Want to get a smaller release on at your local cinema? Meet the initiative that just lets you, well, ask for it.
Simon Brew (@simonbrew)
Towards the end of last year, an apparent box office anomaly came to light. The terrific documentary about the one-time huge boyband Bros – Bros: After The Screaming Stops – had been released for a few days into cinemas as a lead in to its DVD release (and subsequent television premiere in December). But according to the official box office charts, it hadn’t even scraped £100 in cinema takings. In London, that barely gets you three seats in one or two venues at peak time. Against that, though, were reports of many people seeing the film in cinemas, presumably paying to do so.
What, then, was going on? OurScreen. That’s what was going on. This is an initiative that allows anybody to ‘create’ a film screening at one or more cinemas around the UK, that in turn gives distribution legs to films that may otherwise struggle to find a theatrical audience. Once a screening has been ‘created’, patrons can peruse the list of potential events and register their interest. Should sufficient interest be built up and registered, the screening is booked for definite, and tickets put on sale. Which is a long way round to say that OurScreen allows a cinema or group to gauge interest in a screening without having to outright commit to it. The money from each screening still goes to the cinema, with OurScreen taking a cut. The advantage to the cinemagoer is getting to see films on the big screen they may not otherwise have been able to do. Everybody seems to win.
It’s been a successful idea too, not least for independent productions that otherwise struggle to get onto the UK theatrical circuit. If it’s thus been your dream to put on a rare screening of Spice World at, for instance, the Empire cinema in Wigan, this is the way to make that forlorn hope into something real. There’s a ‘tell me what you want’ gag in there somewhere, but I’m struggling to nail down what it is.
OurScreen’s Alex Huxley is buoyant over the success of the service, particularly over the past 12 months. He told me that in 2018, OurScreen has “shown over 130 films in cinemas that might not have been seen otherwise, across more than 430 confirmed screenings”. I asked for more statistics. I got them. In total, OurScreen has facilitated just shy of 2000 screenings in the UK in 2018, and over 25,000 tickets to its events have been sold. The average attendance rate at such screenings has been 59%, and that tends to be some three times the national average.
In the case of Bros: After The Screaming Stops, then, it was OurScreen that got the film seen in UK cinemas. In all, it oversaw 31 screenings of the movie, selling over 2000 tickets and bringing in over £15,000 towards its box office takings. That might sound small fry, but in the context of a film that was really designed for the home viewing market, it’s not inconsiderable at all. As you’ve probably guessed too those takings were not accommodated in the official box office tally for the film.
Other films that have enjoyed an extended theatrical lease of life courtesy of the service are Evelyn (that got an initial cinema release via Picturehouse, and has been picked up by OurScreen to prolong that), the football documentary 89, and the British independent success My Feral Heart. Somewhat inevitably, too many people are turning to OurScreen to put on screenings of popular favourites. Perusing the list as this issue of the magazine went to press, and movies such as The Princess Bride, Aliens, Back To The Future Part II and Superman: The Movie were attracting much interest. Smaller profile productions, such as Resilience, Still The Enemy Within and Paper Tigers were having a tougher time attracting the necessary numbers to press ahead with screenings.
But then there’s only so much OurScreen can do. While it provides a mechanism for getting one-off screenings of films organised, and a central resource to register interest and book tickets, what it can’t do is guarantee that every event will be a success. There’s still the need for someone to organise the screening, give it a push, and try and attract interest to it. That’s no easy job, either. Chatting to one multiplex manager, he told me that one-off screenings are tough to get off the ground as a rule, particularly if the film in question isn’t already high profile, or doesn’t have some kind of local link. OurScreen, at worst, gives such one-off screenings a chance, while mitigating the risk and exposure for those trying to put them on. At best, though, it opens up distribution channels for smaller productions, it varies what’s showing at movie houses around the country, and it allows people writing for crowdfunded film magazines to spend far too long contemplating how many people would come along to a festival of Kevin Costner films. And, bluntly, who could argue with that little lot as an upside?
You can find the OurScreen website, and the range of current events, at www.ourscreen.com. If you want to create a screening, meanwhile, you can search the catalogue of available films – over 10,000 currently, but you may need to manually request a title – at the site, as well as the available venues. Furthermore, if you’ve made a film and want to get it shown, drop the team a line at [email protected].