Lisa Burdge Interview: FilmFour Insights & How To Run A Cinema

In the buildup to the Barnes Film Festival next weekend, we’ve asked our competition judges to provide some details about life in the film industry. First up, we have Lisa Burdge! She’s worked for FilmFour, Empire Design, and also runs an independent cinema in Barnes called the Olympic Cinema. Ever wanted to do that?! Here are her insights into the wonderful world of film.

Hi Lisa! First off, a bit about yourself. What’s been your role with FilmFour and Empire Design? And how did you make your way into the film industry?

I was Head of UK Marketing at FilmFour for over 4 years until 2002 when I left to bring up our children. Prior to that, I worked for my husband Stephen as Creative Director of his film marketing design agency, Empire Design. I started out as in house designer for Virgin Vision, Virgin’s film arm then Creative Services Manager/Marketing Manager for PolyGram Films.

The very beautiful Olympic Cinema is one of your projects, too, how did you go about opening this?

The Olympic was a true labour of love. We had heard the magnificent building was about to become flats and a supermarket. My husband decided it needed to be saved and we spent the next three years raising money and refurbishing the building back to its former use as a cinema. Our fellow Barnes residents got behind us and we have now been open for almost five years. It’s such a wonderful feeling to know that the building serves the local community again – something it was built for in 1906.

You have a very iconic setup with your screenings, the seats are a deep red and everyone gets an individual stool to rest some popcorn. Do you think these little touches make the magic of cinema more apparent?

We spent years refining everything to ensure that the film viewing experience was the best that it could be. We sourced the most comfortable (reclining) seats we could find – from Norway, measured the spaces in front of the seats to ensure you wouldn’t have to get up if somebody needed the loo, had individual bespoke cocktail tables made to an exact size to take a bottle of wine and bags of popcorn and treats, tested endless packaging to ensure as much of a ‘rustle-free’ experience as possible.

Then we set to work on the sound – something we thought was a neglected aspect to cinema-going. Working with the legendary producer and engineer, Chris Kimsey who had worked in the Olympic when it was a recording studios, with the Rolling Stones etc. we sourced award-winning speakers and installed a completely immersive 3D sound system, backed by Dolby Atmos. We didn’t want Olympic’s cinema goers to miss any of the subtleties of audio dialogue.

How do you find going up against the big names of cinema, such as VUE? Plus, the emergence of streaming services like Netflix?

Each cinema chain has its advantages and disadvantages for the visitor. As a true independent, we pride ourselves on making the film viewing experience the best it can possibly be. We have knowledgeable box office staff, who you can speak to in person and on the phone. You can, of course book online, but should you prefer face to face interaction and advice, it’s there.

We charge no booking fees, nor charge for 3D glasses etc. Many people are surprised how our prices often work out cheaper than many of the cinema chains’ so called VIP options. We don’t differentiate as we aim for every experience to be VIP. Our café and dining room, and members club mean that we can offer a complete destination experience.

What’s the process involved for choosing films for the cinema? Surely that’s one of the best bits – you can remove anything you don’t like?

Gary Golding is our cinema booker. Gary has years of experience in advising the Barnes community on their film watching habits, having headed up the now defunct Barnes DVD shop around the corner. He has been with us from the beginning and absolutely loves watching films 24/7. He puts together an incredible line up of great films – known and unknown, quality mainstream and arthouse, with something for all tastes.

Barnes now has a strong film presence, with our film festival supporting the scene. What’s your advice to students looking to get into the industry?

It sounds obvious, but hard work usually pays off. Having a passion for whatever aspect of the industry interests you and working to understand how it works, who is doing what and why, then badgering whomever is doing what you want to do in order to get noticed.

In terms of film making specifically, digital platforms mean that your work can be shown to an audience in ways it never could before. The old film distribution methods, whilst still in operation, are not the sole routes to gaining attention any more, which is great news for young film-makers.

You’re judging some of the entrants to the festival. What sort of creative spark will you be looking for?

Originality is important for me. And an obvious passion for the medium too. Technical ability can be taught, whereas passion and love for film making is more difficult to impart.

The competition has proven it’s now possible for new talent to fund low budget films with great results. Do you see this trend continuing?

Yes, it’s very exciting that film-making can happen so much more easily now. Cameras are more portable, effects more simple and non-specialist. The only problem is that the talent pool is a lot bigger, so the competition has increased.

What advice would you provide anyone thinking of making a film?

Enter the Barnes Film Festival competition! Practice, practice, practice. Film everything and anything, watch lots and lots of films – good and bad – and learn from them. Come to the many Q&As we hold at the Olympic and listen to film makers giving their first hand experiences. Badger the ones you love into talking to you and imparting knowledge – most are a lot more approachable than you’d think.

What advice would you provide anyone thinking of opening a cinema?

Go for it! It has been the most wonderful journey, and nothing brings a community together better. The constantly changing content we screen brings such varied audiences through our doors – from ‘Babes in Arms’ every Tuesday mornings, to National Theatre Live events and everything in between.

Young and old, film buffs to Mama Mia fans, it never fails to give me a warm, fuzzy feeling seeing everyone coming together to watch something at the Olympic.

Finally, what’s been your favourite film of 2018 (so far)?

This question, though not unusual, I find impossible to answer. The ability of film to make you laugh, cry, think, inform and inspire never ceases to amaze me. They all have their merits, depending on what the film-maker’s intention was.

From big budget mainstream, Mama Mia 2 which has seen sold out screenings pretty much from opening (including the ever-popular sing-alongs!) to Bart Layton’s impactful part-documentary American Animals, we tend to play an eclectic mix of films.

What’s interesting is that audiences may be in the mood for something fun and frivolous, and at other times something more thought provoking – often these are the same people, just wanting different experiences at different times – which makes film such an incredible medium and an industry I am so lucky to be involved in.

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