Case Study: Shrewsbury Film’s Mid-Week Cinema

Shrewsbury Film expanded their film offer for audiences in Shropshire with support from Film Hub NWC which enabled them to put on midweek films throughout the year and attract an ever-growing number of attendees.

Why this matters

Shrewsbury and the surrounding area is not well-served for specialist cinema. The local multiplex (Cineworld) shows virtually nothing other than mainstream films. The local Council funded cinema, Old Market Hall, has become increasingly commercial as funding cuts have affected the Council. We offer a unique addition to the cultural life of the town. We have built up a significant loyal audience for whom coming to our films is now an important part of their lives - they like the friendly atmosphere, the fact that singles are made to feel welcome in particular. They like the films we show and are willing to trust our programming in taking a gamble on unknown films, and they benefit from film notes, introductions, and some informal discussions afterwards.

Project aims

  • Put on mid-week films throughout the year (except August).
  • Expand our audiences.
  • Provide film notes, introductions, further viewing recommendations, etc., to give opportunities for wider enjoyment of film.
  • Creating a website for Shrewsbury Film, as well as strengthening our social media presence (twitter and facebook).
  • Experimenting with a range of marketing techniques, including glossy leaflets, door-to-door leaflet delivery, and print advertising.

Headlines

  • Shown a fantastic range of 100% specialised films, almost all subtitled.
  • Got good audiences for some really special films, e.g., Salvatore Giuliano, Ulysses' Gaze, Nostalgia for the Light, Memories of underdevelopment.
  • Made people in Shrewsbury much more aware of what we are doing as we have virtually shown a film every week for a year now (except in August). This has also boosted our Friday night attendances.
  • Built up a strong rapport with a substantial core audience who now trust our programming instincts.
  • Had lots of positive comments from audience members even when films have had small audiences, e.g., Stations of the cross.

Films

25 films including: The Rocket, Nostalgia for the light, Offside, Ulysses Gaze, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Barbara, Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, Keltoum's daughter and Pauline at the Beach.

Key partnerships

We have built up a good relationship with our venue (The Hive) so that they publicise our films in their materials and now provide an online booking service for our films on their website.

Budget in brief

Overall budget: £10,000. FHNWC grant: £5,000. Ticket income: £5,000 . Spending: Film licences: £2,500. Venue hire: £3,750. Printed publicity (brochures and adverts): £2,000. Website development: £500 . The rest spent on miscellaneous items.

What worked

  • Several good quality leaflets produced (for each three-month segment) and distributed widely around town.
  • Modest twitter presence and also on facebook - but this has limited appeal to our demographic.
  • Real sense of community developed amongst regulars without being off-putting to newcomers.
  • Steady trickle of new faces while also retaining a growing, committed group of fairly regular attenders.
  • Steadily growing email list - now just over 500 people who get weekly email about the forthcoming film and related matters. This is our best publicity and recruitment/retention tool by far.
  • New film society website (www.shrewsburyfilm.org.uk)
  • Lots of excellent, specialist films shown to overwhelmingly positive audiences.
  • Putting on almost weekly films has given the society's offer a lot more momentum with our audiences. The midweek shows have boosted Friday attendance as well.

What has been difficult

  • Print advertising has been costly and unsuccessful.
  • Very hard to get young audiences in.
  • We have not been able to partner with others to do joint events mainly because it is too time-consuming. (But we are going to try a couple of partnerships in the next six months - the ICO film about the deaf in collaboration with a local deaf charity, for example.)

What you would do differently if you did it again

  • Not sure. We might look for some business sponsorship but it is a lot of work for limited gain doing that, so we prefer to concentrate our efforts on other things.

Awareness / Attitudes

The huge diversity of the films we have shown (see above list) has given people the chance to reflect on many different cultures and situations.

Comments such as "Very good - welcoming atmosphere" (Jan 2016), "Keep up the good work" (Jan 2016)
"Unusual films ... culturally and geographically educative" (Jan 2016)
"Social event. Varied film, good value!" (Jan 2016)
"Great rare films - thanks" (Dec 2016)
- these all show how we are appreciated and are enriching the lives of our audiences. There is a core group of probably 100 regular attenders for whom coming to the film society is a valuable and important part of their lives.

Diversity

* We have an even gender split - close to 50:50
* We have a lot of films with strong female lead roles, and of course plenty of non-white European lead roles as well - completely different to the statistics on Hollywood films that have recently made the news.
* We have shown some LGBT films, e.g., "Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros" and our equipment is used by the Rainbow Film Festival.

Everything we show is specialised film! And most of the fims we show have never been shown locally on the big screen. We are both physically accessible (wheelchair access is available and used occasionally), financially accessible (£6 per ticket on the door is much less than the normal prices elsewhere), and socially accessible - we try to meet and greet new faces and regular attenders alike.

Knowledge & Experience

Our audiences are now more aware of a wider range of films. We know that they follow up what we show because people come to us with suggestions typically of other films by a director we have featured. Sometimes, this leads us to show films recommended by members and they can then introduce them. For example, "Peppermint Candy" - a member found this after we showed another film by the same director. The member then talked about what the film meant to him before we showed it.

Our most successful venture for bringing in young people was the BAFTA 2015 shorts evening. We followed this up with "The world of Astley Baker Davies" but unfortunately that was much less popular.

Social Cohesion

A significant proportion of our audiences are single people and we make a point of being welcoming. The quote above shows this is successful. Similarly, a noticeable minority of our audiences are quite hard-up and our very cheap films (typically £38 for 16 Fridays or £25 for 8 Wednesdays) offer them a very good value night out.

We are helping to bring people into the town on a weekday evening, and helping with the economics of our venue, which operates on a shoe-string.

What audiences said

  • "What an outstanding film we saw last night! ...Thank you so much for another triumph!" (Feb 2016)
  • "I thought that The Hill Farm and the Village were ace." (The World of Astley Baker Davies, Feb 2016)
  • "Thank you for providing excellent foreign language films in a friendly and enjoyable environment. As a single person coming to this venue, I always feel comfortable." (Feb 2016)
  • "I really value the Hive!" (Feb 2016)
  • "The film society is an utterly fantastic resource. Thank you so much for all the work you do to give such pleasure." (Feb 2016)

Press coverage

  • We have had some press coverage in the Shropshire Star and Shrewsbury Chronicle. But this does not seem to have translated into more people coming to see the films.