What should we be considering when exhibiting VR? We asked Catherine Allen

Catherine Allen is the VR woman. A BAFTA award winner for immersive media and the founder of Limina, she has also worked with the likes of Disney and the BBC, written articles for WIRED, given talks at numerous industry events. She was one of our keynote speakers at This Way Up 2017, and interviewed by Tom Grater from Screen International afterwards.

We catch up with Catherine six months on, to find out how TWU 2017 influenced her work, get a teaser of a product Limina will be launching for venues and cinemas, and to get her ‘top tips’ on what film exhibitors should be thinking about when bringing VR to the cinematic landscape.

Could you tell us a little about your TWU experience? Was it your first time?

I was thinking about this earlier on actually, I was made to feel really at home in such a short period of time – there was such a warm and welcoming atmosphere and everyone was friendly and open to conversations about innovation and about VR and its place in relation to cinema.

It [TWU] really helped me clarify that VR is not a competitor with other mediums, it’s its own thing in its own right, and sometimes I suppose it takes conversations like these – warm, friendly, open conversations – to just see where it fits.

[ …] And I’d never been to Hull before, so it was really nice to feel like I was a part of the City of Culture, even in a very small way. And now I’m aware of it and would consider the Hull Truck Theatre as a venue I would want to work with in the future with my business.

If you could give us a brief overview of your session and – you’ve gleamed over it already — whether your thinking has changed in the interim months since TWU?

Just casting my mind back … I talked about what my company, Limina, had learnt already and how we work with independent venues like Watershed in Bristol. I went on to talk about VR and ethics and the gender issues around virtual reality, and how independent cinemas can really support VR in its growth by offering audiences that are more representative of the population than a tech audience would be – by bringing the two together you get a more diverse audience for VR. It was a bit of a sweep through of the work I’ve been doing over the last two years.

Image: Jim Johnston

Then I was interviewed after by Tom from Screen International, and even that conversation was helpful to my thinking – you know, on stage, live in front of an audience! […] A lot of it stemmed from conversations at TWU have helped firmed up Limina’s product – I can’t give away too much, we haven’t released any information yet, but we will be launching a product that scales what we have previously done manually.

Could you tell us why VR is important?

It’s just getting to a point of fruition where you can call it a medium in its own right. We’re at this really interesting stage, where an industry is building around this new medium. There is so much to be done in building this industry, and that challenge appeals to me.

Also, from the perspective of audiences, the more people and the more diverse section of people are involved in the medium’s development, the better. It’s a pivotal moment, and that’s what gets me excited.

If you could give us your Top Three Tips on what film exhibition organisers should be doing to enhance audience experience, particularly things that could be implemented now(ish) ….

1. You’ll find that if you want to attract broad audiences, you want people to feel comfortable when they’re doing VR: put it somewhere private, don’t put it in the corner of the bar. Make sure it’s a space where people really feel safe because then they can really let go. That space between the virtual and the physical world, that liminal space in-between is something that should be considered. The crossing from one world to another world makes all the difference.

2. When you’re marketing, if you want to market from a content first perspective, which I would recommend, don’t use pictures of people in headsets. It’s just the same as using pictures of people watching a cinema screen in order to market a feature film. You wouldn’t do that…!

The key to new technology is that everyone’s blagging it, we’re all learning as we go, so don’t be afraid to dip your toe in the water…

3. If you’re teetering on the edge of getting involved in immersive media as an individual, bear in mind you might have some preconceptions about yourself and your identity that might hold you back. People who don’t see themselves as early adopters, often that’s really an identity thing and that affects confidence with new technology […] the key to new technology is that everyone’s blagging it, we’re all learning as we go, so don’t be afraid to dip your toe in the water. There’s no reason why, independent cinemas for instance, can’t have a certain ownership over immersive media. In the same way Hollywood doesn’t own film, Silicone Valley doesn’t own VR.

Jenny Sealey on implementing REAL change now

Jenny Sealey MBE, is the CEO and Artistic Director of Graeae, a pioneering theatre company and force for change, placing some of the finest D/deaf and disabled actors where they deserve to be: centre stage, and encouraging others to do the same. Jenny’s activism for disability rights has led her to win the Liberty Human Rights Arts Award; she is also on the h.Club 100 list of the most influential people in the creative industries – these are but a couple on her long list of accolades.

Jenny joined This Way Up 2017 in Hull last November, giving an impassioned speech about disabled rights, the wrongs so often endured by the community, and taking part in a panel discussion with the BFI’s Gaylene Gould. We met up with Jenny in East London at the Graeae Theatre to find out what can be improved, the media’s responsibility towards disabled actors, and what changes film exhibition organizers can start implementing now.

Could you please recap the core ideas of your keynote?

I think I started with the fact the film [Hull’s 2017 City of Culture Film] wasn’t subtitled; I did get a bit arsey about that. I think the biggest link I had of translating my experience of theatre to my experience of film, is in and around the whole issue of “cripping up”: there’s a widening pool of disabled artists/actors, who are skilled, who are good, but we can’t get jobs playing disabled people or not disabled people – we just can’t get jobs.

There’s an ongoing joke, certainly in Ricky Gervais in Extras, where Kate Winslet is playing a “cripple” and she’s going on and on about how she’ll get an Oscar because she’s “cripping up”, and it happens time and time again. Eddie Redmayne got his Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking;  and the argument would be: well he was non-disabled and then he became disabled so you can’t reverse it.

Actually, if you can digitally shrink people so that they can be people of small stature in Lord of the Rings and all that stuff, then you can digitally make someone un-disabled, so I’d say let’s play around. I talked about the lack of imagination and awareness: for me, the whole Eddie Redmayne thing, if you have to have a star, then it’s about how do you frame it: so, you have Stephen Hawking – bless him, now gone – talking to a casting director and being asked, “Who do you want to play you?” What are the discussions? Because there’s a different way in to legitimize it.

Why do you think this is?

Lack of imagination, lack of exposure, and with film, in particular, you have to have ‘the star’, even in the West End, when we’re trying to branch into a more commercial side of things, the people we talk to ask, “Well, who’s going to be the star of this?’” and I say, “Well, my actors are!” they are the stars.

In the past I’ve had directors saying, “Jenny, of course we don’t want to put disabled people on stage because our audience will be offended.”

Maybe they’re not a ‘named’ person, but it’s ‘bums on seats’ and all that. It would be nice for our actors to be seen as stars and given that same opportunity. So we’ve still got a long way to go. Fear is a big one. Fear of difference. In the past, I’ve had directors saying, “Jenny, of course, we don’t want to put disabled people on stage because our audience will be offended.” Or, “Jenny, people don’t come to the theatre to be reminded of the tragedy of being handicapped,” “Oh Jenny, don’t you realise that if it’s a non-disabled person playing a disabled part it gives the audience a sigh of relief: Oh, they were just acting.” These are quite prevalent attitudes that still need to be smashed.

Is it also the media’s responsibility to better represent the disabled actors that there are, and therefore, that they could become names?

Without a doubt. Jack Thorne always says to me, that he’s hell-bent on everything that he writes for television that there are disabled actors cast. But he said his biggest battles are not with the director or the casting director but with the producers, they are the ones we really need to be challenged. Jack has always said that if there’s a disabled actor in his play or when he writes for television, they have got to be played by a disabled actor. That’s his deal breaker. We need more writers having the balls to do that. The writing team for Silent Witness are opening up. Liz Carr finally got cast, but she has been running a one-woman campaign to broaden her story, to give her character a bloody backstory and to bring disability into a wider agenda. She has finally switched on those writers. But it’s a lot of effort when it’s just one person fighting, fighting, fighting on your todd!

It’s brilliant that The Silent Child won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short, but a hearing director, what a shame – we’ve got so many good deaf directors and filmmakers, why aren’t they up there? Why aren’t they at the Oscars? Why are they still having to fight with a small organization BSLBT to get any scraps of money they’ll dole out to make something. Where’s the big money for them?

What is this resistance?

We’re living in a patriarchy aren’t we, and we’re living in a non-disabled patriarchy. We don’t get a look in. So it’s just the white middle-class man, they know best don’t they…so the rules are always their rules, so, we’re fucked.

Until we dismantle it?

But it’s HOW? I don’t know what it is, but I’m bored, I’m so bored. I’ve been on this same treadmill since I left college in 1986; I’ve been saying the same thing since 1986. Now I’m 54, I don’t want to spend the last third of my life saying the same bloody thing, I want REAL change before I die.

Maybe we could talk a little about THE Undateables, which you mentioned in your keynote?

Well, for a start it’s called the undateables which just makes it sound like disabled people are ‘undateable’ which is NOT GOOD.

It’s picking on vulnerable people and making a laughing stock of them, goading them, asking questions to just scratch away at them and not taking any real care about them as people. It is car crash television; it’s immoral actually. Which is weird because Channel 4 do some amazing stuff, so when they get it right they are superlative, but when they get it wrong, oh my god they get it wrong. I was so close to getting it closed down, and I did get in to see the commissioner and she said she’d look into it but then she went off to America, and now the franchise is in other countries.

Did TWU have any impact on your thinking?

It introduced me to Gaylene at the BFI, and we’re in conversation with them – hoping to – share the film of our REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL production. They’ve also taken on the thought that maybe there are a few other films we could show from the disability arts community and make a bit more of an evening of it – so that’s been a fantastic connection.

Have you seen improvements or great examples of inclusivity and diversity in theatre or the arts more generally (equally, seen anything you’ve been really disappointed by)?

I know that National Theatre is taking access seriously and pioneering new methods of captioning so any show can be accessed through captioning whenever a Deaf patron wants it.

Could we get three top tips from you as to how film exhibition organizers can start implementing changes to improve the experience for D/deaf audiences, immediately?

1. Make Sure Everything Is Captioned.

2. Have Deaf Actors and Filmmakers As Integral To A Piece Of Work. If a film is to be truly representative of our society, which it should be, then please can we be in them – whether a character is disabled or non-disabled. I had to wait until I was in my 30s when West Wing hit the screen to see Marlee Matlin on the screen – she was a hotshot lawyer, with brilliant storylines – in America, they get all that right a lot more than we do in this country…

3. Creative Captioning. I am desperate to make the film of our production of Signs of a Diva by Nona Shepphard with Deaf actor Caroline Parker. I have this image when she is putting on her makeup in front of a mirror, and talking to the audience that the subtitles come on to the mirror. I would love to just play around a bit with creative captioning so deaf audiences get a sense of intonation when she’s whispering or when she falls involve, hearts emoji’s could create a heart around the screen.

I think for me, as a Deaf theatre person, how do you put theatre into television, how do you put theatre into film? There are ways. People are doing it but we need more.

Anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re doing at the moment, what’s coming up here?

I am doing the most incredibly big, project called This Is Not For You by Mike Kenny. It is about wounded veterans, some of whom have been wounded in conflict, others wounded afterwards, but they’re all veterans and part of BLESMA [British Legion Ex-Servicemen Association] It’s a big piece commemorating end of WW1, about war then and now, and the fact that most of them say it’s better to come back dead than it is to come back disabled because your currency is so low, and you are a reminder of the atrocities of war.

The title came from one of them men wheeling up to the Cenotaph and a bystander shouted “Oi, this is for the dead, this is not for you,” so that became the title. We’ve got ten storytellers who are on the ground, and we’re training fifteen amputees in aerial skills to enable them to use this skills to manifest their physicality within our set design. It opens at Greenwich+Docklands Festival on 30th June and 1st July; Stockton Riverside Festival on the 2nd and 3rd August – and we’re opening the Stockton Festival which is a huge privilege.

And then the Graeae book is being published. I have been proofreading this for what seems forever! We’re doing the audiobook as we couldn’t get any money from Audible, so we’re trying to do it as in-house as possible because of course, we have a commitment to make sure it’s [the books] accessible. The book and the audio file are being launched on 26th April!

Sarah Mosses reflects on TWU17

Sarah Mosses is the CEO of Together Films, a consultancy that specialises in impact distribution strategies and a champion of data and its myriad uses in the industry. Together Films’ roster of clients includes, DocSociety, the BFI and Amnesty International, and film campaigns including the Oscar nominated, Unrest. Sarah joined us in Hull at This Way Up 2017 as a speaker, and we sat down with her recently to get her top tips, her most memorable questions from the audience and advice for film exhibitors on how the can best utilise data.

Taking you back to a very chilly Hull in November, could you tell us about your experience at This Way Up (TWU), and what you think of it as an event and a fixture in the industry calendar?

It was the first time I presented at TWU, if I remember correctly. What was really nice for us was we got to engage in a dialogue with a number of different exhibitors from across the country. We’re working with exhibitors both as a impact distribution specialist — where our client’s we’re pitching them films throughout the year and have lots of work on — but as a consultant, which is our main area of work. We’re always trying to make sure we’re enabling organisations to be better and do better, and so it was really nice to have the chance to speak to the exhibition sector and see if there were any of our strategies that could help them to enhance their marketing efforts.

It was a really good moment to have everybody in the room at the same time, hear the difficulties people were having on the ground, hear the experiences people were having on the ground. And I really felt there was a lot of dialogue happening between all the different sectors that were there, and I think that’s really important with an event, that they facilitate dialogue and learning; and I really felt like there was a lot of conversation happening at lunch, a lot of conversations about experience. So in terms of an event it definitely delivered on the aspect of dialoguing and facilitation that I think everybody was hoping for.

Could you recap the core ideas of your session for us?

We did one called ‘Impact, Campaigns and Data’. It was a review of our methodology of the facts around what’s called ‘impact distribution strategy’, which is around titles that are looking for distribution need to do all the general aspects of artwork, posters, distribution, social media, but at the same time are wanting to raise awareness of important issues.

We’re looking at framing the film and saying, ‘Not only a wonderful watch, but it’s something that might be able to change mindsets.’ So, we included case study references of a project we recently worked on called Unrest, which was shortlisted for the best documentary feature at the Oscars. We had support from the BFI for the release through the Audience Fund, and for that particular title it was around accessibility to audiences, because the film is about a disease called M.E. [Myalgic Encephalomyelitis], we were targeting not just those people who might have that particular disease, but also other elements that may restrict you from accessing a cinema. So our talk was about how we can prepare cinemas for simple things like having more than 2 wheelchairs in attendance, as most cinema rooms only have two spaces – so what happens when you have three, or five attending?

The focus around data for us was the fact that I’m building out a database model for the industry, which will be out later this year and it’s about getting people to think about how we use data in more efficient ways. I shared a document called ‘a strategic partner matrix’, which is our fancy word for an excel spreadsheet, this had a series of different columns around the people we’re trying to target, what we wanted their response to be, do they actually deliver anything, and what do we think it can turn out to be actually bums in cinemas.

It’s not enough to say, ‘We emailed some people.’ You want to know: who opened the email, did they click on a link, did they put something out on their own social channels – what did it deliver?

So, the summary of our session: Data’s really powerful, you need to be tracking action points, it’s not enough to say, ‘We emailed some people.’ You want to know: who opened the email, did they click on a link, did they put something out on their own social channels – what did it deliver? So you can see if your effort it s being returned. And knowing you can use that data.

Do you remember any particularly interesting audience participation?

When we were talking about how people are storing data, there was definitely, interestingly some people who’d heard about the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] change of legislation, which is around how companies are allowed to store data, it’s a big European-wide legislation to update the privacy laws basically. So it was important to hear marketing managers and assistants are on top of that policy, because it has a fundamental impact on how you are able to communicate with your customers. So just from the sector view: it was really good, because even then – the law change is next month in UK – it was really good to see that people had already heard about it and people were already thinking about it and making changes. It doesn’t mean huge changes, but simple things like you can’t automatically sign someone up to your newsletter, they have to manually click a button that says, ‘Yes I want to be on your newsletter.’ Subtle changes, but huge impact.

When we were looking at the bigger picture stuff: a lot of frustration from people around just having the capacity to do this work – they would love to have an ongoing list of partners they’re working with locally, but who’s going to keep that updated, keep contacting them, who’s role does that sit under, and how do I make sure I have enough time? A lot of people saying, ‘I want to do more, but there’s just not enough hours in the day.’ So again, getting to a point where organisations can be streamline in their efforts, have any essential process that everybody understands and then doing what I say: little and often […] making sure that every day you’re spending even 20 minutes, finding new marketing partners and being in touch with them.

Could we get three pointers from you as to how film exhibition organisations can right now improve the way data informs their campaigns: three things you can start implanting now?

1. Awareness of KPIs [Key Performance Indicator] Across The Company. So if the marketing company’s goal is to amass an extra 500 Facebook followers, programming should know that as much as marketing. So KPI needs to be company wide. And having weekly refreshers so that every department knows.

2. Consistency of Spreadsheet Use. Which sounds so boring! But so, so important, because if in one document you have ‘Name’ and its first name and last name in one column, and in another document you have first name last name as two separate columns, you can’t store or filter that data together.

3. Constant Evaluation and Measurement. So once you’ve set a KPI and you’re saying ‘This is what we want to do for this,’ how are you measuring that, how are you tracking that and how often are you sharing that with your team? So what are your KPIs, but on the flip side of that, how are you measuring how you evaluate and share that success or not success with the team on a regular basis? And getting away form just using new box office numbers and leaving it at that because if you’re not looking at your impression rate on Facebook, your engagement rate on twitter or your open rate in email as a team, how are you going to affect that final box office number? Make it something really easy, so the intern who comes in can understand as quickly as the managing director.

Andi Jarvis on speaking to your audiences

Andi Jarvis is founder of Eximo Marketing, which helps companies communicate with their audiences and their overall marketing strategies. Founded after years of studying and working in the industry, his agency’s clients have included international brands such as Budweiser and Expedia as well as national companies, like the RAF Reserves and Trust Pilot.

Andi joined us at the This Way Up 2017 in Hull, work-shopping marketing strategies for community cinemas and giving advice to members of the audience. We caught up with Andi to chat about his experience at TWU 2017, his top tips on how film exhibition organisations can improve the way they speak to their audiences, and how his thinking has changed over the past few months.

Could you tell us about your experience at TWU?

In terms of an organizational point of view – I speak at a lot of conferences, usually marketing ones rather than industry specific ones, and I thought it was tremendously organized, the way the sessions were put together and the opportunity for discussion – what you usually get at conferences is somebody driveling on for 20 minutes and then somebody else driveling on for another 40 minutes; where as TWU had built in a platform for discussion and that gave the diverse audience from different companies the time to ask questions and interrogate speakers or add to the debate. So is it a worthwhile addition to the arts sector? Absolutely, I thought it was a tremendous way to put it together. And the opportunity to meet and network outside were obviously pretty good.

And would you mind giving a brief overview of your session?

I’m involved with Film Hub Northern Ireland and we were talking about marketing in community cinemas. We did a presentation on what happened and how that worked and the outcomes, and then opened to the floor for questions. I talked about the theory that we went through and how working with community cinema is different in different parts of the industry – for example working with volunteers. But also, what’s the same: the fundamentals of marketing are all the same, so you’re hopefully giving people a chance to say, “Well I can go home and implement that into my business, or say no, well this is very different because we’re a different sort of organization. Then we took questions for 20-25 minutes, which was probably the most enjoyable part for me, it felt like people were getting real value out of that.

Could you tell us any key lessons that came out of that?

One of the things we talked about was having a mission statement and being clear about that, and I think a lot of people overlook that step because they just wanted to get on with doing stuff. There were a couple of good debates about how you create mission statements: why is that important in marketing, and how do they help shape what you’re trying to do, especially with the backdrop of falling budgets. So that was one of key learning. And the reinforcement of the importance of the planning process I’d say was the second one, rather than just jumping straight into implementation let’s plan, let’s understand why, and then get started.

Could you give us 3 pointers as to how film exhibition organisations can improve the way they speak to their audiences?

1. Don’t make assumptions: there’s a lot of assumptions like old people don’t use Facebook, or, my website doesn’t need to be mobile friendly – things like that. People make those assumptions and it shapes what they do. Don’t. Look at the data and the information that you have to understand it. Because that will inform your decision making instead of your, sometimes, lazy assumptions.

2. Involve a wider group of people: often marketing lands with someone whose job it is to do marketing and actually this is best done when it also involves any who interacts with customers – anyone who takes a ticket or volunteers on the door, all of those people have a really important input in how marketing works, because they hear from the customers first hand what people say.

3. Review everything: The easiest thing to do when you’ve finished something is to say, ‘Thank goodness that’s finished! What are we doing next?’ But spending that time to look at: did this work, what did we spend, how did we get a return on it, did people turn up. All that sort of stuff, spend the time reviewing it because it informs where you go next.

Has your thinking or experience changed at all in the intervening months in regards to storytelling and marketing?

One of the things that came out of the session was that, from the whole conference – obviously I was there for the whole time – was that as an industry we’ve got so many stories to tell and so many stories not being told, and I think part of that is because people don’t know what stories to tell and when and how. There’s almost too much content and so we don’t do enough with it.

I think that the ‘done is better than perfect mantra’ is important. Get the stories, tell the stories, let people hear about it – in line with the marketing and planning– tell the stories get the feedback, tell more stories. I think, if we have stories, let’s tell them, let’s use them!

“DOING something somewhere CAUSES something else to HAPPEN,” a chat with Iain Simons

Iain Simons presented Playing with Platforms on day 2 of This Way Up 2017 and here he reflects on the conference and gives his top tips for engaging audiences using interactivity.

Iain Simons is the CEO of the National Videogame Foundation and the co-founder of the National Videogame Archive and National Videogame Arcade, both of which, among being a collection of Videogame software, hardware and ephemera, raises awareness of video games in culture and developing their role in society in general. His many accolades include writing articles for the Guardian and three books, Difficult Questions About Videogames, Inside Game Design and co-authoring the book 100 Videogames.

Specialising in videogames,  video game culture and it’s interactions with the general public, Iain travels the world talking all things video game, and he travelled all the way to Hull to be one of our brilliant guest speakers at TWU back in November 2017. Here we catch up with Iain about his thoughts on the This Way Up conference and his top tips for engaging audiences.

Could you tell us about your experience of This Way Up 2017, and what you think of TWU as an addition to the calendar?

For me as a ‘games guy’, coming to TWU is always a great experience. As an aligned industry with so much in common, I’m always really surprised at how few games folk are there, although I fear once the secret gets out that’ll change and then I’ll regret mentioning it. TWU is put together with a huge amount of care and the audience clearly responds to that. It’s a hugely plural event in its outlook and encompasses a great variety of emergent themes. For me, as well as technological concerns, that’s especially apparent in this fearlessness. As a conference, it’s unafraid to confront the profound problems within the industry it represents, shining a light into some of its dark corners. This year, of course, that’s been especially timely. TWU anchors itself into the contemporary industry agenda in that way, performing a vital function.

Perhaps the greatest compliment I could give is that as a film industry conference it’s now a firm fixture in my calendar – and I’m from the games industry.

What would be your top three tips for film exhibition organisers to start implementing to engage audiences with interactive elements beyond film?

1. Interpret them with care. 
Games are fragile. Given their economic might, it’s tempting to think that they can stand up for themselves in an exhibition environment but they really can’t. Just because games are often also displayed on screens, don’t assume that they can get away with the same level of exhibition interpretation that film does. We can screen say, ‘Toy Story’, and in order to comprehend it at the simplest level, we require the audience to be able to see, hear and understand the language that it’s dubbed in. From that point, we can at least assume a basic shared experience. 
Now let’s think about exhibiting ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ to the same audience. In order for them to play it, they need to be able to hold a controller with 15 or so buttons on it (and know what a controller is), they need to use it to navigate a menu system, start the game, and then they need the motor function, hand-eye coordination and conceptual understanding of what’s going on in order to move the hedgehog through the level to achieve their goal (having understood what the goal is). Not only that, but every individual player is going to have a completely different experience. 
Even at the simplest level, games have a barrier to entry that film doesn’t which shouldn’t be simply ignored.
This all adds up to building a shared critical understanding of even the simplest game, quite challenging to achieve — but a fascinating challenge. 
Know your audience and make any assumptions with care…

2. Games are a performance. 
It’s tempting to think of games as things that are played, but luckily for the purpose of exhibition, they are also things that are performed and spectated. From performance of excellence in things like eSports to more physical performances in things like Singstar or RockBand, games offer a remarkably diverse potential for the staging of performance. 
The assumption is that to be appreciated, everyone needs to be playing. That’s wrong. 
Don’t forget though, like all the best performances of art or sport they often benefit from some contextual commentary and some of them require it to make any sense at all.

3. Use the converted. 
As a venue programmer, you might not be an expert on games. I guarantee you that somewhere in the community around, there will be experts who would love to share their passions and knowledge to help you exhibit. A word of caution though, don’t be afraid to confront their passion with your ignorance and force them to meet it head-on. When shaped and corralled into inclusion, gamers’ passion can be incredibly powerful and develop new audiences. Left unchecked though, through no fault of its own, it can drive the unconverted away.

How can video games or the interactive elements be better incorporated into the cinematic landscape?

This is a pretty big question! For me, this is gently starting to happen, largely through closer collaborations in production. Particularly in areas like VR, the divisions between film and game production are rapidly breaking down. I think one of the key problems to be defused is the assumption about what we mean when we say ‘interactive’. There’s often an implication of a baseline of complexity which it doesn’t really need to be. At the VRWorld Congress last year, one of the most striking points being made was about a more ‘gentle’ level of interactivity that audiences are enjoying, particularly in VR. 
To give ‘players’ agency in an experience doesn’t necessarily mean that they need a complex set of controls and goals. Simply feeling ‘present’ and being able to explore is sometimes enough. Keeping exploring and revising what that spectrum of interactivity consists of will be vital for answering your question.

Could give us an overview of your TWU session, recapping the core ideas and any interesting input from the audience?

My session at TWU was largely concerned with thinking about exhibition and cultural spaces as ‘platforms’ that could be described in simple, computational terms as systems. Having done that, multiple ‘platforms’ could join together to make new work together particularly to the end of creating time-based festivals.

Simply, it’s about Input and Output. DOING something somewhere CAUSES something else to HAPPEN.

For example, an audience member in Hull pushes a button that causes a tone to sound in a room in a venue in Brighton. The button is the input, the loudspeaker is the output — but of course, the fun comes from playing around with what those could be…

Given that agreement between multiple venues, that then presents the opportunity to create time-bound appointments where locations could sync-up to play these experiments together. You could call these appointments ‘festivals’. Finally, when the network gets internationalised, it gets even more exciting to sync-up e.g. If you’re in Hull, Kyoto is literally living in the future… The idea was called ‘sync’ and it’s something we’ve been playing with for a little while now.

And please could you let us in on any exciting developments that have occurred within the intervening months?

For us, the biggest development has been our organisation transitioning into becoming the British Games Institute, for which I’m now the Culture Director. This has been a huge step forward for us, which for me personally now presents a much richer platform for reaching other organisations with. We’ve a rich programme of work developing.

John A Letham: reflecting on This Way Up 2017

John Letham delivered one-to-one mentoring sessions at This Way Up 17, we caught up with him to reflect on the conference and his advice for cinemas and venues.

John A Letham has had a successful career spanning several industries. As an engineer he worked within digital technology at Motorola, moving on to co-found Park Circus, a film distribution company that has offices in Glasgow, London, LA and Paris; it was sold to the Arts Alliance in 2014, with John returning to the company in 2016 as co-CEO.

As founder and director of his company, Considered Thinking, which specializes in executive coaching and mentoring, he works as an executive coach at the company with this breadth of experience. This Way Up were lucky to have him take part in TWU Festival 2017 as a coach, giving rare, personal, one to one, coaching sessions in Hull back in November. We catch up with John to get some his insights on the festival, the industry in general, and some of his top tips.

Could you tell us about your experience at TWU, and your thoughts about it as an initiative?

There is an extra layer, without doubt, about operating regionally […] I think the danger of taking a national event and just having it in London is that those delicate situations of operating regionally aren’t able to come up to the surface. And what I think is important about TWU and about where it is, where it’s choosing as its venues, and being centric in those venues – for example, we were in Hull, the city of culture, we had representatives from the city – the city is very much there, a strong presence, like an attendee at the event, it makes its presence known, which I think is really important because it gives that sense of place […] The vital importance of the event is being able to talk about global issues, international issues, national issues, national considerations, but always having that regional slant, that regional focus – because it is different and there are extra considerations, and pleasures, which is why I think it’s very much a vital addition to the industry calendar.

Could you tell us a little about the differing experiences in regards to the people you consulted with at TWU?

I worked with eight individuals, on a sort of one to one coaching surgery; it’s not something I would normally do, typically I would coach over 6-8 sessions, over a period of time, so I did warn people I would operate at a pace. But from the responses I’ve had, I do think people found benefit from it, and I do think even a brief intervention can have an advantage, an effect, and is certainly worth considering.

It was a great mix of eight people: everything from fairly new in their career path — perhaps in their first role looking to explore where to go in their next transition – right through to management, and beyond into board level. So the diversity of experience and resulting physical age and knowledge was vast; there was also a nice gender balance, which was super.

A lot of different issues were talked about and it was interesting how quickly in every case we got into the issue and finding a solution […] and trying to move forward, even by one degree. I did actually get an email the other day from one of the individuals I saw who has recently made a major change, successfully moving to a new and challenging role, and contributed some of it to the session we had.

Who were the kinds of people in your sessions? Was there a breadth of vocation or a pattern there?

It was a real breadth: covering venues, film festivals, contributors who are organising events within the film space – a real mix, and within that everyone from board members to programmers and administrator type roles.

In your opinion, was there a common theme, a commonality within the challenges people were facing?

Yes, there was. It was quite interesting, there were a number of themes that came through: the first was about confidence and the ability to be able to sell oneself appropriately […] there was a sort of apologetic nature, which I think is a fine balance, but the danger there is if you’re not celebrating what you have achieved and what you are able to do then it can eat away at your confidence generally.

Linked to that there is a phrase that’s used out there: imposter syndrome. People who find themselves in a position and they can’t quite believe that they’re there, and often it’s because people love their jobs […] they aspired to a role and they got it, and all of a sudden they’re like, “Oh my goodness!” Because sometimes when people are learning and performing, that buzz of being out of their comfort zone can make people feel a bit giddy. That doesn’t mean you are an imposter by any means, it’s just a combination of being able to sit back and say, “Well done, I’ve got here, and yes I am learning, and yes I may feel I’m privileged to be in this position; however, I’m working hard, I’m contributing and I’m performing.” Celebrate that.

“Well done, I’ve got here, and yes I am learning, and yes I may feel I’m privileged to be in this position; however, I’m working hard, I’m contributing and I’m performing.”

In regards to operating regionally a couple of issues did come up: if people decide they do want to stay in a particular region or city, or equally, are happy to move from Scotland to Wales for example, there is more limited opportunity […] and people in the industry tend to love the industry, so when people in more senior roles like the industry they’re in, they might stay in that role for twenty-plus years and they’re not likely to be leaving anytime soon […] So it does mean that there’s, not even a glass ceiling, it’s a ceiling of progression, it’s a pipeline ceiling, and often there’s a blockage. So sometimes it’s about thinking, “Maybe I need to go up another pipe.”

A final point that did come up, particularly a mid-career thing, is that when people are younger, generally speaking, people are fairly happy — and I’ll choose these words carefully – with a relatively low level of remuneration as a norm in this sector as opposed to other industries […] That passion and love doesn’t die, but as life throws responsibility at you, such as partnerships and family and property and children and whatever, that low level of remuneration that may have been acceptable when you were younger […] later on, there is a sense sometimes of people feeling that they’re not being paid what they’re worth and that can have impact on peoples own self-worth and value and its just an awareness of that.

Those last two issues — opportunity and remuneration — are more acute regionally, in my opinion, than they are in London.

Could you give us your three top bits of advice?

1. Let Go. When you let go you create space, and much more interesting things can come in to that space. Linked to that, let go of what other people think.

2. Be authentic. Be your own person. Your contribution will probably be richer because of that. Don’t say you like movie, per se, just because everyone does or it’s the ‘thing to do’, be your true person. If you listen to your inner being, no one can argue against you if you say, “In my opinion …” And linked to that: don’t judge other people if they have their own opinion as well. Other opinions are vital. Everyone doesn’t have to agree, and that’s what makes the diversity of the world so rich.

3. Grow and develop confidently. We’re living in fast-paced world right now, and if the world is changing so quickly, you have to change at least the same pace, otherwise, you’ll fall behind […] It is hard work. It does take effort. Staying in your comfort zone and doing the same old same old is easy. But learning new things and trying new techniques, listening intently and trying to understand and empathise with other people’s point of view has major benefits.

DAY TWO: SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED: SECURITY AND SAFEGUARDING CULTURAL EVENTS

Melanie Iredale, Deputy Director of Sheffield Doc/ Fest spoke to Helen Thackery of Hull City Council, Mat Steel, Head of Production at Sheffield Doc / Fest, Tracy Ford of Sheffield Council and Maxine Rowson representing Rape Crisis,  in the wake of the recent Harvey Weinstein revelations, and asks what we could be doing as an industry to improve safety for staff and guests.

Iredale referred to a recent Indiewire article which suggests that film festivals often create an environment where there is potential for harm; namely, groups of people away from home for long periods of time, a culture of heavy drinking and partying, and the attitude that ‘what happens at a film festival, stays at a film festival.’

Maxime of Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland spoke of the importance of treating those who come forward with dignity and respect. It is vital not to tell victims that they are being silly, it is important to respect privacy, and to hand autonomy back to victims by asking them what they want to do.

All of the panelists reiterated the need to work with local authorities- councils, the emergency services, and other organisations which may have examples of best practice, and can help to create a safer environment for staff members and guests.

Tracy Ford spoke of the Ask for Angela campaign, which is now being rolled out across England and Wales, which aims to help women or men who are feeling vulnerable, and the Best Bar None campaign  which similarly aims to assist young people under the influence of alcohol. Whilst these schemes may not be relevant for the exhibition industry in their entirety, there are elements of both campaigns that could be used for events where many people are meeting, possibly for the first time, and alcohol is being consumed.

Once questions were thrown to the audience, many were asking for guidelines, with one suggestion being that members of the UK Cinema Association should be offering such guidelines. However, it was reiterated by Tracy Ford, that responsibility needs to fall on the venue, who may well have a different relationship with their customers, or different sorts of issues with their events.

It was also pointed out by other audience members that certain jobs within film festivals are at an increased risk of harm. Volunteers are particularly vulnerable, and with the role of Volunteer Coordinator often starting later than the rest of the core team, this can lead to serious breeches of safety. A shocking remark from Helen Thackery, was that the film industry is one of the only industries that still allows lone workers, and when female members of staff are being left alone to look after older, sometimes famous men, this immediately creates a high risk, and that risk needs to be eradicated.

The clear learnings from the panel, are that systems need to continuously be reviewed, and examples of best practice shared. Film festivals, for the most part, are fun, exciting, and sometimes glamorous events. But the fun can be easily spoiled if procedures aren’t in place. It is also important to remember that it is not just visiting guests that need to be protected, it is also the staff. An open environment where staff feel they can speak freely is essential in any organisation, and it is vital that the film industry gets up to speed.

Nia Childs

DAY TWO: Impacts, Campaigns and Data

As a strategic consultant, Sarah Mosses talked about the ways in which she and her organisation use data and analytics to more successfully put out projects such as campaigns or screenings.

Sarah argued that it is important to devise strategies that include distribution and revenue targets in line with the campaign’s impact strategies when thinking about how to put out a project. She went through one case study, which was a film project that Together Films not only consulted with, but also distributed. The film was Unrest, a documentary film about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) by Jennifer Brea, who suffers from it. The project was initially Kickstarted, but it found its way to Together Films as part of the Sundance Creative Distribution Funding Scheme. After Together Films got involved, they began devising marketing strategies to best put out this film to its appropriate audience.

Targeting appropriate audiences and collecting data were two key points in how to market the campaign successfully. Sarah discussed how Jennifer wanted to also do a VR experience alongside the film, which many exhibitors were really keen on, where others weren’t. By gathering data on who would be interested in pursuing their VR experience, they were able to market it differently for each exhibitor and distributor they got in contact with. They also collected data on a large part of the target audience that would not be able to actually go to the cinema to see the film – sufferers from CFS or similar illnesses that had them bedridden, and unable to leave the house for the screening. So they devised a virtual screening plan to send a feed of the actual cinema screening simultaneously to an online stream, which they could buy an online ticket for. All of this made it a more successful project in terms of understanding who they were marketing the film to and making sure that its main audience would have actual access to the film.

Beyond targeting audiences, Sarah also described how important it is to collect data in order to keep track of organisations and partners to work with in the future, by keeping a spreadsheet of detailed information on how they have worked together. She also explained that within any organisation, it’s imperative that this data be easily accessible to everyone who is involved in planning, programming and organising projects.

Sarah emphasised the importance of setting achievable goals but also to keep striving to beat these goals once they have been reached. For any exhibitor or distributor putting out a project, all this data collection, targeting audiences and strategizing needs to be met with goals that are realistic for where the organisation is at that given moment, and grow from there.  And deadlines were also a key element of this. Sarah spoke on how it is important to plan ahead and accordingly to how you want your project to be released, and also within the timelines of your partners.

Finally, Sarah spoke on how different platforms are equally important in managing the marketing and targets of projects. Press data as well as industry papers and audience responses are all good ways of gathering information, and social media as well as more analogue forms of marketing all serve their own purpose depending on who you are trying to engage with your project. She gave examples of apps to use to track social media reach, like Buffer and social press kits, as well as Facebook Pixel and Facebook analytics as a way to further understand who you are reaching and how to reach who you want to. Always striving to understand what you are marketing and how the audience you want to market it to will engage with it is the one of the most important points to consider when thinking of collecting data and the impact your project can have.

Mariana Duarte

THIS WAY UP: DAY TWO

The second and final day of This Way Up in Hull saw a wide range of subjects covered; failure, safety, the future of foreign language cinema, archiving of contemporary cinema, collecting data, and disruptive festival platforms. There was a lot of ground to cover, and a number of things to take away from the past two days. As much as being learnt in lunch breaks as from the panelists, and it is clearly vital that events such as This Way Up continue to bring exhibitors together.  The sharing of information and demonstrations of best practice are desperately needed, and that sense of community needs to be kept alive as things become more difficult.

A clear example of this was a panel on safety and safeguarding. Melanie Iredale of Sheffield Doc/Fest lead the panel, which wanted to discuss the topic  in the wake of the Weinstein allegations.  In the current climate where fresh allegations are being revealed daily, and conversations online and in the pub are still ongoing, it was useful and desperately needed to have a conversation that offered and discussed practical advice, and allowed members of the panel and the audience to highlight problem areas and share information.

As well as the need for community, diversity is still on everybody’s mind, but more importantly, it’s meaning is being interrogated- it truly needs to include EVERYONE.

As mentioned previously by Simran Hans in her keynote on day one, it’s deeply important that equality in all its forms is not performative or co-opted by organisations in a way that is insincere, and This Way Up does offer a space to go deeper beyond the hashtags and the online noise. Questions were raised about the true nature of diversity in our industry, and the consensus seems to be that we need to go deeper and expand our meaning of the word. Our industry is still not as inclusive as we are lead to believe; we are still incredibly London-centric, we do not include D/deaf and disabled people in our discussions, and funding is still something of a tick boxing exercise that only serves organisations that have the most choice in the first place. And we as exhibitors need to ensure that we keep having those discussions, and being bold enough to make changes to improve it; whether that means assigning some of that precious budget to ensure the safety of your staff,  or increasing the number of subtitled screenings to include your D/deaf audiences.

Looking to the future, let’s hope that at the next This Way Up, some of those learnings have been implemented and we can continue to see positive change.

Nia Childs

#FaveFail from Sambrooke Scott

As a naive, green Press and Marketing Assistant for a large Indy distributor, I was responsible for arranging prizes for competition winners.

One prize was an all expenses paid trip to America. I was arranging travel with the prize winner and liaising with the travel agent. The prizewinner had many demands and requested multiple changes to the travel package. I passed these changes on to the travel agent, adding a rant about the moany, fussy prize winner.

The travel agent then replied to me confirming the changes to the travel package.

You can guess what’s coming right?

I merrily forwarded those changes in an email to the prize winner.

Of course, what I had neglected to do was delete my rant about the moany prize winner.

I received an email back from the prizewinner apologising for their requests but explaining that they had mobility issues and the changes requested to accommodate those.

I realised what a shit I’d been and wrote a long apologetic email and learnt a valuable life lesson about email etiquette, understanding other peoples issues and being a good human.