When it comes to programming new films, the Screen Machine is in a fairly unique position. On the one hand, because we almost always visit a location for at least two days (we’re trying to phase out ‘one night stands’ where possible) we can at least offer a range of film choices to each community—unlike, say, a film club’s monthly DVD screening.  But on the other hand, we’re still only one screen, so we can’t possibly reflect the full range of what’s on offer in the multiplexes, and we have to choose films that, as far as possible, will remain popular for a full 12 week tour.

The way the big film companies work doesn’t help.  They have their times of year—Easter, summer holidays, Christmas—when they want to release their biggest titles, especially those for children and families. But a consequence of this approach is that they make little effort to have a spread of interesting new films right through the year.  So for us on the Screen Machine, it’s feast or famine: a glut of high profile films all at once, then a thin period with few films that are getting much media attention. And, like any cinema, we rely heavily on the media excitement around a big new film to draw our audiences in.

It really doesn’t help when one company—Disney—releases two highly anticipated and long-awaited family films in quick succession. So, Toy Story 4 was released on 21 June, and Lion King followed just four weeks later. You can see how even the multiplexes are struggling with this: I’m writing this on 7th August and the Vue close to our office in Edinburgh has 12 screenings today of the Lion King, but also still five screenings of Toy Story 4, almost seven weeks after it was released.

So here’s the conundrum we have to resolve.  Toy Story 4 is proving hugely popular on the Screen Machine, selling out many of its screenings.  So we don’t want to deprive any community on our circuit of the chance to see it. But if we hold Lion King till the start of a new tour circuit, that will be many weeks after it launched, and it will have faded from media consciousness, and many children may be disappointed.

And there’s another factor that complicates matters even further: these two films have a huge appeal for adult cinema-goers as well (with or without attendant children!). It’s 24 years since the first Toy Story, 25 years since the original Lion King: these were seminal films for an entire generation of children who, as adults, want to relive their childhood excitement, and that helps to swell our audiences, and increase demand for both films.

We’ve therefore taken the difficult decision to run both films in tandem so that, until Toy Story 4 has completed its run, there will be a number of communities where we’ll screen both films. We know this has a downside: parents may find they’re under pressure to fund two visits to the cinema rather than one, and in some locations the need to fit in both titles may squeeze out other films, appealing to a different audience.  But what it comes down to is this: we don’t want to disappoint our audiences, and we do want to make the most of such exceptionally popular films.  While we do get very generous funding from Creative Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, we also need to maximise our box office when possible, and it’s the sold out performances for films like these that enable us to underwrite more specialist programme choices.

Be reassured, though, that we’re still aiming to offer a wide choice of films, with our new, and third, season of Films We Love, showcasing some recent British independent movies that we think you’ll like.

Robert Livingston

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