Tag Archives: Odeon

FrightFest 2014 Diary – Part 1: Challenges and changes

By Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

New VenueEight years ago I first came to FrightFest, back when it was still in the Odeon at the bottom of Leicester Square, where I did 2 years before it moved venue to The Empire at the top of the square. Here the festival stayed for 5 years; each year it grew in audience and also the amount of films being shown at the event. I really enjoyed the festival during its run at the Empire. Their screen 1 was superb and with 1000 plus horror fans sometimes the atmosphere was astonishing. Due to Empire’s move to an IMAX screen after last year’s festival closed, we were the last people ever to see a film in that screen 1.

This year the Vue cinema, still at the top of the square, became home for FrightFest and, with it, the festival’s biggest changes and challenges. Over 600 passes are for the full weekend and the biggest screens at Vue hold just over 400 seats; the solution was to have 3 main screens, Horror, Film4 and Arrow. My pass was for the Horror screen though I had wanted the Film4 screen, but I’m not sure if that made too much difference in the end, aside from being with the regular FrightFesters. Films would rotate round each screen except for the opening film, The Guest, and closing film The Signal; both would start at the same time while the rest of the screenings would have staggered start times, which actually worked really well. It kept the flow of people moving around the cinema quite nicely. Another reason was to allow guests of the film to be able to do Intro’s and Q & A’s for each showing. Maybe this did have an impact on the number of guests attending the festival as they could be at the event for 5 or 6 hours instead of a few hours for 1 screening; or maybe I just missed a lot of the guests. I don’t seem to have as many pictures with people as I normally end up with, that’s for sure.

Alongside the main screens were 2 discovery screens, both holding double the amount of seats that these screens in the Empire would have. At first I thought that this was possibly the festival’s biggest problem. You could potentially lose over half of the screen’s audience to discovery screens or not wanting to see a film and sometimes by just missing them like I did twice by talking to people in the bar! On the Friday I was just missing that great atmosphere that 1 screen gave the festival. By the first evening showing of Dead Snow 2 on the Friday – funnily enough not in my screen but the Arrow screen – the FrightFest vibe was starting to take hold and I began to really start enjoying myself. The weekend just kept getting better and better.

There were some hiccups. To get discovery screen tickets I had been issued a bar code and the idea was to scan in the bar code at the tills and pick your discovery tickets. These became available after the first film and I got to the till pretty quickly. I am in a group of 6 and we had organised ourselves before the festival so we knew which films we needed tickets for and how many. The problem when they tried to scan in the bar-code, it had faded and it was over a perforated fold, it was extremely difficult to get the scanner to read any of our 6 tickets. It would eventually pick it up, but it took 40 minutes to do 2 films. In the end the manger re issued the bar codes with no perforated paper and we ended doing 6 more films in 20 minutes. Having held up the queue long enough we bailed and went back the next day to pick up the rest of the tickets. Once over that initial problem the new system worked a lot better than having to queue up at 8am every morning and actually only a few showings fully sold out. A lesson learned for next year, print the bar codes at the festival and don’t panic over screens selling out!

Really though I have to say that the Vue worked better than the Empire for a number of reasons. The biggest fault at the Empire was that the foyer contained the media wall, the merchandise shop, the bar area and confectionery stand, it became quite claustrophobic at times. Stopping to talk, get a signature or photo just added to the confusion. While the Vue being on numerous levels meant that the media wall was in the foyer with the confectionery tills, the merchandise stall was next to the bar on the first floor, the bar area was a decent size and a great place to socialise where you never felt you were getting in the way of anyone. I also feel the actual screens gave me a better experience. I usually sat in row D at the Empire and on many occasions struggled with subtitled films as I couldn’t read the subs due to people’s heads. Not a problem at the Vue, even from row D. Empire’s main discovery screen was tiny (around 100 seats) and sometimes didn’t sound very good at all. Vue’s Discovery screen 1 was superb, much bigger screen, and boy was it loud, which is what I like.

So the venue change, the format change and the discovery screen ticket allocation all improvements on last year for me. While discussing these topics with one of the main organisers we suggested only have discovery screen films on during the day programmes, allowing the main screens to be nearly full during the evening; something to think about.

As for the films? Well, you’ll just have to wait for Part 2 when we’ll give a brief summary of what was seen and what was worth seeing.

Failed Critics Review: New Star Wars!

Welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Review, where for numerous reasons (too busy being a vigilante, boarding up his house for the impending Zombie apocalypse, being asleep, and having scurvy) we didn’t get to the cinema.

Oh, and our planned review of The Master was shelved because it’s only showing in ‘that London’ for a fortnight.

Never fear though, we still manage to fill over an hour with what we’ve watched this week, as well as our reaction to Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm (and the announced new Star Wars films), and Steve does his best Anne Robinson as we go all Watchdog on the asses of the cinema chains we happen to frequent.

Don’t worry – we’ll be back to normal next week when we review Oscar-contender (it better be – James has backed it at 10-1) Argo.

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Do you remember the first time?

image The first time I went to the cinema I was in top infants. It was Natasha’s seventh birthday, and her mum took a bunch of us to see Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on its fiftieth anniversary re-release.

We were wearing party dresses, it being a birthday party, and clutching boxes of Smarties, because that was the done thing on visits to the cinema, theatre, probably even the rugby, back then. The film was showing at our old Art Deco Odeon, which has long since been turned into a wedding venue. The screen was so big it had top and bottom entrances. We were understandably excited. We took our seats, long before the lights were dimmed and the curtain (remember the curtain?!) was raised, chattering and giggling while Natasha’s mum went off to get a drink. Gin, probably.

It was at this point a girl in the row behind us, and she was notably an older girl so ten, or maybe even eleven, tapped me on the shoulder. She leant forward to us and whispered viciously ‘I hope you’re not going to make noise like that during the film’. There was something about her authoritative tone, her commanding presence, her obvious experience as a cinema patron. She scared the shit out of me. I turned around, shut the hell up, and watched the film, my unopened box of Smarties by my feet.

I wish I could meet that girl today. I’d like to shake her hand. She taught me the true meaning of going to the pictures: to just shut up and watch the damn film. We should employ her, now probably approaching her 40th birthday, to shout at kids the very first time they set foot inside a cinema. I reckon she could single-handedly eradicate the nachos, text alerts and viewer commentary which accompany screenings in today’s multiplexes.

Nowadays you don’t generally wait until you’re seven and it’s someone’s birthday. The Odeon, et al, encourage your offspring through their doors pretty much as soon as they’ve left the womb. A variety of kids clubs run during weekends and holidays, where parents generally go free, to numb the pain of watching Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked on the big screen. and to offset the equivalent of a week’s shopping budget being dropped on popcorn and fluorescent drinks.

‘Newbies’, meanwhile, offers a safe haven for parents of new babies, where they show films adults may have some vague interest in watching, and everyone agrees not to tut at all the screaming kids. This was the scene of my daughter’s first trip to the cinema, at approximately six months old, to see chameleon Western Rango. She had a feed and promptly slept through the rest of the film. Still, it made a nice change for me to sit in a different darkened room holding a snoring baby until my arms went dead. It’s important to get out of the house. I put it on again today and she watched 40 minutes in still silence, before solemnly placing a toy police car into her play pushchair and wheeling it out of the room. Quite a solid review from an almost two year old.

What was the first film you saw at the cinema, and did it scar you for life?

How ‘unlimited’ could save the cinema experience

Less than a gym membership, and just as healthy. Well, if you count exercising your brain as exercise*
*will not work if you go to see Storage 24

One thing has been puzzling me for the last few days. It started when I worked out that I had been to the cinema 22 times so far this year – and what troubled me is that I wish it could have been more. My main obstacle is price. I paid for all but two of those tickets, and even utilising loyalty cards, membership schemes, Orange Wednesdays, and even money off with my library card I have still spent a minimum of £100 going to the cinema so far this year.

Interestingly, I would have spent a few pounds more had I been using a Cineworld Unlimited Pass (7 months at £14.99 per month coming to a total of £104.93), but I would be a far happier customer and would almost certainly have seen at least another 10 films or so in that time.

But my nearest Cineworld is 20 miles away. In fact, there are four Cineworlds all within 30 miles from my house. I appear in some kind of Cineworld Bermuda Triangle. Where I live I am ‘reduced’ to having to choose between an Odeon, Showcase, Vue, and my local arts cinema – none of whom off an ‘unlimited’ option.

Why?

If one major cinema chain can offer this option – what is stopping the other chains? I’m no business man (although my success on Game Developer Story on my phone clearly belies my Sugar-esque business acumen) – but surely a guaranteed monthly income (you have to sign up to the Cineworld pass for a minimum of 12 months) is preferable to the occasional visits from customers who usually have another cinema to choose from as well. It would encourage brand loyalty (everyone I know with a Cineworld pass can’t sing their praises high enough) and the more times someone comes through your doors for ‘free’, the more times you are likely to persuade them to buy overpriced drinks and popcorn to inflate your profit margins.

The closest comparison I can make is not Netflix, but your local gym. I imagine that most Unlimited Pass holders go crazy at the start of their membership – doing punishing sessions of three consecutive films before boring their friends and family with the details. After a month or two though they get home from work and find excuses not to go – too tired, not feeling motivated, don’t want to leave the dog on his own because he looks a little depressed. They will then go a month without visiting before splurging on 8 films in a weekend and the cycle will continue. After six months they’ll be poring through the terms and conditions looking for loopholes to get out of this Faustian pact, before telling the cinema their mum died, they need to leave the country and cancelling their direct debit.

It could also do wonders for the independent films, and lower-profile films that often either get small audiences or are not even showing in multiplexes with 12 screens (yet are only showing 6 or 7 films in a week). With cinema ticket prices as they are, people are less likely to take a chance on an unknown film and will opt for the ‘safer’ options starring a big-name and a bigger marketing budget. The unlimited model encourages customers to try something different at little to no risk. The amount of new bands I’ve heard through Spotify, or brilliant unheard-of gems I’ve seen on Netflix are a testament to this. The unlimited model can deliver smaller films to a larger audience, and ultimately improve the health of the film and cinema industry.

It’s too soon to be making judgements on whether or not Spotify and Netflix are the miracle cure or the final nail in the coffin of their respective industries but you cannot argue that for customers they are a massively popular option – especially in the current economic climate.

As the gap between theatrical and digital/DVD releases gets shortened, technology for home-viewing improves, and the 3D bubble threatens to burst – cinemas will need to adapt or die. Most cinema chains and (even some film-makers) are pushing for new technology to enhance the cinema-goers experience – but as a regular cinema-goer I can wholeheartedly say that a well-projected film, in an orderly cinema that offers value-for-money is what I am looking for in my cinema experience. Have you seen the High Street recently? The only businesses thriving there at the moment are Greggs and Poundland. We are living in austere times, and people are starting to demand more for their money. As things stand, Cineworld is the only major player thinking differently.

*I have not been paid by Cineworld for this article. I am just really jealous that due to my location I can’t use what I think is an excellent scheme.