In 2016 Film Hub Wales approached venues across North Wales to develop a project designed to reduce isolation, build creative infrastructure and generate buzz around British independent and international films. Galeri, Pontio, Theatr Ardudwy and CELLB responded, bringing expertise and new cinema experiences to audiences in Gwynedd.
The project aims to create ‘big ideas in small places’ with rural audiences at the forefront. The collective of eight venues of different shapes and sizes all have Welsh culture, heritage and access for all at the heart of their offer. No one misses out with ‘Off y Grid’ as audiences are invited on to a cinematic ‘journey’ where local people can visit each venue to see different films and experience local heritage. Venues work together to promote content so that audiences have a better chance of seeing it.
At Film Hub Wales, we also wanted to boost activity across the North, particularly as venues had shared feelings of remoteness. Audiences had been affected by the closure of main transport routes and other similar challenges, meaning that the diverse and creative activity at individual sites would benefit from a joined up marketing approach, increasing the visibility of the offers available.
A range of different venues working collectively to market British independent and international films to rural audiences across Gwynedd and North Wales, with a sense of heritage and place.
Seasonal programming which would allow more focused approaches to younger or isolated groups.
Creating a physical and cinematic ‘journey’, organising screenings in such a way that local audiences can visit each venue to see different films.
With central coordination, venues benefit from capacity to negotiate rates, boost marketing (locating key audience groups for films, generating boosted Facebook ads, generating photography, shared programme notes, touring or recording Q&As).
Venues devised a strong brand – ‘Off Y Grid’ (Off the Grid) with screenings badged collectively to increase visibility, season bundles and loyalty schemes to generate interest.
FHW offered support with relevant training or previews to help build a community of venues in the North.
In 2017, four new venues have already joined the project: Neuadd Dwyfor and Neuadd Buddug in Pwllheli, Dragon Theatre in Barmouth and TAPE in Old Colwyn. The Magic Lantern in Tywyn are also considering joining.
The venues exceeded the ambitious target of 7,000 in the pilot year. Final attendances were 8,940 across 148 screenings (an increase of 27%).
Off Y Grid created a part time employment opportunity for new female talent in the exhibition industry, leading to further work for the coordinator in the local area and training on the ICO Cultural Exhibition Course and as a guest at Iris in the North.
They are exploring agreements with distributors to share costs as multi-screens rather than multi-venues.
Theatr Ardudwy created an audience development toolkit which they shared with our rural exhibitors as part of the Film Hub Wales rural exhibitors event in Hay on Wye, where they presented their work alongside Off Y Grid as a case study.
They supported a variety of filmmakers from Welsh filmmaker Euros Lyn, director of 'Y Llyfrgell', to 'Moonlight' directed by Barry Jenkins, the first African-American to win the Oscar for Best Picture. They featured female directors, such as Alice Lowe ('Prevenge') and Andrea Arnold ('American Honey').
There were 148 screenings of 107 films across the first year of Off Y Grid. Highlights included screenings of 'I Daniel Blake', 'Love is Thicker Than Water' and '20th Century Women' which enabled greater engagement with the films on offer by promoting active discussion with political guest speakers, local charities and neighbours.
Galeri Caernarfon, CELLB, Theatr Arduwdy, Pontio, TAPE, Dragon Theatre, Neuadd Buddug and Neuadd Dwyfor, The Magic Lantern, Soda, Entertainment One, Ate de Jong , Bangor University, Shan Ashton, S4C and Iris Prize.
Budget in brief
The total budget of this scheme was £10,000. The key income source for this project was Film Hub Wales plus box office incomes across venues. The subsidy per head for project was £1.12.
After the first year, four new venues have joined the project, increasing the venue partnership from four to seven.
Venues exceeded the ambitious target attendance of 7,000 by 27%.
A part time role was created for new female talent in the exhibition industry, leading to further work in the local area, training on the ICO Cultural Exhibition Course and a guest-spot at Iris in the North.
A loyalty card is offered, available in all cinemas, meaning an audience member can watch six Off Y Grid films in any partner venue and get the seventh screening free.
Venues are exploring agreements with distributors to share costs as multi-screens rather than multi-venues.
Theatr Ardudwy created an audience development toolkit which was shared with rural exhibitors as part of a Film Hub Wales event in Hay-on Wye.
Off Y Grid supports a variety of filmmakers, from Welsh filmmaker Euros Lyn, director of Y Llyfrgell, to 'Moonlight' director Barry Jenkins, the first African-American to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Female directors were also heavily featured, such as Alice Lowe ('Prevenge') and Andrea Arnold ('American Honey').
Welsh character and actors were championed, such as Sharon Morgan and Remy Beasley, stars of 'Love is Thicker Than Water'. Off Y Grid also offered Welsh films such as 'Patagonia', 'Y Llyfrgell' and 'Don't Take Me Home', offering relatable representation on screen. Having Welsh as the first language in all publicity is considered crucial.
What has been difficult
The loyalty card scheme needs a more coordinated approach from all venues, or perhaps replacing with voucher codes for registered Off Y Grid audience members, which venues are addressing in year two of the project.
Each venue has different staffing and timescales to factor in to the planning.
One positive difficulty - Off Y Grid coordinator Silvia Sheehan’s role and training was so successful, she has since secured programming and management work at one of the core sites (CELLB), meaning a new coordinator is needed.
What you would do differently if you did it again
In the second year the venues are keen to establish a web presence to establish the brand of Off Y Grid, and have begun promoting weekly what’s on listings so that more films are profiled across social media.
A longer planning period where set goals, timelines and campaigns could have been laid out ahead of launch would have been a benefit.
It’s onwards and upwards with plans for a festival weekend!
Awareness / Attitudes
Off Y Grid sought to engage with its local audiences, turning screenings into social gatherings. The examples of ‘I Daniel Blake’, ‘Love is Thicker Than Water’ and ’20th Century Women’ enabled greater engagement with the films on offer, promoting active discussion with political guest speakers, local charities and neighbours.
The films that were programmed under OYG ranged in subject, setting, and language, ensuring diverse storytelling through multicultural representation. Ranging from playful titles such as ‘Chevalier’ and ‘Toni Erdmann’, to more hard-hitting pieces such as ‘My Feral Heart’, ‘Son of Saul’, and ‘I, Daniel Blake’. support filmmakers from a variety of under-represented backgrounds, promoting diversity on screen, in the audience and behind the camera.
Knowledge & Experience
This project has seen the development of a part time post for North Wales-based, multilingual graduate Silvia Sheehan. As a result of the post, Silvia explored the nuances of targeting audiences during a course for Hard to Reach Families and the ICO CEC course, which we supported through a bursary. This training included reaching younger groups, how to prioritise cultural diversity, the importance of market research and how to publicise effectively. Silvia has gone on to present the project at the FHW Rural Development day and was invited to attend Iris on the Move. She has secured further work at CELLB in programme and venue management, which is a credit to her hard work and enthusiasm.
Off Y Grid is set in a particularly rural and isolated area of North Wales, where over 65% of residents are Welsh speaking according to the 2011 WIMD. They have been affected by poor transport links for a number of years, including the closure of the Pont Briwet bridge. With 14% of the Gwynedd population in the most deprived areas of Wales, this has a large impact on the ability to engage with cultural activity. Off Y Grid is providing increased cultural provision for audiences who may not otherwise have access to cinema.
Off Y Grid increases visibility of new independent film releases on a local and regional level through interconnected strategic marketing. Where audiences may miss a film at one venue, they can easily find out about the screenings at another local venue and earn free viewings on their loyalty card. This encourages North Wales audiences to engage with more in venues across the region, boosting the local economy. The project also provided work for the Project Coordinator, a local branding company, photographer and translator.
What audiences said
“Very positive – great venue, friendly staff and audience members. Thank you for a very enjoyable, though-provoking experience.”
“Excellent film, comfortable seating, great venue. Excellent to see digital films in Theatr Ardudwy.”
“Perfect. Audience completely silent, amazing film.”
“Makes me want to change something. Very inspiring film.”
“Thought-provoking in a great local venue. Very useful evening.”
“I applaud the theatre for taking on board the current dilemmas and bringing the community together. Lovely to see current films and to have this venue.”
What professionals, press and partners said
“The wide definition of 'Off Y Grid' films has been liberating (world, welsh, music videos, premieres etc.) and something that has led to a renewed confidence in booking and promoting non-mainstream content in the cinema." - Off Y Grid Venue
“Most of the screenings under the ‘Off y Grid’ banner worked well at TA. The ‘I, Daniel Blake’ event tied in with a food bank drive and a Labour Party meeting was the highlight of the program and the major success achieved here (...) without OYG’s event being held here, this would not have happened.” - Off Y Grid Venue
"Being part of the network also gives us all economies of scale and stronger bargaining power when negotiating a deal with a distributor or talent. With work on our new two screen cinema underway (to open July/August 2018), we see this network as something that will strengthen the appetite for independent/non-mainstream titles in the area.(...) There is so much potential for this network, long term there could be regular ‘curated’ screenings at each venue" - Off Y Grid Venue