There’s something special about watching a film in a crumbling church, a nightclub, or a boutique cinema. No matter where it is, your chosen venue has the power to take your cinematic experience to a whole new level.
In this series of Idea Spark, we explored the Bricks & Mortar of cinema, celebrating unique ways that audiences consume film.
In an interview with founder of Rooftop Cinema Club, Gerry Cottle Jr., we heard about their incredible new spaces opening worldwide. We explored how the documentary Unrest was brought to life by Unrest VR, an interactive non-fiction experience. Plus, a first look at Everyman‘s spanking new cinema in Kings Cross.
There is a real desire for new and innovative experiences in all passion points, cinema included. It’s no coincidence groups all over the world are creating cinemas in weird and wonderful places. From hot tubs to backyards, London has been a big player in showing what’s possible and popular. Gerry Cottle Jnr. has been a key figure in this movement and he took the time to speak to us about how he’s taking it global.
Launched in 2011, Rooftop Film Club is the original sky-high cinema experience. After smashing four sell-out seasons, they expanded from Shoreditch throughout London. New York and Hollywood followed. Not content with eight venues across the UK and US, now they have the world in their sights.
Brands ranging from American Express to Vice, to Red Bull and Chanel have all recognised the power of a partnership with Rooftop. Here, Gerry tells us how he created the global experience that audiences flock to year after year.
elevenfiftyfive: What inspired you to create Rooftop Film Club?
Gerry Cottle Jr.: Like all great ideas, it started on a wing and a prayer. A love of events and passion for film, a loan from the bank and lots of hard work. My biggest inspiration came from wanting to run my own business and get more from life.
eff: Why is Rooftop so special?
GCJ: An evening at Rooftop is set apart from any other cinema platform by amazing views, fantastic street food, cocktails and killer customer experience. All whilst watching a cult, classic or new release movie. We’re passionate about putting the community and celebration back into cinema.
“People buy experiences, not products.”
eff: How have you achieved such fast international expansion?
GCJ: We’ve worked hard to build a brand that‘s always ahead of the curve. Be that in our programming or the detail we add to every part of the experience. Putting customers first, taking calculated risks and surrounding myself with the right people has allowed for fast expansion. We’ve created our own community by valuing fans and making them a part of what we do. From film choice to popcorn flavour, our audience are involved. We genuinely love them, which we hope means they come back time and time again.
eff: How do you stay ahead of the curve in the pop-up, outdoor cinema space?
GCJ: People buy experiences, not products. We just keep working hard to make sure our experiences are the biggest and the best.
eff: What’s been the most stand out brand activity you’ve done?
GCJ: Our recent CineJam activity with NME. Music by day and movies by night, curated by Bastille. It delivered great results. Who wouldn’t want to watch a great band and then your favourite film whilst the sun sets, with a cocktail in hand?
“Film is about escapism.”
eff: What’s next for Rooftop?
GCJ: Our focus is on US expansion – venues in San Diego, Miami and Austin are all opening in early 2018. We’re also currently working on a franchise model to take the brand worldwide. Every great city should get the chance to experience Rooftop.
Plus, our programming is always evolving to include new and exciting content from LGBT movies and films with female directors to special movie anniversaries, live productions, theatrical releases and more independent titles. Which is very exciting and one of the best aspects of the job.
eff: What’s your favourite place EVER to watch a film?
GCJ: I really do enjoy all cinema, whether it’s ‘normal’ cinema, a drive-in, or on a rooftop. Film is about escapism, so when I get the chance I just love watching a movie and switching off.
The opening of Everyman King’s Cross gave us an opportunity to take a look at the new generation of cinemas opening in the UK and how they’re prioritising experience above all else.
It’s been 71 years since we saw the peak of cinema attendance. Back in 1946 there were 1,635 million admissions to UK cinemas, which is ten times what we saw in 2016. The arrival of TV, and then VHS, saw attendance drop to an all-time low of 54 million. With that in mind, the internet and then online streaming haven’t made a dent. In fact, cinema admissions have increased by 47% since Amazon went online in 1995.
Like everyone else, I watch films in lots of different ways. Sometimes I like to watch films on the big screen and sometimes I don’t care, my iPhone will do. Half the time I go to the cinema because I know the film will benefit from a big screen and speakers all over the shop. The rest of the time I’m drawn there by the promise of a pint and the trailers.
Hollywood has been focusing on making ‘big screen’ films, using 3D as a selling point to get bums on seats. It regularly works well, but the flops are often spectacular. On this side of the pond we’ve been taking a different approach. One real achievement in film in the UK over the last few years has been in the cinemas themselves, not on the screens.
Everyman King’s Cross, the latest cinema to open in the UK, is a case in point. Luxurious, yet inclusive, it’s a leisure destination designed to provide an unmatched experience. The result is an experience for the busy consumer with quality food, drink, and film at its heart.
As audiences are increasingly aware of the value of their own time, it’s becoming ever more apparent that a trip to the cinema needs to offer a lot more than it used to.
This season we’ve been looking at the bricks and mortar of the film experience. Parts one and two have explored rooftops and cinemas, and this time we take a look at virtual reality and the spaces it can take you.
“When you’re too sick to leave your bed, where do you go?” The Unrest VR experience puts you into the world of Jennifer Brea, director of the award-winning documentary Unrest. We first tried it out at Sheffield Doc/Fest this year and loved it. It’s a companion piece to the feature, and it succeeds in making the most out of the VR medium, rather than just porting the story to it. It gives the user an immersive journey into the experience of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). The documentary explores this invisible illness beautifully, whilst Unrest VR helps you experience it, at least in part.
Producer Lindsey Dryden says “It became ever more clear that some of our key targets in the medical profession — who had historically often ignored and disparaged ME, the illness at the heart of Unrest’s story — would likely never watch a 90 minute documentary.” But by using a new technology, one which they were intrigued by, they could impact these hard to reach people.
The space in which you experience Unrest VR also helps to achieve this intrigue. Most VR experiences put the user in a chair or has them stand in an empty space, but in this case you need to be lying down. Once the headset is on you find yourself lying on Brea’s bed, looking around her room, experiencing what it’s like to be too sick to get up. The experience has been on tour across the UK and USA, in cinemas, arts centres, science events, community spaces, universities, medical schools and conferences. It has been extremely effective at educating those unaware of the illness and also giving hope to other sufferers, “I learnt that I am not alone in my symptoms,” said one participant.