QUAD’s film programmer Adam Marsh on what’s in store for movie-goers in 2015

Adam Marsh Photo: Graham Lucas Commons

Adam Marsh Photo: Graham Lucas Commons - Credit: Archant

January is right at the heart of Film Award Season, so Nigel Powlson makes his way to QUAD in Derby to talk to film programmer Adam Marsh

Adam's film selections: 'Into the Woods'

Adam's film selections: 'Into the Woods' - Credit: Archant

Regulars at Derby’s QUAD arts centre will know there is a certain type of film that always hits the mark with the audience – and it’s Adam Marsh’s job to find those movies.

The QUAD film programmer is responsible for ensuring the selection is more diverse than you would ever get in a traditional multiplex, even though QUAD only has three screens. He also aims to engage moviegoers with special events as well as helping to organise the venue’s annual film festival.

Adam says: ‘We often say “that’s a QUAD film” straight away but when you actually try to define what that is, it’s a harder thing to do. It’s generally a film that might struggle to find a place at the multiplexes but would appeal to certain sections of a multiplex audience – things like The King’s Speech. Costume dramas do very well at QUAD and we are one of the last bastions of star power. Names still have an appeal here – especially the likes of Judi Dench and Colin Firth. The Hollywood star system still works here even if not at the multiplexes anymore.’

QUAD also screens the films that the multiplexes shun because they feel there is a limited audience. But QUAD has drawn in large crowds for documentaries, foreign language films and independent, low budget offerings.

Adam's film selections: 'Inherent Vice'

Adam's film selections: 'Inherent Vice' - Credit: Archant

Adam says: ‘When one of these films takes off, the multiplexes can’t capitalise as they don’t normally screen them. We take those kind of films 52 weeks a year because we think they are important and people should have a chance to see them, whether that’s 50 filmgoers or 500. Occasionally you will get one of those films that surprises everybody and QUAD is where people will want to see it. The film Northern Soul came out in October and we sold out virtually every screening of it. It took a lot of people by surprise but it had been on our radar for a long time. People were asking us when we were going to screen it and we turned it into an event. I don’t think you get that level of engagement with the audiences at a multiplex.’

One of QUAD’S missions is to engage constantly with the audience, whether that means listening to what they want to see, arranging question and answer sessions with cast and crew after screenings, or organising seasons of films on a theme with linked introductions.

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Adam says: ‘People are always saying “why can’t you show this or that?” There was a film about fly fishing that was requested, a great little documentary, and although it would never have wide appeal we put it on and did well with it because that audience was engaged and wanted to see it. It’s a two-way street and if people suggest films off the radar we will check them out.’

Adam tries to see as many of the key films as possible in advance of them showing at QUAD but admits that he can’t possibly watch all the movies released in the UK.

Adam's film selections: 'Wild'

Adam's film selections: 'Wild' - Credit: Archant

He says: ‘Even to attempt to see all the films out there would be ridiculous and pointless. There are way too many films coming out that are not of a very good quality. The ones I try hardest to see in advance are the slightly more difficult titles, to decide if we might find an audience for them.

‘I like to think that every film we show has its own quality. We wouldn’t screen a film that is terrible just to sell tickets. We want to show the best that cinema has to offer. So we take a close look at films with no stars and more difficult topics and see if our audiences can get something from them.

‘We are also looking to see how long we might book a film for. We have recently switched to flexible programming, which gives us the opportunity to extend the runs of films doing well or drop them if they aren’t.’

Adam attends special industry screening days and major film festivals such as Cannes in search of great movies.

He says: ‘The good thing about Cannes is that it has a really high ratio of films that will get a release. If you go to the London Film Festival, maybe 50 per cent will never be seen in UK cinemas.’

The second Derby Film Festival takes place in May and Adam will also be looking for screenings, guest appearances and special events for that.

He says: ‘We are in year two in 2015. It was a great success in 2014 and we already have events booked in for next May.’

Programming movies has its difficulties with distributors often demanding high percentages of the gross of the film if taken by cinemas on the day of release. They might also insist that it is shown in all slots every day.

Adam says: ‘People wonder why we have so many screenings of certain films but we have to, it’s part of the contract. They often ask for all shows for two weeks which is a problem when there are a lot of films out and you only have three screens.

‘For a mainstream blockbuster they might want 60 or 70 per cent of our box office, whereas for something more small scale they may only want 35 per cent. So sometimes you can do better with a less popular film. There are mathematical equations to go through when you book a film and the ones that get the most people in don’t necessarily make us the most money. Sometimes you get a film on a decent rate and it surprises everyone – like Northern Soul.

‘You expect documentaries and foreign language films to have a certain ceiling but sometimes they break through that barrier, such as Michael Moore’s films which were suddenly taking $100 million at the US box office. We are overdue a big surprise like that or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.’

What gives Adam the most satisfaction is bringing these surprises to QUAD’s customers.

He says: ‘You see something fantastic and you want to share it with other people. Occasionally I might programme something I shouldn’t but I know if I get behind it and push it enough we can cover the costs and send people away from the screening astounded.

‘We want them to leave QUAD saying “I have just seen something brilliant” and knowing that the next time they come they will see another one. That’s what we do here – show amazing films.’

Alternative content

It’s not just films that are topping the box office charts on the big screen these days. Over the last five years, opera, ballet, music concerts and theatre beamed to cinema screens have attracted big audiences. QUAD now has an extensive programme of events such as National Theatre productions and operas from leading companies and the appetite from audiences is growing. Adam Marsh says: ‘When we opened QUAD six years ago we didn’t have satellite dishes and we installed them specially to take National Theatre Live links as we knew there was a demand. They are ridiculously popular.

‘The range on offer has grown enormously and now a significant part of our income is from this “alternative content”. It’s a big growth area. We keep thinking it will plateau but it hasn’t yet and is still diversifying. Museums and art galleries are now being added. It’s all about bringing new experiences to Derby. Most people can’t afford to fly to Russia and walk round the Hermitage but now you don’t have to, we can bring it here.

‘We can also screen live Q&As with big stars linked to film screenings.’

Transmissions of the Billy Elliot stage show were so successful nationwide that they topped the box office chart.

Adam says: ‘And that was just from one day of takings. They appeal to a different audience and even at £15 or £16 to see opera at QUAD is still much cheaper than at the actual venue – if you could get a seat.’

National Theatre Live screenings include Treasure Island on 22nd January, 18th and 23rd February. RSC Live presents Love’s Labour’s Lost on 11th Feb and Love’s Labour’s Won on 4th March. Check the film programme at www.derbyquad.co.uk

RSC Live

Shakespeare’s comic romance plays out amidst the brittle high spirits of a post- war house party in autumn 1918, as memories of the trenches give way to a life of parties, masked balls and youthful passions.

Oscar Season

ONE of the frustrations of film programming is that many of the year’s top quality movies all come out in a rush in the first couple of months of the year. That’s because all the major awards ceremonies (Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Baftas) take place in that window and movie producers hope to cash in on the Oscar buzz. The downside is that some very good movies get lost in the rush and for Adam Marsh, at QUAD, there just aren’t enough days in the week or enough screens to cram all the films in.

He says: ‘There are a lot of films released in quick succession and they are all great. The problem is choosing what to miss out on rather than what to take.’

This season’s crop will include the new film from perennial awards front runner Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice, and Meryl Streep in the Sondheim adaptation Into the Woods.

Adam says: ‘I don’t think there is going to be a clear favourite for the awards this year but I would be surprised if Inherent Vice and Into The Woods were not up for multiple awards and there is a film called Wild with Reese Witherspoon that should earn her a Best Actress nomination. But I’m hoping that a film released out of Oscar season, Boyhood, will do well. It was a terrific little film, with the dedication of shooting a story in real time over 12 years – it deserves recognition. If it does we will bring it back as a lot of people missed it.

Derby Film Festival

1st–10th May 2015, a 10-day celebration of film culture with celebrity and industry guests, preview screenings, talks and seminars, special cinema events, new films curated from worldwide submissions with the theme ‘Evidence’. The final weekend will explore all things horror, science fiction and fantasy courtesy of the Fantastiq Film Festival. See www.derbyfilmfestival.co.uk for updates. Submissions are now open for the festival’s short film competition. Local film makers – based in or originally from Derbyshire – are asked to submit their films (short and feature length) to Derby Film Festival with the possibility of screening. All submitted films selected will be entered for the Best Feature and Best Short award to be selected by a panel of industry experts.

E-mail adamm@derbyquad.co.uk for more information on submitting a film.

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