‘The coolest thing about us is that we’re the only student cinema in the world to be able to show 70mm film. This is really amazing, and I’m really happy we’ve been able to keep this skill alive for nearly 50 years now.’
We chatted with Antoinette, president at Warwick Student Cinema, about her experience as a young programmer…
Tell us about your group. What makes it stand out?
As the name suggests, we’re a student cinema, based at the University of Warwick in Coventry. We have a projection box with a 35mm projector, a 70mm projector and soon we’ll have a Laser projector!!! We screen films in one of the biggest lecture theatres on campus 5 nights a week.
We also have an office next to our projection box, where people from the crew and the executive committee talk, eat, and hang out during film screenings they aren’t watching. You could live there – and some people have slept overnight there – but I wouldn’t recommend it.
There are 3 levels to our “organisation”- members, crew and exec:
Members are students that bought a membership and our crew is our volunteers. We’re entirely volunteer-run, and we have lots of different teams on our crew: Front of House, Projection, IT, Marketing and Publicity. Getting involved means you get all your films for free for you AND a friend, so it’s a really good deal! Our crew is mostly students, but we do have 2 staff members in it.
Our executive committee is elected every year, and these are the people that take decisions on how the cinema runs, choose the events, deal with finances, etc. There are 11 roles in the committee, but we often have 2 people holding the same role. Everyone deals with lots of stuff, and everyone helps with most things that need helping with. We also offer “lifetime crew” (i.e free tickets for life) to anyone who’s had a particularly impactful presence at WSC, for example ex-exec members that are graduating.
How did you get involved with this organisation?
I started off as a steward at WSC. I went to a “getting involved meeting” during my first week of University, and getting free films for a year seemed like too good a deal to pass on! I joined a really close-knit crew and made friends for life, so I started stewarding very often (maybe too often for my degree…). I then was asked if I wanted to become a Duty Manager, and got even more involved with the society. I wanted to do even more, and I ran for exec in my second year – I didn’t really know what role I wanted, so I ran for 4! You can only hold one executive role at a time (otherwise people like me would probably die), so I eventually had to order my choices, and I was very happy to get my first choice – President!
As President, I’m in charge of making sure the cinema runs smoothly day-to-day. I plan events with the Students’ Union, and basically deal with any issue that arises at the cinema. I also chair exec meetings, and send weekly emails to our members telling them what’s on the schedule for the week – I love this as I have carte blanche for my jokes! I also liaise between all our teams, so everyone has all the information they need and no one does work that’s already been done.
I also recently joined the marketing team, as they needed help making slides (images from films we’re showing soon, with the time and date, that we show around university and before our own screenings). It’s something I didn’t think I’d enjoy too much but it turns out I absolutely love making slides and using Photoshop, so I’m going to try and get more involved in that side of the society from now on.
How do you engage with your audience and your community?
Our main audience is students, so we advertise all around campus: we show slides about upcoming films on the piazza screen (an outdoor screen in the centre of campus), and we do publicity runs every term, where we distribute flyers to each accommodation block. We’re also present at societies fairs, so new students can meet us and ask us about what we do. Finally, we’re very present on social media, and reach quite a big number of students through there. The fact that we’re the cheapest cinema around (£3 for a ticket) means that we’re an affordable way for students to have fun, which is really important. We also have outdoor screenings (which are free for everyone) and we hold Movie Pub Quizzes every term in the University pub, and both of these events are great way for people to get to know us.
We collaborate with many student societies in different ways: for example we will invite societies that we think will enjoy a certain film on our schedule, and we offer discounted tickets to their members.We also give societies the possibility of choosing a film for our schedule, where can split costs and they host a talk beforehand, if they want to. An example of this is The Martian, that Physics Society hosted, where a talk was held about the science behind the film.
We also try to appeal to university staff members: we give staff members their first film for free, and we show “family films” such as animated disney films. We also give children discounted tickets, with free entry for under 12s. This really helps bring in staff members with their families.
Our last, but not least, target audience is the local community: we try and show films that will appeal to them, that they won’t be able to see in any other cinema.
What challenges have you faced as an organisation?
The biggest challenge the cinema has faced since I joined is definitely when our digital projector broke in the middle of a screening of Vice. When we then realised it wasn’t fixable (or at least it would take a long time and a lot of money), it was clear the only course of action would be to buy a new digital projector. We launched a massive fundraising campaign, and that’s been a lot of work.
Another challenge that all societies have faced here at Warwick is membership numbers declining. We’re lucky enough that we still have enough people coming to our films that we can still operate as a cinema, but we are trying to get back to bigger audience numbers. Last year saw an upward trend, so we’re very hopeful! We’re getting films closer to their release dates than ever before, as we know they’re released on Netflix quite quickly. We also have lots of special events to keep our audience interested and involved.
Many community cinemas rely on external funding so we would love to hear more about your projector fundraising campaign.
When our digital projector died it soon became obvious that repairing it would cost upwards of £10,000, and that if it did it might only be functional for a few months before other parts in it died. We’d had it for 10 years and we just needed a new one. We quickly realised that industry prices had skyrocketed in those 10 years, and that our savings that we thought were nearly enough for a new projector were actually only about half of what we needed. Our technical officer, Alex, has worked day and night (alongside his PhD!) to get us to negotiate the best quote for a new projector, and talked to many industry experts.
We contacted the University and the Students’ Union about funding opportunities. We have applied to many different funds, but we’re still waiting to hear back from most of them. Alex also spent ages talking to the University to have a crowdfunding campaign launched on their dedicated website. We’ve had amazing donations coming through, and lots of ex-crew members have reached out to tell us about the good times they had at WSC, and to tell us they were sharing our crowdfunding page with their network. It’s been great to hear old WSC stories, and it doesn’t sound like much has changed around the place – including our ticket prices – in over 30 years. We are now close to £8,000 on there, and that means if we get all of the funds we applied to we’ll probably have just enough to get a new projector. If we don’t, we’ll have to take out a loan, which means a very rough few years ahead, but we’ll make it work.
There’s been lots of challenges along the way, with lots yet to come: having to deal with funding applications, creating the crowdfunding rewards, and getting ready for Term 1 (our biggest term audience-wise) by making a great schedule that has to be half-35mm and half digital has been quite overwhelming. There’s just so much to do!
We’re so so so grateful to everyone who’s donated – you’re saving our society! We hope we’ll get a new projector in the middle of Term 1, and then with the warranty it should last us well over a decade (the design is also much more repairable than the first generation we had should it go wrong). And we’ll write down everything we’ve done to get a new one so future generations don’t have to struggle as much!
What exciting things have you got scheduled?
Our Films Officer sets up a chat every term, where anyone can suggest films they’d like to see next term. They then collect all the different ideas, and add recent releases or films that will be released during the term, and make a draft schedule. We then organize a programming meeting, to which we invite all our members. We each say what we like about the schedule, or if we’d like to see a certain film on it that hasn’t made the cut.
We try and have a wide variety of films on our schedules: something for everyone. We show recent blockbusters, old classics, foreign films,horror films, animated films, and indie films: anything that we think deserves a place on our schedule, or that we think people will like to see. We also select a few 35mm and 70mm each term, and we try and pick the best films to show in that format each time (for example, we showed 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm in Term 1 and it was a beautiful print).
We’ve now moved on to doing all our own bookings directly with film distributors, as we needed to drastically cut down costs to get a new projector. This means we now do most things ourselves! We make our own publicity, we manage all of our own IT systems and we fix all of our own tech ourselves (when we can).
We’re will be the only student cinema in the world, and the only cinema in the region, to show Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood in 35mm! We’re all really excited, as it’s the way Tarantino wanted the film to be seen, and it’s an amazing opportunity for us to showcase what we’re capable of. Another thing I’m very excited for next term is WSC’s Pride Week, where we’re showing three LGTBQUA+ films over 3 days: Pain & Glory, Carol (in 35mm!) and Rocketman.
What is your favourite community cinema experience?
My favourite student cinema experience is the big screening we did in June of Mamma Mia. The weather was quite bad, but lots of people still turned up! And it was our ex-treasurer’s favourite film ever, so it was great to see the joy on her face. But what made this screening great is that 5 people that liked our cinema baked what seemed like a million cakes and sold them during the screening for our crowdfunding campaign – they were truly the sweetest people I’ve ever met.
Another special screening at WSC was Where’s That Fire that we had in May. We were approached by the wonderful people from the Will Hay Society , and we had the honour to screen the only print available: an archive 35mm print. The audience was full of people from all around the country, wanting to see their favourite film on the big screen, and it was great to see everyone that happy. Some of them came with their families, and they were very pleased to be able to share their favourite film with their children. We also invited local firefighters from the local Canley station, and everyone mingled together before and after the screening, around the small Will Hay Merchandise shop the Will Hay society members set up.
Finally, would you recommend that other people join a community cinema?
First of all, you can get discounts on films (or even free films), and that’s just such a good deal. But there’s also the big friendship group that you’ll join, where everyone is passionate about cinema. Especially as a student that’s just starting university, finding a society that isn’t just about going out every week is really nice, and will help you adjust to university life. You can learn a lot of skills by joining your community cinema: there’s always so much to do, and in lots of different fields.
My advice is to just reach out to your community cinema, and ask them about what teams you can join. Don’t be too afraid if it seems like everyone there knows EVERYTHING about how to run a cinema – I’m the President and some members of my crew know way way more than me about everything cinema-related, and honestly it doesn’t really matter. As long as you make an effort to learn and to help people, they’ll love you.
If you want to hear more from Warwick Student Cinema, follow them on social media:
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/wscfilmsoc