Cinema attendances are set for another fall this year. It’s a worrying decline for everyone in the industry, and fresh ideas to reverse the trend seem to be thin on the ground. The recent announcement of the end of ‘Orange Wednesdays’, the successful 2-for-1 offer that has run for over a decade, only adds to the feeling that the interests of the ticket-buying public are being overlooked.
On a personal note, as a film journalist and avid cinema-goer, I’ve experienced another depressing set of events. My first trip to the cinema, many years ago, was to the local Granada with my mum and sister to watch Care Bears the Movie. We’ll put aside the choice of film for now (I followed it up with Superman 4: The Quest for Peace… clearly my tastes were improving). The cinema was no more than 100 yards from my front door, and was a beautiful mixture of late Victorian styling and 1920’s Gothic fixtures.
The century of history went completely over my head, of course, as the lights dimmed and the trailers began. We’ve all shared these formative experiences and to call a cinema a “local”, is something I would only miss a decade or so later.
The cinema changed hands many times, the background being detailed by the
My last film there was Jurassic Park. It was still a good few years before the cinema was to shut, but by this point we had all but given up. Rumours that the site was to be shut down began to circulate. We were reminded that this was the only cinema in the borough, a borough that was the birthplace of Alfred Hitchcock no less, but by 2003 it was all for nothing.
The cinema was finally sold off and shut its doors for the last time. The new owners wanted to convert the venue into a church, but legal-wrangling has subsequently meant a venue that once hosted The Beatles, The Who and Johnny Cash has been derelict ever since.
Skip forward a decade and Walthamstow is suddenly a hub of activity again. A quiet announcement, that passed many by, signalled a new apartment complex to be built on the site of the old arcade and post office. No surprise there, like much of East London new apartments are springing up all over the place. Tucked away in the small print though was the plan to build a new multiplex as part of the complex (now known as The Scene).
This venue is about a hundred yards from the old Granada, and initial apprehension quickly turned into wild excitement as Empire Cinemas claimed the venue for one of their new flagship locations.
So this lifelong journey for me culminated with the grand opening last month of the Walthamstow Empire. A gala night, featuring an early screening of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.
To make sense of it all, I sat down with General Manager Adam Root to talk about bringing a cinema back to E17.
You’ve been open now for a few weeks, tell us how its gone so far?
Adam Root (AR): It’s been really good. It’s been crazy at points, we’re all still trying to find our feet. There’s a new team of 33 people, and we’re bedding it. The feedback from customers has been fantastic, the twitter comments are really positive.
And how did you go about picking your team here?
AR: We actually worked really closely with the local job centres. We told them what we want, what our brief was and that we wanted to recruit locally. We had more than 500 applicants, and we did two days of presentations and then interviews. I had help from managers of other branches.
How did you start at Empire, and do you have a connection to the area yourself?
AR: Not directly, although my mum is from Chingford which isn’t too far. She was just telling me she bought a bridesmaid dress from the market here, which is the same street as the cinema. I’ve been with the Empire Cinemas for 6 years now. Started off as an assistant general manager, and slowly moving up. As a chain we’re still relatively new, we just celebrated our ninth birthday.
What does your day usually consist of?
AR: At the moment its very packed. We’ve still got builders and deliveries occurring, but obviously we’re hoping that will calm down soon. Normally I would come in, set up, get the team ready. We like to be on the floor at peak times, talking to customers and support the team. In a venue like this, with a small foyer, we have to get our film times just right. It’s important to have the right flow in and out. Health and safety, accounts and making sure we have the best service available.
What is it that Empire [as a chain or brand] plans to bring to the area?
AR: We look for something for everyone. We try and push the film mix. We have things like saver-day Tuesdays, we want people to come down for more than just the big Blockbusters so we try and make it more affordable to visit regularly. We are a small chain in terms of our hierarchy, we’re owned by one gentleman, so our feedback goes straight back to the top. We are a community-based cinema chain, and we try and get involved with the local community. Of course we are a business, but our philosophy is to try and offer films to everyone. We look at the market and price ourselves accordingly.
I’ve been to the Leicester Square branch a lot, and this has a similar look and feel. Was that a deliberate effort?
AR: Certainly. This is actually the first cinema we’ve built from scratch. 9 years ago, when we took over 16 cinemas, they all looked different to one another. We’ve been tweaking them over the years, and brought all the good bits here. The flagship cinema in Leicester Square is the one that we base everything around. We want to keep that “wow-factor”, that feeling when you first go to the cinema. We aim to recreate that in every venue.
With Christmas coming up, have you got anything special lined up, or even things planned for next year?
AR: We’ve got a series with the Royal Opera House, which is ongoing. At the moment this branch is still getting off the ground, but we have had a lot of interest with the local community to do things here. We’re certainly looking at doing some of those.
How does that process of working with the community work. Do people approach you, or do you reach out to them?
AR: A bit of both actually. We have contacts around, but we look at local groups as well.
Finally, what are you looking forward to next year… both in terms of what we’ll see on screen and in terms of this cinema itself?
AR: Aw there’s hundreds of films to look forward to next year. Next year is massive. The Star Wars trailer looks pretty good. We’ve just had the Bond announcements. I’m looking forward to us being really busy. The final Hunger Games will be huge, and even things like The Minions spin-off. I’m really looking forward to Jurassic World, and to see how they do that with how technology has changed since Jurassic Park…
Indeed. Things have certainly changed since Jurassic Park. I now have a new cinema to call my local, although there will be something oddly familiar about watching Bond, Star Wars and a Jurassic Park sequel in Walthamstow again…