This Week on The Boxoffice Podcast: The Resurgence of Boutique Cinemas with UK’s Lume Cinema

This week on The Boxoffice Podcast, we discuss the latest changes to the release calendar and why big movies may come to theaters earlier than expected. In the feature segment, the Lume Cinema’s James Anderson Brown and Anthony Hughes join the podcast to talk about the theater’s tiered re-opening and the resurgence of boutique cinemas in the U.K.

Located in the town of Kidderminster in the West Midlands region of England, the Lume Cinema began its life in 2006 as Warehouse Cinema—and yes, it was originally an old carpet warehouse. Several years later, it joined the Reel Cinema chain. Its doors closed in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and it looked for a time like the theater might not reopen at all. Until, that is, a group of social entrepreneurs—including James Anderson Brown, founder of Birmingham’s Mockingbird Cinema—joined forces to bring Warehouse Cinema, now to be called Lume Cinema back to life. And not just as a cinema, but as a community gathering and event space. Brown and Anthony Hughes, co-founder of the Stourbridge Community Development Trust, took some time away from the busy work of crowdfunding to reopen the Lume Cinema.

Highlights from This Week’s Episode

Anthony Hughes on the history of The Lume

There is a pre-existing audience that was quite faithful to the original cinema. Our strategy is wider than cinema; it puts cinema at the center of the community, but it does so because we’re also looking at staging arts  and community events around it. What we find in doing that is it speaks to different people about different things. The building that we’re in is a grade two listed building, which sits in the middle of a heritage conservation area. Just that fact alone interests people that are interested in local heritage and the heritage of the building. The building itself used to be, at one point, the largest carpet manufacturing factory in the world, in the Victorian times. The heritage that we’ve got isn’t just around cinema, it’s paying respect to the building itself. The various people that want to engage sometimes come for that reason, sometimes because of the plans that we’ve got for the refurb, which is going to have a slightly Art Deco feel to it. And then of course, you’ve got the cinema audience themselves that are desperate to come back out of lockdown and sit in a real cinema and be entertained collectively.

James Anderson Brown on the shifts to the rise of streaming services

All that’s happened with COVID has just accelerated what was going to happen anyway. You’re talking streaming cycles, the shortening periods of release windows–that was coming, it’s just come a lot quicker, probably five years earlier than anyone expected. If you look at Warner Bros., they’ve done the HBO Max thing because they need to get a share of that streaming market they didn’t have before. As a new vessel for streaming, they need to take a share of the Netflix market and the share of the Disney Plus market. People thought it was quite extreme, but I could understand them releasing all their theatrical titles through their streaming service. 

Disney has the perfect model, I think. You have to see Wandavision to get involved in the next feature films. You have to have Disney Plus and get to the cinema. They’ve got a perfect model in the way they’ve built it. People just pick their place for different experiences. And I think that’s fine. If you want to watch a film at home and it’s a new release, great. If you want to go and have a drink with your friends and have a night out, you’ll probably come to us. 

James Anderson Brown on the future of exhibition

The model is changing in front of our eyes a little bit quicker than I thought it was going to, but I think you can adapt to that quite quickly. In the long term, probably worldwide, it will be more of a split between your big cinemas, your Odeon AMCs, and boutique cinemas. You’ll have a choice to go and see the latest Marvel film on the biggest screen possible with a massive group of people, or go to a  boutique cinema to be able to have a nice drink, see an old classic film, and do something that’s a little bit different. The biggest cinemas will be like they’ve always been: like a farm, quick in and out, watch the film and you don’t really hang around, where boutique cinemas are going to be more tailored to the people’s experience in what they’re looking for a whole night out. 

Anthony Hughes on applying lessons from the music business to the cinema industry

If you like the experience economy, people want to come and have a different experience when they go to the cinema than they do with a multiplex. It’s very similar to the way that the music industry has changed its revenue streams. People used to make money from music and now they make money because of music. They’ve gone for the 360 model, which includes something other than music. I think small independent cinema has got that same offer, it makes money because of film. We’re quite lucky that the building that we’re in is going to operate as a cafe, as a bar, as a social center. The film is a facilitator to get people through the door.

Listen to the the full episode below and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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