- Job title:
- Cinema Programmer
Ian managed several Odeon cinemas before moving to the independent exhibition sector. Whilst working for Sheffield Council's Economic Development Department he began fundraising to establish the Showroom Workstation which opened in 1993. Ian was appointed as the Showroom's first Cinema Director and Programmer and was appointed to the Chief Executive post at the Showroom & Workstation in 2002.
What does your job involve?
Part of my job involves running the Sheffield Showroom, a four screen independent cinema that shows as broad a range of specialist films as possible. We try and offer programming that wouldn't be on offer in Sheffield if we didn't exist.
We show first run films, touring programmes and seasons of films. We also try and work with various organisations in the community, and do a lot of education work with schools and adult education classes in the evening. We also try and develop various strategies to publicise and market the films. It's been a long struggle to build audiences, but they are increasing dramatically and I think that is partly down to the educational outreach work that we do. We also try and do a lot of work with the film production sector, previewing or showcasing local productions. And we encourage film-makers to come and talk to audiences here. I try and select the right mix of programming for the venue, responding to local audience interests. In Sheffield, for example, Latin American films are popular as are political films and documentaries.
I try to see films in advance to know what is coming up. So I will travel to leading festivals each year so I am aware of potential future releases and of film trends. Last year, I went to Cannes, Rotterdam, Berlin, Edinburgh and Pusan. I'll try and watch as many films as I can there - maybe five a day, and sometimes more. Then, when its time for the films to come out, I select the ones that are right for our venue. That involves talking to the film's distributors and booking them. We also employ a booking agent to do this on our behalf - so when I select a film I want, the agent will arrange for it be booked into our cinema. I'll also book in touring programmes from the British Film Institute. There's a growing interest in non-mainstream film here.
Once I've booked in the films, we'll think about how to get audiences to see the films. We look at who the target audience is and where we can reach them. We have an audience database, so we might to do targeted mail outs to specific groups. If, for example, a film's subject matter is about refugees, we might do a mail out to refugee groups. For new releases, we rely heavily on the distributor's marketing campaign. We also produce monthly brochures so we can alert our audiences through our own publicity.
How did you get into the business?
When I left university, I was interested in going into leisure management. I started working for the Odeon Chain as a trainee assistant cinema manager. I ended up managing a cinema in Salisbury for a few years. It was a very good training, but after a while I got a bit bored there.
I'd been to the Watershed cinema in Bristol and thought that the role of cinema should be more than just opening the doors and taking money for Hollywood films. So I went to work for the municipal cinema in Sheffield, the Anvil, which was run by the council and was more involved with its community.
After a while, I wanted to broaden my range of experiences and so joined the Economic Development Department in Sheffield Council, specialising in Cultural Industries. The idea was to help develop cultural businesses in the city and to try to get European funds to support them.
One of the projects I was involved with was getting the Showroom Cinema off the ground. When the job came up to run the cinema, I applied for it.
What kind of skills do you need to be a programmer?
In terms of skills, you need basic management and financial knowledge.
For most film programmers, it's not so much about having a wide and broad knowledge of film - but it's about being able to apply your knowledge in practical ways like sourcing funding and responding to opportunities. No programming job is just about sitting around and thinking which films you would like to show. You have to think beyond the venue and develop links with your community.
It's quite a hard business to get into. There aren't many programming jobs around. But if you are interested in doing it, try and get work in venues or at festivals to develop your skills.