BFI FAN New Release Workshop

25th September 2018

Newly appointed Audience Development Assistant for Queen’s Film Theatre, Michael Delaney recently attended the BFI FAN New Release workshop. The workshop focused on developing audiences for new release titles, particularly young people. Here is his report:

Having been recently appointed the Audience Development Assistant for Queen’s Film Theatre, I was excited to be offered the opportunity by Film Hub NI of attending a BFI FAN New Release workshop. Taking place at Bristol’s Watershed cinema, the workshop was a unique opportunity to hear from peers and target audiences about how cinema in general, and independent film in particular, attracts or repels them.

The day began with a panel of young people (defined by the BFI as anyone under the age of 30) from Rife, a Bristol based organisation which gives under 24-year-olds an opportunity to explore new industries. Sammy and Euella from Rife offered an interesting perspective on cinema-going, highlighting the reliance on illegal streaming amongst their age group. For them, going to the cinema was an expensive pastime and only special events with high visibility were likely to attract them away from their phone screens and towards a cinema screen. Both Sammy and Euella suggested that independent cinemas were intimidating venues and that more work needed to be done to make them attractive spaces for young people.

Following the panel discussion those in attendance split into two groups: one for venues and one for freelancers. My group, venues, was facilitated by Sarah Boiling, a consultant with a focus on cultural audience development.

Sarah discussed her six main principles of audience development:

1) have a plan

2) think strategically

3) segment the audience

4) use evidence

5) implement plan using research

6) review and learn

For Sarah, it was fundamental that all aspects worked together. She highlighted how it was important for marketing and programming to work together in order to understand who was attending a cultural venue and why. It was also interesting to contemplate the engagement of existing audiences as often new audiences are given priority over current attendees.

Sarah then gave the example of The Gulbekian, an arts venue based in Kent which, despite its close proximity to the University of Kent, was struggling to attract students and young people and increase their visibility on campus. They overcame this by researching what students were looking for from the venue, using potential young customers as a sounding board and generally questioning those who fitted the demographics of the audience they were not attracting. Eventually they implemented an action plan of new, inventive ideas and evaluated the results, allowing them to gauge what worked and what didn’t.

Afterwards, we came together again as a group to discuss what we had learned and how we could implement the ideas ourselves. In the end, the workshop as a whole was an absorbing event which gave me the opportunity to hear new ideas and discuss with peers what works and what doesn’t when it comes to audience development. It reinforced the importance of being prepared, being open-minded about new ideas, listening to and implementing feedback and giving support to those helping to implement strategies.

Overall, I now feel like I am able to better develop audiences, particularly young audiences, for both my venue and the upcoming BFI New Release slate of films.