to help create the weekly Watch-alongs. We’ve created How-To guides on
- How to create professional-looking self-taped pieces to camera
- How to upload a subtitles file to YouTube or Vimeo
- How to edit the automatically generated subtitles YouTube provides with your video
- How to make you film embeddable on YouTube or Vimeo
The Watchalong impact
Not only is the Watchalong a weekly ‘live’ screening and Twitter event, it’s also something that people can access outside the ‘live’ online event every Thursday. We generally have the webpage with the viewing schedule and links to all the films and Film Talks live by Tuesday, and what we find from our website and our YouTube channel traffic reports is that there’s a pronounced spike on Thursdays, and there’s a smaller but steady stream of traffic leading up to each and away from each Thursday too.
The Watch-alongs and the associated activities and resources give audiences more context for the screenings and increase their knowledge of many British, independent short and feature films. They keep audiences interested in the idea of cinema and film discussion which we hope will encourage them back to cinema when the time is right.
These Watch-alongs help build an audience for our festival as it goes completely online this year in September and the Watch-alongs are a way of getting our audience (new or returning) used to the format of what WOFFF20 online is likely to look like.
We’ve come a long way from participating in our first Watchalong in late March to now co-hosting our own dynamic and multi-faceted weekly Watch-alongs. We’re sharing films, activities and resources with people who may be missing the contact, company and conversation of cinema. Till we meet in the dark once more, it’s not a bad substitute. And for some who find a trip to the cinema inaccessible or difficult – pandemic or not – it’s perhaps an inclusive, exciting way forward.
Women Over 50 Film Festival (WOFFF), now in its 6th year, champions and showcases the work of older women in front of and behind the camera with an annual short film festival and year-round events and film screenings. We screen shorts and feature films which have an older woman at the heart of them on screen or have an older woman as the writer, producer or director. The festival is based at Depot, Lewes in East Sussex, and the Best of the Fest Tour travels around Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.