Scalarama’s role is to support, connect and grow with independent film exhibitors of all sizes, from those just starting to think about screening films to fully-fledged festivals and venues of all sizes. In the early months of 2020, film exhibition has been flipped on its head, so our first Scalarama roundtable of 2020 (hosted on Zoom, Sunday 05/04/20) explored the new challenges exhibitors are faced with taking things online.
We were joined by Herb Shellenberger, a film programmer and writer originally from Philadelphia and based in London. Herb is Programmer for the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, where he has worked since 2016, and Editor of Rep Cinema International, a newsletter on repertory and archival film programming around the world. Via the latter (which you can sign up for here), Herb was a key advocate for cinemas, festivals and independent exhibitors to #CancelEverything in the early weeks of the global pandemic.
One of the best takeaways from the discussion was not to worry if your organisation hasn’t started putting things online yet – this seems like it will be a bit of a marathon, not a sprint, and with all exhibition facing the same issues, it’s probably best to have a think about what you want to achieve with your audiences and what’s the best method, for you and your organisation, before throwing all you’ve got at it.
As always, we encourage everyone who is thinking about screening films, online or otherwise, to do so legally – obtaining the right licenses and showing them securely. Online rights are something the industry is still untangling, but it’s worth noting that just because a film is on YouTube or archive.org, or Soviet Movies, or Eastern European Movies (or even Amazon Prime!), doesn’t mean it’s available legitimately.
Most organisations that have been able to take their programming online are showing films by filmmakers they have direct relationships with, or films they already hold the rights to (e.g. AGFA and Alamo Drafthouse’s Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday). But join us again via Zoom on Sunday April 26th for our second Scalarama session, when we’ll be discussing film licenses with special guest Greg Walker (Pilot Light TV Festival, Rad Film Screenings, Manchester Animation Festival).
Below, our notes on taking film content online. We’ll update this as we learn more – you can download the notes as a PDF here. Please feel free to let us know how you get on with any of these suggestions – share your own in the comments or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taking Things Online
Watch Parties/ Watch Alongs | Watch Parties aim to recreate a communal atmosphere for watching films, promoting audiences to watch a film already available on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, All 4, Curzon or Mubi at a certain time and participate in discussion throughout the film. This could be within the comments of a Facebook event or page, on Twitter using a specific hashtag or via a dedicated chat group (i.e on WhatsApp, Facebook). Variations on the Watch Party include audiences watching the film at different times and feeding into the discussion at a set time instead.
Consider: Cost, accessibility, content. Watch-alongs on free or freely-accessible platforms like terrestrial/freeview television, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Vimeo are ideal. Commercial television stations also allow ready-made breaks, ideal for commentary/catching a breath. Check if the film you’re recommending/scheduling has descriptive subtitles/SDH/captions, as all the main television channels do, as well as iPlayer, Netflix and often Amazon Prime. Audio description is often available on Netflix and other platforms too. Finally, content – knowing the film you are going to watch means you can provide content or trigger warnings if necessary. Read more about those here.
Netflix Party | Netflix Party is a free extension for Google Chrome which allows people to watch films currently on Netflix together through a shared link with an accompanying chat function running down one side of the screen. This allows for real-time interactions and engagement, although it does require all attendees to have a Netflix subscription. Hosting Netflix Parties does limit you to the films available on Netflix, but if you have a programming niche or focus (i.e queer representation, forgotten classics, bad films, etc) you could frame a film in this context to offer deeper engagement and get your audiences discussing the film through a specific lens.
Metastream | Metastream is similar to Netflix Party and works with more streaming platforms, like Twitch and Youtube. It’s also available as a Chrome extension. You can have private (invitation-only) or public sessions. NB Since it’s still in development, it’s fiddly and pretty glitchy; “theatre mode” may hide soft subtitles; attendees require their own subscriptions to Netflix, etc.
Two Seven | Works with Netflix, Vimeo, YouTube and private videos. An additional subscription fee is needed for some of the streaming services (e.g. Disney+), though the paid features have been lowered in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Supports video/audio chat. NB Attendees require their own subscriptions to Netflix, etc.
Vimeo | Vimeo is a video streaming platform, with free and paid-for options depending on what you need, and no ads. Deptford Cinema are currently screening shorts and features by local filmmakers on Vimeo, with a £2 pay-all or free if you email them. Glasgow Short Film Festival also use Vimeo for the embedded shorts on their website.
Live/ Recorded Introductions and Q+As
Film screenings aren’t the only things we can take online – there are a number of platforms that can facilitate live or pre-recorded activity.
Zoom | You’ll be forgiven for never having heard of Zoom before the past few weeks. It’s like Skype only a bit better, allowing you to video chat with multiple people, whilst also having typed chat and document sharing. This can be useful if you’re wanting to run post-screening discussions with audiences or live Q&As. You just download it onto your laptop/device or you can use the website, then set-up an account to set-up meetings or access them. NB optimise your settings and apply best practice to avoid unwelcome intrusion from randoms.
Facebook Live / Youtube Live | Facebook Live is useful if you’re hosting a watch-along or a set-time screening and would like to provide the audience a live introduction. This can be posted on your main page or in the event page for whatever event you’re doing, if you have created one. Cinemaattic have been using Facebook Live, via Zoom, to host their Sunday evening chats / Q&A sessions.
Instagram Live | This is a function on the Instagram app which allows you to do live introduction videos from your phone to Instagram followers. If it’s good enough for Jean-Luc Godard…
Periscope TV | Periscope is a free streaming app that you can use on your mobile to go ‘live’ on the Periscope platform and on Twitter. Useful if you’re doing a live film introduction or give live updates about your organisations or some informal chats.
Hashtags | Using a dedicated hashtag (such as #WatchingWithMatchbox or #FemspectivesAtHome) across all social media sites can connect your audiences, whether it be for a watch party, post-screening discussion or just to offer a unified thread for film-related chat tied into your organisation.
Articles/ Film Writing | Film screenings aren’t the only things we can do online to stay engaged with our audiences. It’s a good time to research and develop ideas and especially to write on some film-related topics for your own website or blog or even just social media.
Quizzes | Online quizzes are proving an easy and popular way for organisations to continue to engage audiences, creating a sense of community and something fun to do together. These can be hosted on Facebook Live (like The Skinny) or via Zoom (like Screen Queenz) with interactive Google forms as quiz sheets or simply a downloadable document people can type into.
The next monthly roundtable takes place on Sunday 26th April, on Zoom. Details at the Facebook event page, here.
Scalarama in Scotland is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network, and funded by Screen Scotland and Lottery funding from the BFI.