If something gets to the top of your consciousness, it happens.

by Ian Thompson

When time is tight, when pressures are high, when deadlines are pressing, when clients are on your case and when your business is screaming for your attention, what you sometimes need is a nice extra-curricular project just to top things off. But the thing about some projects is, you’ve just got to do them, and bizarrely, they often help with all the other stuff too.

  • Last year, Thompson turned 30 and we had a nice event that showcased very personal design statements from 30 different creative professionals, all of whom had been through our doors over the years. It was a real buzz and it gave us a real taste for getting stuck into events and projects outside our normal client briefs. We used to do this more, but the operational processes involved in growing the business have meant that they’ve taken more of a back seat than they should have. Last year’s event really gave us a taste for it again.

    Rachel Cook and I talked about the local area and how many elderly people lived around here, many of whom were living alone and who had few opportunities to get out and socialise. We thought of a few projects that might work but none got enough traction to turn into action. But, it was high in our consciousness, so I was confident something would happen. Sometimes you’ve got to give things a little time for them to grow into something real and active.

    Early in the spring whilst looking at a property in town, I came across someone who I hadn’t seen for a while. It was great to see him and we immediately got chatting about a project he’d been thinking about for a while. Paul wanted to start a community cinema and needed help getting things off the ground. He and an amazing lady called Lynne had been talking about it for a while and Paul was in a local film club in my area, so he’d got together a few volunteers.

    As I’ve got older, I’ve learned to say ‘yes’ on instinct without too much analysis and it’s really working out for me. I threw myself straight into it without reservation. My fleeting thought process was:
    • Film: I like that.
    • Cinemas: I like those.
    • Local area: I don’t do enough.
    • Contribute: I definitely can.
    • Paul: He’s a good guy.
    And, ah, this is it, this is how I can help the older people in the community.

    And, it started brilliantly. We were lucky enough to have a couple who had been though what we were signing up to who knew all the pitfalls. They run the brilliant South Bank Community Cinema in York, which is now so successful that their programme is listed in The Guardian. They told us all about programming – an obscure, arty Norwegian drama packed the place out but a Rocky Horror themed night and a showing of ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ that everybody had asked for virtually emptied the place – not sure what to learn there but useful nevertheless. Most importantly they took us through all the operational elements. There’s nothing better for designers and marketers than getting operational. All the abstraction is gone and all that’s left is the stuff that needs to be done. It’s grounding and I thoroughly recommend it.

    So, off we went – it was happening. We decided on the first film and a good date to start after the holiday season. We were acutely aware as soon as we started, that it would be a monthly thing – forever. The perfect discipline to help us devise it well in the first place and create processes and systems that were sustainable.

    Branding and marketing came first and we had no time. In the course of a single evening I turned out a nice, cool designer logo with a big idea, then totally ditched it, came to my senses and designed a much more accessible identity that people could feel really warm about. Most importantly, I created a system for producing publicity that required as little design acumen as possible. Not that there aren’t members of the team who are capable. I simply pictured all of us being on holiday at once and the job being left to a volunteer who wouldn’t appreciate having to worry too much about how to make things look good. Expediency is sometimes a great discipline.

  • Don’t get me wrong, there’s still been an awful lot to do:
    Tickets, posters, flyers at various sizes, membership cards, membership forms, a zillion signs for the venue, comp slips, letterheads, lanyards, badges, stickers and labels for just about everything (inc. popcorn), a holding page (no real website yet to my shame), start and intermission presentations etc, etc, etc.

    Most of it has to be done every time too, long before the showing, so I’m constantly looking for cost and time economies – you know, those things that clients talk about all the time that we’re sometimes guilty of not taking seriously enough. And, just like some clients, it’s not even the real day job. What I’m really needed for is to contribute effectively and positively in the meetings, help devise a sensible programme, get all the chairs out in time, set up the room and, in the case of the first showing, man the refreshments kiosk with my daughter Pearl.

    It’s brilliant though – really fulfilling and loads of fun. And, as I alluded to earlier, the high pressure and speed of the whole process has accelerated my effectiveness. In my actual day job, running a branding business, I’ve had the most productive couple of months ever – I’m absolutely buzzing and very happy.

    The cool thing is that the first piece of film ever shot on earth, ‘Roundhay Garden Scene’ by Louis Le Prince in 1888, took place not a quarter a mile away. Oakwood Cinema will be the closest cinema there has ever been to the site of this significant event.

    The first film from The Oakwood Cinema, ‘The Theory of Everything’ (a crowd pleaser to start with), shows tomorrow night at the Roundhay Parochial Hall at 8.00. It sold out in less than a fortnight. Let’s hope it’s always like that. Lots of members of the community are coming. We’ve got an interval and a fully licensed bar, so people can mix and talk and we hope they’ll all stay for a bit afterwards.

    Wish us luck.

    PS. I had to get the publicity out for the next film ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ out in an afternoon. I got the wrong Certificate on everything – bollocks! What should be a 15 is now a 12. Let’s hope all the 12 year olds and their parents don’t take offence when Ralph Fiennes says that Tilda Swinton is ‘shaking like a shitting dog’.

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