Dipping into a hot tub, snuggling under a blanket on a rooftop, shuffling through a prison whilst being berated by a guard – is this how you would describe a typical night at the cinema? Well perhaps it is now.
Recent film screenings in east London have seen a space off Brick Lane transformed into an “inside-out cinema”, laden with a blanket of fake snow; while a school in Bethnal Green was converted into a prison for a live-action version of Shawshank Redemption.
The lack of multiplex cinemas in Hackney and Tower Hamlets has made way for the growing number of independent exhibitors using unusual spaces and methods to screen digital films.
David Leydon founded Pop Up Screens after becoming disenchanted with the multiplex experience. Outlining the allure of alternative venues, he says: “There is a certain innocence to outdoor cinema. I think that people want more than they get from a traditional multiplex.”
Others attribute the pop-up cinema trend to east London’s dynamic creative atmosphere. Asher Charman, founder of Hot Tub Cinema, describes the area as a “hot-bed for new and dynamic ideas.”
“It is easy to be encouraged by other people’s concepts and events and this leads to even greater innovation. I can’t imagine a better place for Hot Tub Cinema to call home than Hackney.”
The success of these organisations has been aided by the ease of screening films today, as digitalised projection becomes the dominant format. Pop Up’s Leydon explains that the “barriers are getting lower” for exhibitors.
Bakul Patki, the press and partnerships officer for Silent Cinema, says this also allows for more freedom in the choice of venue. They can now present films in car parks, old station yards, and even graveyards. But in spite of the unusual settings she says: “The film is the star of the show.”
Social media plays another significant role in the rising popularity of these ventures. Regarding his “tubbers” fanbase, Charman says: “It is humbling to share your idea with the world and for people to show such support. Social media is the heart of our marketing strategy.”
Cottle explains that “rooftoppers” – there are now over 13,000 Rooftop Cinema fans on Facebook and more than 5,000 Twitter followers – assist in curating the events by voting for particular films to be screened and by giving their feedback.
Starlite Cinema was a drive-in event hosted at the Old Truman Brewery where attendees didn’t even have to bring their own vehicles – Volvo had already provided them. The three-day screening in 2010 sold out in 30 seconds and jammed up TicketWeb in the process.
Most of the so-called pop-up cinemas are independently funded as they have been operating for a relatively short time. However the Floating Cinema, founded by National Portfolio Organisation UP Projects, has been majority funded by the Legacy List through corporate sponsorships; amounting to 85 per cent, or £60,000, of its required funds. The remaining 15 per cent was obtained through a crowd-funding initiative. A permanent fixture is currently being built and will be navigating the waterways of east London from June 2013.
The unique selling points of these cinemas have piqued the interests of current and future customers. “There is no denying that sipping champagne in a hot tub and enjoying a well-loved film is far more fun that being sat in silence at a traditional cinema,” says Charman. Then adds: “Alternative cinemas have become a far more compelling option.”
The season for these events tends to fall between the months of May and September, but sporadic productions are put on in alignment with seasonal holidays.
Much of what is coming up in 2013 is still under wraps, but here are a few snippets to whet your palate. Silent Cinema will be paying homage to London Fashion Week while those of you looking for a retro film experience, keep an eye out for the Starlite Cinema drive-in.