The U.K.’s Everyman Cinema Keeps Audiences Connected with Weekly House Parties

As the COVID-19 shutdown continues to affect cinemas around the globe, Boxoffice Pro remains committed to sharing with our readers those theaters that are bringing their love of movies online—and keeping engaged with patrons in the process.

Over in the U.K., Everyman Cinema is doing just that with its weekly House Party series. For three weeks running, the Everyman has invited its loyal patrons (and anyone else feeling stir-crazy, of course) to watch a movie at the same time—first Booksmart, then Cinema Paradiso, and most recently (500) Days of Summer—and have a good, fun, still extremely indoors time posting about the film on social media. An initiative that hasn’t taken much by way of resources has let Everyman continue to share a love of movies with its customers, even as its doors remain shut.

Below, Everyman Cinema’s head of marketing Hoss Ghonouie talks Boxoffice Pro through the details of the program.

How and when did the House Party idea come about? How quickly did it come together?

Really quickly. It came about the week we closed. I think we did the first one two weeks after. We don’t have our own VOD platform. The things that immediately started cropping up were all kinds of social, time-dependent gatherings, like quizzes and phone calls and group sessions. We wanted to engage with that social aspect of getting people together. One of the things that happens when everybody’s apart is you do your own thing on your own timeline. There’s a much less of a social aspect to everything, but especially engaging in movies. If someone’s not in your house, it’s difficult to have that social experience.

So we started the House Party the first week we were closed, and just started choosing films that we thought would be fun to get a gathering going around. [Movies] with a broad appeal, [where perhaps] there was an audience still within our channels, across our email and social, that might not have seen it. So it might be an opportunity to recommend something to watch for the first time together.

We started off with Booksmart, which went down a storm. It’s fun. It’s such a great comedy. Nicely in keeping with the “housebound” theme as well—the whole film is about the two main characters wanting to go to a big party to end their high school experience on a positive note. So that was a fun one to play around with. And then we did Cinema Paradiso the week after that, which was a nice nod to our Italian counterparts who had been experiencing a couple of weeks in advance some of the things that we’re now experiencing in the UK. We wanted to share a bit of editorial support there.

Now it’s just developed into a nice weekly moment where we pick a film. We ask people to watch it at the same time. And then to tag themselves in their home cinema setup and tweet along and post Instagram stories of what they’re experiencing as the film’s happening. You almost start a bit of a conversation that way, which is really nice.

How’s the audience engagement been?

It started off quite small. There were a couple of thousand people engaging across social. And then we started building more awareness across things like our email platform, and we saw really amazing engagement rates. Seventy-plus percent of people opening emails and reading and planning their weekends. And then on Instagram, it sparked as well. Twenty-, thirty-thousand people engaging with posts. It’s built very organically. We’re not, like any other cinema networks, spending big budgets on digital advertising at all. It’s all purely organic and just using our own channels. It’s got a nice momentum.

This isn’t something that cost a ton of money to bring together.

No, totally. It’s a bit of time [from] the very few of us who are still pushing everything forward whilst we’re closed. You need a lot of focus to respond to people quickly, to keep that conversation relevant and active and going. We’ve been working with what we’ve got without having to spend a huge budget and invest heavily like we would do when we were open.

We also have another [initiative] that grew a life of its own. We had a bunch of Q&A live events that were supposed to happen and unfortunately got cancelled or moved back with the closure of the cinemas. So we started reaching out to [those] people, just to get recommendations of stuff to watch. That might inform one of the House Parties, or just general conversation around film recommendations from people we’re fans of and we think our audience are fans of. And that’s grown a really nice momentum of its own as well.

Richard Curtis gave his five favorite films, which we posted. We’ve got a bunch more coming up. We’ll share one or two a week going forward. Again, it didn’t cost us anything. It’s all trading on goodwill. [We want to] still have these nice little social moments and these conversations, to keep a little bit of the vibe going once we’re closed.

I like that, though they’re all different genres, the movie you’ve picked for your House Parties all feel like good quarantine watches. They’re fun, or they’re about a love of movies.

We have to be pretty democratic and keep the variety wide. We won’t play anything that we wouldn’t totally get behind at Everyman. I think that’s important. There might be one or two super niche arthouse films or some big blockbusters that we might play, but we try to keep to the core of the Everyman program, which is enjoyable, accessible, engaging, good storytelling. So that might be an indie film, or it might be a classic film like Cinema Paradiso. Or it might be something from a major studio as well. But just just keeping true to our normal programming, basically.

I’ve never been to Everyman, because I’m in the wrong country. But these clips you’re sharing of Everyman staff members—they’re recreating your pre-show?

That’s something we do in real life as a staple of Everyman. Every film that we show, in every screen in every cinema, one of the managers will pop in just before the film starts and give a quick, one-minute hello and introduction to the film. We’ve been trying to recreate that atmosphere with a bunch of people from across the business. We’ve had our operators and area managers and part-time people and chefs and membership manager and ex-employees—everyone’s been chipping in and helping introduce the film. It’s been great fun.

Not only are you recreating some of the experience for moviegoers, you’re bringing your employees in as well and keeping them in the loop.

Absolutely. And we’re doing the same thing behind the scenes that everybody’s doing with their friends—a weekly quiz and competitions and different stuff to keep the conversations going. So that’s a nice crossover to be able to do the film introductions and get people involved. As you’re seeing, people have really been playing it up—there’s some amateur acting going on!

How many people do you have working these House Party events, across all your social media networks?

We’ve got one person on social. She’s doing an amazing job. We’ve got one designer who’s creating some amazing assets to use across email and social. And that’s it, really. We certainly don’t have the full strength of our usual team, as we will have when we’re open again. I don’t think you need it. I think it’s about creating some nice assets and having a genuine, meaningful exchange with your customers whilst you’re closed. I think people will buy into that. More than buy into that, I think people are looking for that at the moment, because we’re all trying to keep busy and keep positive. It’s a really good time to be engaging.

And it’s important to let people know you’re doing it, to get the word out.

We’ve got quite a wide demographic. We’ve got 33 sites across the UK. So we started small in terms of outreach. We’re still not doing huge digital spends at all, but we started small with a segment of our audience that we knew were frequent cinemagoers, and we’ll fill out from there. You can easily tap into your superfans, and the message spreads as more and more people get involved.