The very first Everyman Cinema in Hampstead, London
Following the opening of the Everyman Media Group’s first cinema outside London, in a brand new shopping centre in Leeds, the company’s CEO, Andrew Myers, talks to Jo Caird about the “digital revolution”, opportunities for emerging filmmakers and the company’s expansion beyond London and the South East.
As far as the world of cinema is concerned, we’re living in exciting times. Until just a few years ago cinemas were restricted in their choice of what to show and when by the availability – or not – of the 35mm reels put out by distributors. Expensive to produce, a limited number of each print did the rounds, meaning that cinemas – and their audiences – would just have to wait their turn to see that exciting new film.
The situation today, says Andrew Myers, chief executive of the Everyman Media Group, one of the UK’s leading exhibitors of independent film, couldn’t be more different. “The ability to play any film is almost unrestricted…You’re suddenly able to show four films a week when you used to show two films a week. You can programme films in the morning that would maybe appeal more to a family audience and in the evening to a slightly different audience. You have far more flexibility in your scheduling.”
This extraordinary change is down to the spread of digital projection technology. Almost all cinemas in the UK now have digital projectors and because these play movies stored electronically rather than on physical reels, there’s much greater flexibility when it comes to what can be exhibited and when.
One of the most exciting knock-on effects of these advances, says Myers, is changing audience behaviour. Cinema-goers are embracing the new opportunities being offered to them, which in turn encourages companies likes Everyman to be more daring in terms of the content they programme.
“Here’s an audience for film, or products, that you’d never been able to do before,” says the chief executive. Whether this is live screenings of performances from the Metropolitan Opera in New York or the National Theatre in London, or Q&As with film directors like Pedro Almodovar, events like these, “are giving audiences a great ability to use cinema in a way that they never thought of using it before. And for us, it’s a hugely exciting future.”
In the midst of all this change, one thing remains constant: the focus on quality programming. ‘Quality’ is necessarily subjective, but for Myers it’s a matter of knowing your audience. While multiplexes are the ‘juke box of film’, independents “work more as a recommendation service: we basically discriminate through all the films that are out there to select the films that we believe have the most attractiveness for audiences.” That might be a mainstream movie like Skyfall, or it might be a niche documentary like Senna – the scope is much broader these days than it used to be. In this new digital age, Myers explain, “’quality’ effectively can be anything”.
This is good news for emerging filmmakers. Festivals presented across Everyman cinemas throughout the year – from the Leeds Film Festival to the Film Africa – offer opportunities for one-off screenings of films that might otherwise be too risky a programming proposition. “Try and get your film entered into festivals,” is the advice Myers offers first-time filmmakers.
“We will always encourage young filmmakers and hopefully if there’s a product that reaches us, we would like to show it,” says Myers. In the end, however, it comes down to audiences. “We want to show quality films and we also want people to watch them. Playing films to empty cinemas doesn’t achieve anything for any party.”
At the end of April Everyman opened its first cinema outside London and the South East, in a new retail development in Leeds. Everyman Leeds brings the number of houses the group runs up to 10, including the location that started it all, the Everyman Hampstead. Myers, who has been in charge at the group since 2009, is ambitious for further expansion, but aware of the need to exercise caution and “make sure that the brand is maintained”.
“It’s about finding areas that we believe our cinemas would work very well, in that there’s an audience for our offering, for the films we want to show and for the kind of products and services that we’re offering people.”
© Jo Caird