Report of the Bologna Audience Development & Innovation Lab (25 – 29 June 2016)
‘The cinema experience in the age of digital distractions?’
Day 1: Introduction & meet the lab leaders
For the twelfth year running, Europa Cinemas held its Audience Development & Innovation Lab in Bologna, as part of Cineteca di Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato festival. The seminar brought together 34 participants from 17 different countries to allow exhibitors to share their experiences and offer innovative solutions to the challenges faced by cinemas.
The seminar was opened by Gian Luca Farinelli, Director of Cineteca di Bologna and Claude-Eric Poiroux, General Director of Europa Cinemas. Gian Luca Farinelli welcomed the participants and presented the project of Cineteca to reopen the historical cinema of the city centre, Modernissimo.
Led by Madeleine Probst (Watershed, Bristol, UK and Vice-President of Europa Cinemas) and Mathias Holtz (Folkets Hus och Parker, Sweden), the seminar began with a session in which participants were invited to introduce themselves and present both the strengths and weaknesses of their venues. The most frequent areas for improvement mentioned by participants were building new audiences, improving communication/dialogue with audiences, defining spaces/ perception of the cinema.
Day 2: Re-imagining cinema spaces in modern times
The second day kicked off with a visit to the recently refurbished Multisala Odeon, a 4 screens and 630 seats film theatre part of Circuito Cinema Bologna. The cinema’s foyer, café, common areas and services have been completely renovated in October 2015 with a style recalling the 30s’, warms lights and hand-made paintings on the foyer wall and restrooms. Architect Jean-Marc Lalo, from Atelier Lalo in Paris, did a presentation in one of Odeon’s auditoriums of his main design works in cinema theatres in France and Middle East, explaining the concept and mission of these renovations, as well as the impact on the audience and the community. Afterwards, the participants were led to the
Modernissimo site, the project of the Cineteca di Bologna to reopen the historical cinema in the heart of the city. As presented by Gian Luca Farinelli the day before, the Modernissimo project will involve the work of a designer rather than an architect, whose task will be to bring the space back to life with genuine craftsmanship inspired by a Liberty and Art Nouveau style. The work is especially important for the necessary attention to detail and emphasis on the organisation of the space in this underground cinema. The gallery at the entrance will host temporary exhibitions like the current one dedicated to Lumière brothers. The venue should open in June 2017.
Back to Sala Cervi, the participants were asked to note down on post-it their fresh positive and negative impressions on both venues. Among the positive sides of Modernissimo the key words mentioned were “potential”, “historical”, “grandness”; as far as weak points are concerned “dark”, “not easily accessible”, “no natural lights” were the most recurrent ones. Odeon was described as “cozy”, “strong identity”, “bright and
welcoming”, but also “over-decorated”, “no practical signs” and “unpleasant smell of popcorn”. Jean Marc Lalo wrapped up the session drawing some conclusions: he found that in the case of Modernissimo it would be interesting to create a gap between the original concept and the new project and mixing the heritage site with a modern and alternative place. Going underground should imply leaving the classical architecture of the outside city. Furthermore, it is important to think of who your audiences or the audiences you wish to approach are and if the venue looks attractive to them, if it suits well in the community where it is set.
Getting creative: cinema spaces & brands
The Sunday afternoon starts with the presentation of Daniel Sibbers, third workshop leader and Marketing Manager of the Yorck Kinos in Berlin, explaining how the venue needs to reflect the brand of the cinema, its identity. It is fundamental to bring the values of quality, variety and personality into the cinema venue, creating relevance between the cinema and the district where it is located. Thanks to neons, lights effects, colours and photo exhibitions, Yorck venues communicate their brand and give their audience a reliable experience. Afterwards, Astrid Cats presented the transformation of Natlab Plaza Futura in the Netherlands, from a Philips experimental light bulb lab built in 1889 into a cinema venue. Plaza Futura cinema was previously located in another building which was outdated and in need of renovation. In 2013 the municipality decided to move the cinema into the already dismantled Natlab site. As a small cinema with 2 halls moving into a 3 times larger site it was a huge opportunity for Plaza Futura, but a challenge as well. The cinema currently counts 6 screens, including a theatre room. Of course the fixed costs are higher in the new site, but Plaza Futura almost tripled its audience. Their mission is to reinvent the history of the venue: given its past and thanks to the hi-tech start-ups surrounding it, the goal of Natlab Plaza Futura is now to focus on experience and experiment.
Andrea Mincigrucci from PostModernissimo, Italy, presented the project Becoming X. PostModernissimo is located in the historical centre of Perugia, a beautiful location but not very practical to access and to notice. In order to extend their reach towards young audience, the four young managers of PostModernissimo developed a series of events called Becoming X. It is a live drawing event focus on big releases like Star Wars, where the audience can interact with the painters and take part in the work. The initiative was launched in partnership with a radio station broadcasting a cinema programme and the painters drew personalised t-shirts and posters that were sold during and after the event. The cinema spaces were completely transformed for these events to use all the inside and outside areas. They realised that during these interactive activities the audience gets more involved in PostModernissimo activities. They managed to attract very diverse audiences, who later become regular viewers. The goal of these events series is to create a social space in the community where people can actively participate in the life of the cinema.
The second day concluded with a creative task: build a cinema out of a cardboard box, name it, define your mission statement, find your key features of your cinema and add some decoration. The outcomes were beyond expectations in terms of creativity, concept and business plan. The architect Jean-Marc Lalo added some remarks regarding the accessibility and the functionality of the cinema boxes. Finally, both the Word of the Day “potential”, widely used in the post-it task, and Nina Selig’s picture winning the Photo of the Day illustrate the Modernissimo site.
Day 3: Building our people capacity to respond to audiences
Monday starts with a session illustrating four different staff organization and structures and how to better collaborate with our team. Jure Maticic from Kino Domzale, Slovenia, presents the case of the small cinema, part of the municipal cultural centre. The cinema is part of a public building including a music school, a theatre, an art gallery and a heritage museum. There are 9 employees doing all types of tasks and switching their roles, from programming to projection and ticket office. Basically everyone has to be able to do everything! The plus of a small collective is a quick communication, the minus is that they are heavily understaffed, so even if they have plenty of ideas, sometimes it is difficult to implement them because of lack of time and resources. The versatility of all staff members is a good aspect in general, but on the other side it can lead to distraction when for example you are executing a task requiring a lot of concentration and you need to take care of the ticket office at the same time.
Giuliana Fantoni from Cinema Edera, Italy, told the story of her family managed cinema, from the difficult start in the ‘70s to its current role as first art house cinema of Veneto region. In a family business the role division is not well defined, the parents have the most executive roles, like the relations with distributors and the planning of the programming, while Giuliana the daughter is the connecting ring with the other employees and the “innovator agent” in this very traditional cinema. The take-over is not planned yet, acquiring the core skills as well as keeping up with new technologies are key. The authority in a family business is more evident, sometimes it is difficult to take aside the family roles from the routine at work and it is necessary to fight more to be recognised as a professional rather than as a “daughter”. Therefore it is crucial to have a strong bound and an excellent communication.
After the family business model, Lucie Morvan from Yorck Kinogruppe in Berlin talked about a group company consisting in 12 theatres and 1 open air cinema (for a total of 30 screens). Inside this group the limited company runs only 9 cinemas. Within the group they share marketing, online ticketing software but not the management. Lucie Morvan exposed the advantages as well the disadvantages of this business model. The main advantage is that they can share the skills and the costs (one marketing team for all the cinemas, one programming team, which allows them to have very competent and specialized staff). One of the things to improve is the communication inside this big company (about 150 employees). The problem is the gap between the office and the cinemas. In order to link the office to the cinemas they started to involve the cinema employees in the decision making, inform them about the company strategy and organise regular team buildings and workshops. They are also planning to create a wiki platform in order to share documents more easily.
Madeleine Probst from Watershed, Bristol presented the model of a cross art venue and how to manage the staff and people in a very complex organisation (Watershed is not a network but the lead organisation for a lot of events). The main problems they had to deal with are the internal communication and the management of the staff capacity. Madeleine exposed the solutions they came up with: close the building for one day, bring all the staff together and do a training; co-write values together with the staff (which are in the business plan), organise business development meetings with the staff, asking them to help solve problems. One of the most important things in managing the staff is to allow people in the team to grow in their work.
The second part of the presentation was about a fundraising campaign that Watershed organised. Madeleine showed how important is to include the board and the staff in this process. Also this campaign allowed them to produce summary documents of what their work is and to tell better their story.
At the end of the presentation Madeleine launched a group task consisting in finding the “People Power Challenge” of the “cinema box” built the day before and develop a strategy in order to realize it. Each team presented the projects and strategies imagined and Madeleine and Mathias gave each a feedback.
Developing audiences for diverse cinema: when programming meets marketing…
Daniel Sibbers talked about marketing and more precisely the concept of branding. He explained why a cinema should think of branding and why it is important. He showed that emotions are very important in people choices and that in the challenge of trigger positive emotions everything is about visual. So what each cinema should do is to create and share their image according to what the customers want, their strategy and reality. This image is what people should have in mind when thinking about the cinema. Daniel took Yorck as a case study and showed how they create and work on their image on a daily basis.
Mathias Holtz from Folkets Hus och Parker talked about the programming side, how programming is changing and how to program heritage cinema. Mathias Holtz presented the company Folkets Hus och Parker which programs more than 150 cinemas (mostly in rural towns). They have only 4 inner-city arthouse cinemas. So the challenge for him is how to do the programming for such a diverse group of cinemas. The programmer has to adapt his strategy to each cinema context. Mathias Holtz talked also about the alternative content which is representing 10 % of the programming but 50% of the box-office. The alternative content enables cinemas to survive economically.
The second part of the presentation was about a project of Folkets Hus och Parker concerning programming and promoting heritage films in Sweden. The two obstacles in Sweden according to Mathias Holtz are the accessibility and the availability of the films (in Sweden there were not till recently very good archives like in France, Italy or Germany) and the lack of professional experience with heritage cinema. Mathias Holtz developed in collaboration with the Swedish Film Institute a marketing campaign in order to promote this new project: he asked 7 internationally renowned directors to name their favorite Swedish film.
Mathias Holtz announced the task of the afternoon which was to create a marketing campaign for a repertoire film. After the lunch pause each group presented their marketing campaign and Daniel Sibbers and Mathias Holtz gave a feedback for each.
Programming with & for niche communities
Didi Wu talked about the Broadway Cinematheque and the Hong Kong Asian Film festival. She started her presentation with a little overview of the cinema landscape in Hong Kong marked by a lack of screens. The Broadway Cinematheque was created 20 years ago and 13 years ago they launched the festival. At the beginning they programmed only arthouse films, but not many people were attending, so they started to include in their programme some commercial films. The idea was to make people come to the cinema and know about the alternative program as well.
The festival has also brought many new people to the cinema (and among the new comers mostly youngsters). The programming angle for the festival is based on a half/half concept (half commercial/half art; half known/half unknown; half fun/half serious; half entertaining/half knowledgeable). The programming is also very flexible – they introduce one new program every year, they try to cooperate each year with various organisations. The marketing team is young and dynamic so they are very aware of the new media and how to use them. The strategy of the festival is to be approachable for all audiences. The festival makes an intense use of social media.
Fanny Garet from Plaza Art in Belgium talked about the Retro-movie club, a new special programme set up together with a group of young people. This programme, aimed to attract new audiences (mostly young) is very different from their regular programming (which is very serious). The programme worked very well from the beginning as the first screening was rapidly sold out. This event consists in a normal screening of blockbusters of the 80s (retro) but preceded and followed by some artistic complements like special posters, exhibitions by local young artists, blind tests, retro-gaming workshops. The results are very positive: they managed to create an informal atmosphere and bring to the cinema a mixed audience.
Nina Selig from Endstation Kino talked about a special film programme for refugees. The cinema Endstation Kino is not situated in the city centre but they are close to three refugees’ camps. The cinema is very connected to the neighborhood and they wanted to do something for the children. So last year they started showing films for the refugees. They started a cooperation with the University which was doing a seminar for regular students but also for refugees. Every afternoon with the help of a local youth center and student they go pick-up the kids form the camps and bring them to the cinema. Children are watching short films (animation/feature/documentaries). The films are preceded by brief introductions (with the help of translators). The age of the kids is from 3 up to 14 years.
At the end of the presentations, Fatima Djoumer and Adrian Preda from Europa Cinemas presented NEXT/CHANGE, a new initiative launched this year by Europa Cinemas aimed to develop further exchanges between exhibitors. This program will allow exhibitors to travel abroad to another network cinema and experience another exhibitor’s working practices in order to improve their own expertise.
The word of the day was SHARING used by Irene Musumeci. The picture of the day was taken by Agnieszka Balicka and Christine Mueh illustrating one of the slides of Mathias Holtz presentation with a convincing message to attract young audience.
Day 4: Co-curating film experiences and offers with young people
Tuesday morning, four of the young ambassadors of the Cinema Ritrovato, a group of 10 young people from Bologna’s high schools, introduced themselves to the Lab before taking part in the morning session focused to give the participants some tips on what to do and what not to do when trying to attract the young people.
Three case studies on co-curation of spaces and film experiences followed. Madeleine Probst presented a Watershed programme for 18 to 25 years-olds who spent two months at the venue learning how to put on an event, collaborating with the marketing and programming teams. Watershed also led an initiative with young people working on a magazine based in its office called Rife Magazine. They created a programme to encourage young people to travel to the Flatpack festival in Birmingham and experience it together. With the help of vloggers, the young participants made videos to relate their experience. Madeleine also presented a co-designing programme called React, which encourages companies to involve kids and young people at their projects’ design stage, before listing key recommendations on working with children. The main ones were: listen, observe, respond.
Then Greet Stevens presented Mooov, a non-profit organisation supported by the government and working across different venues of Flanders to create programmes and events for young audience. After organising a world cinema festival once a year in Turnhout, Belgium, they started doing successful screenings in different institutions and have to respond to a growing demand for arthouse. They also gathered a group of young ambassadors who created their movie-club. Besides that, Greet Stevens also introduced the new project called “Mooov in School”, to bring the films to the schools. Teachers have the possibility to be trained to learn how to work with non-commercial movies in class. The students and children in school represent a large part of the public, as more than 35 000 of them are reached every year. A new pilot project in schools for refugees or children with special needs will be launched this year.
Then Piotr Lenkiewicz made a presentation on the Kino Studyjne Awangarda 2 in Olsztyn, Poland, on engaging young audiences in detective films. With the help of directors, the cinema team organised detective movies screenings for teenagers with a special lecture and a workshop teaching the young people about the film-making-process. The project lasted around three months with 50 participants who wrote 3 movie-scripts based on detective plots. Piotr Lenkiewicz then also presented the Pionier 1907 cinema of Szczecin, Poland. The team created a cross-border project planned for summer 2016 gathering children from Poland and Germany and aimed at offering the young people an international experience and fighting against stereotypes. The young people will have to choose a main topic and learn film-making techniques in order to make a movie together.
After these presentations, the participants were asked to work in groups to create a film “experience” for young people. Each group discussed with one of the Cinema Ritrovato’s young ambassadors before pitching their project to the group of young people and getting their feedback. It was particularly inspiring for the Lab to have the opportunity to discuss directly with young cinema lovers.
Working with partners to reach new audiences
This session was composed of three case studies. Daniel Sibbers introduced a few marketing tools that can be used to promote a cinema venue and talked about how to build brand visibility on an arthouse budget. He presented several ways the Yorck Kinos collaborate with partners to attract new audiences: showing an opening trailer where it is easy to bring up partners, using public transportation to promote the Yorck Kinos programme with the financial participation of the distributors, making a campaign in a local newspaper to advertise a subscription gift. He also mentioned the possibility of collaborating with a various range of partners such as advertising agencies, local businesses or community partners. Irene Musumeci from Curzon, Canterbury, then presented the cinema’s first opened site’s full-blown young audience development plan to engage the young community of the city.
Curzon teamed up with other businesses and the local university societies, especially the Film society and the LGBT society, offering them to bring up films they are interested in, such as feminist films or world cinema, and to work with them. The young people distribute the Curzon and distributors materials and organise several activities such as film quiz or film podcasts, and have the possibility to give their opinion on the upcoming programme. This collaboration allowed Curzon to benefit an increasing number of student admissions and to have a considerably younger audience than other cinemas. Eventually, Sara Sveding from Biograf Reflexen, a non-profit arthouse cinema, presented the partnership developed by the cinema with the Youth City Council of Stockholm as a solution to the lack of teenage audience. The Youth City Council participates in programming movies according to previously chosen themes and works on marketing, social media and events logistic with the help of the cinema team. The morning concluded with discussions between the participants on the best practices and challenges in partnership.
How well do we know our audiences
The day continued with three case studies, starting with Daniel Sibbers who introduced Yorck Kinos’ subscription programmes, the “Kinoabo” and the “Yorck-Karte”. Anaïs Flores from UGC made a presentation about their unlimited subscription programme before demonstrating how the use of data with marketing and communication objectives can help exhibitors knowing their audience better and meeting their demand. Then Madeleine Probst talked about Watershed subscription offer for audiences under the age of 24, launched after the proportion of young people had increased in the city. The 24 & Under initiative had positive results as over the six months since the launch, the Watershed has seen an average of 48% increase in sales of the students’ and under 24 tickets.
The case studies were followed up by a group task asking the participants to discuss strategies for capturing data and exploit them in order to build loyalty and engage new audiences, how to do it and what to avoid. A few highlights were: surveys, data from newsletters, personal contact including with non-consumers, mobile phones, condensed capturing of data. The mistakes to avoid highlighted by the participants were: asking questions people don’t want to answer, too long questionnaires, lack of staff training.
After debriefing the task, some participants pitched a project during the open slot session and got the other participants’ feedback. Monica Naldi presented the Cinema Beltrade’s initiative involving the audience in a crowdfunding project for the production of a movie. They showed clips of the film project, encouraging the audience to participate in the crowdfunding and involving them in the distribution and exhibition stages as well. Then Monica Naldi gave the floor to Burkhard Vogel, who works at the Broadway Filmtheater in Trier (Germany) and presented his cinema’s newly created Youtube channel’s content, which includes videos of events and film reviews made by the cinema team. Finally, Ines Volf from Art Kino (Rijeka, Croatia) presented her cinema’s different projects, such as the Film Workshops in Schools run since October 2015, the “AKCIJA!” Children Film Festival and the film club and film library set up in the Art Kino’s hall. She specified that further activities will be proposed in another building towards 2020, when Rijeka will become the new European Capital of Culture.
The Picture of the Day was taken by Franziska Rummel and shows one of the groups working for the task of the morning with a Cinema Ritrovato’s young ambassador, and the Word of the Day was “listening”, referring to the behaviour to adopt when you work with young audience and partners.
Day 5: Workshop debrief & return strategy
The last day of the seminar was devoted to an open discussion on which ideas were likely to be taken home. What actions are the participants planning to implement in their venue? What obstacles are they likely to meet, what potential solutions and partners can they find? Some ideas were already in minds, especially connecting the marketing to the programming, visiting other cinema venues and looking at one’s own venue with a fresh look, exchanging more with the other team members or collecting data to know the audience better. The Tuesday morning group task with the local young ambassadors inspired many participants to start involving young people in their cinema’s activities and even to create their own team of young ambassadors.
The participants of the 12th edition of the seminar committed wholeheartedly in exchanging views and ideas, allowing each other to find renewed inspiration and to look at their venue’s difficulties and qualities in a new light. They reflected on their strategies for marketing and communication, on their collaborations with the other staff members and the outside partners, and were encouraged to develop their relationships to the young audience to incentivise their interest in a diverse cinema.
Sonia Ragone, Raphaëlle Gondry, Adrian Preda (July 2016)