Members Blog- Michael McDermott on attending ICO course- REACH

Michael McDermott (and Bill Murray)

Michael McDermott from The Old Market was awarded a Training and Travel Bursary to attend the ICO course- REACH

“What is your mission statement?”

This was one of the first questions posed to us during our time in Bristol, and it was a question that I never really bared much thought on, even though it’s quite an essential and integral part of establishing any start-up, organisation, or in this case, a monthly film club. I do know what our mission is and why Steve McNicholas (co-owner of The Old Market) and I started TOM’s Film Club, because we felt Hove needed a more regular film programme, as there hasn’t been a cinema in the area since the 1970s. Film screenings and pop-up events mainly seem to happen in Brighton where all the cinemas and arts venues are situated, which is a shame given that Hove played a big part in the history of film in the late 19th/ early 20th centuries with pioneers such as George Albert Smith and his Kinemacolor process or James Williamson’s innovative way of editing and creating a narrative through the logic of the shots.

With all that said, we wanted to bring something cinematic back to the Hove community, which is why we started showing films at the Old Market, but nowhere in our marketing do we mention this connection with wanting to show films in Hove (we don’t even have the address on the flyer, one of many oversights I found out about our branding during my time on the course), and it really ought to be, as it’s perhaps the key factor as to why the film club exists in the first place.

ICO REACH 2017 took place at Watershed in Bristol

This was just the start of the many obvious and intriguing things I learnt from my time in the ICO Reach: Audience Development Strategy course, which was attended by seventeen other programmers and exhibitors from many different parts of the country, some from major cinema chains and others like myself running a community film club. For three days in mid-September, we all congregated in the W2 Room of the Watershed in Bristol, my new favourite cinema and city.

On the first day we got to know each other by getting into groups and being constructive / critical of each other’s print materials; what we liked, what stood out and what could be improved, and it was amazing all the small but key details we missed on our own flyer. The most constructive advice was to make it double-sided with all the info and directions on the back so that we could make the images on the front much bigger and bolder (to appeal more to the eye of a potential filmgoer), but even little things like the doors opening before the film we forgot to include also. I couldn’t believe in hindsight all the small but important things we missed in our advertising and how it would speak volumes to our audience had it been included in the print.

Discussing audience data at ICO REACH course

From then on in, we were taught about film and cinema statistics and box office numbers, and I was surprised to learn that the average person in the UK visits the cinema only 2.6 times a year, and even more surprising was that this is increasing from previous years and that we were not that far off from the French cinema attendance which is currently at 3.1 films a year (but way off the heyday of 33 films a year in 1946!). We also learnt about Public Relations and how to get the press on your side and write the perfect press release with Clare Wilford, as well as how to use social media more effectively and not to spend too much time constructing a Tweet or Facebook post, to just keep it snappy and send it quick as it will soon get lost in the social media whirlpool.

Among all the speakers we had, I felt that Sarah Boiling’s presentation at the end of the second day was of the most benefit to me, as she discussed in detail with the group the importance of an efficient and effective audience plan and how to go about putting one in place, and how it starts with your mission and how that communicates to a potential audience. Firstly, start by handing out questionnaires after all screenings (something I have neglected to do for the last half a year) and decide if you want a qualitative or quantitative sample, and to make these surveys as short and as accessible as possible. We also learnt about segmenting your audience so that you’re directly reaching your target market i.e. people in a certain area with certain tastes, and how our venue would cater for those tastes, which was summarised with the “four Ps: Product/Programme, Place, Price, Promotion.” With this information in mind, I plan on creating a quantitative questionnaire tailored to our visitors and to create a mailing list to send out for those that leave their email addresses, as well finding out more ways we can improve our film screenings while at the same time showing the films our audiences continue to request.

Sarah Boiling presenting on creating an audience strategy

I’ve now since finished my audience development plan and awaiting a tutor to guide me along the next few months to ensure it is successful so that we can start hitting our target market; we’re hoping to attract a younger audience in the 16-30 age-range (as also specified in the aims of the BFI FAN  – we plan to show The Prince of Nothingwood as part of their New Release Strategy sometime in the new year, so keep your eyes open), particularly students who rarely venture into Hove. How I plan to attract such an audience is through cinema+ activities and making the film screenings more of an event themselves, be it through collaboration, special guest speakers live music or a party after the screening. Essentially, for our audience we are striving to turn our film events into experiences, experiences they simply won’t get from watching the same film at home via online streaming sites.

And since leaving Bristol I have already started to implement much of what I have learnt into action regarding our most recent screening of Ex_Machina, in which we collaborated with the British Science Association to put artificial intelligence at the forefront of our screening. This included installing a couple of virtual reality experiences that gave the user an idea of how a robot would hallucinate (it was trippy to say the least) and a lecture from Dr. Ron Chrisley of the University of Sussex about how we could go about making the Turing Test more difficult for androids. From this, there was a definite increase in ticket sales once we added all these cinema+ activities, which I think was mainly down to targeting students at the University of Sussex with flyers and posters, as well as tapping into the BSA’s already established audience. In the end, it nearly sold out, whereas the weeks before we had only sold like six tickets.

TOMTech VR event connected to screening of Ex Machina run on 3 Oct 2017

I couldn’t recommend this course more highly enough – it’s for anyone who is looking to increase cinema attendance in their venues, diversify their audience or reach out to members of the community who aren’t as represented in their current numbers. It also made for a great opportunity to meet and network with fellow film programmers, many of whom I’m regularly in touch with, as well as the industry experts that were brought in from the ICO, who had so much great advice for us all that I ended up writing sixty-four pages of notes over the three; I don’t think I’ve spent so many hours in a cinema without seeing a single film, but nevertheless I feel enriched by what I’ve learnt so far and can’t wait to see the results in March when course officially concludes, but after that I’ll be using all these skills to take TOM’s Film Club further. My main hope is that people will once again watch films on the big screen in Hove like times’ past, and if we do tap into that elusive younger crowd, it would be wonderful for them to learn that much of what we know of film started in Hove.