Well, it has finally happened. After 12 summers of running Open Air Cinema events in the glorious and temperamental British summertime, we had an almost total washout on the first weekend of the year. I guess our luck had to run out some time and it may as well be 2023.
OAC is a complicated beast to tame. By my rough calculations PAC has run 74 open air screenings across 6 different sites*, over 12 summers and we have only ever had to cancel two screenings (and moved two indoors). It isn’t a bad strike rate really but why is it that the failures stick in the mind more than the successes?
Audiences, rightly, often have no idea about the amount of work and planning that goes into running events like this. It is our job to make sure of that. Our goal, as event producers, is for people to come along when everything has been set up, have a wonderful evening watching a brilliant film, under the stars, drink in hand, and to go home at the end with a renewed love of cinema and, in our case at Tinside Lido, a reconnection with the incredible place we are lucky to live in.
Planning for Open Air Cinema begins right after the last night of the previous summer’s screenings when we evaluate the things that went well, the mistakes we made and what we can improve for the next year. In January we start plotting dates and deciding how many weekends we can do and start conversations with the venue to work out any clashes with other city events that might be happening. Once the dates are set, we begin the programming conversations and continue the never-to-be-resolved and eternal debate about what films work best outdoors. There are the obvious crowd pleasers like Grease and Dirty Dancing, old-time classics like Roman Holiday, Some Like it Hot and (ahem) Singin’ In the Rain, cult classics like Blade Runner, Alien and basically anything by Wes Anderson. We always screen Jaws at Tinside Lido, it always sells out first and there are always a few cheeky boats mooring up alongside the Lido to try to watch it from the sea. As an independent cinema we also try to mix in some slightly left-field choices too:it feels vital to keep the spirit of PAC represented. We support local filmmakers at the start of their careers with short films playing before the main feature. One of the highlights for me was screening The Piano and Mark Jenkins’ Bait defied all expectations with a sell-out screening which we were definitely not expecting. This year we were really excited about screening his most recent film, Enys Men. It felt so perfect to have this sombre, atmospheric film playing at a venue looking out over the Sound to Drake’s Island and we even hoped for a little light drizzle to enhance the mood! Little did we know there would be torrential rain and wind gusts which would have sailed our gazebo across to France.
When the programme is decided we have the licensing for the screenings and the event dates to organise, sponsors to ask, volunteers to organise, marketing and ticketing to work through and then what feels like a particularly evil circle of Hell which involves carrying 300 chairs from storage, to Tinside, down three flights of stairs (and back up again and down again for every screening). The screen has to go up on a scaffold, the ‘projection room’ and sound system and bar have to be built and broken down every night and we start praying to the weather gods in March in the hope they will hear us and give us a good summer.
They were obviously busy at the time because this year, opening weekend weather was a shocker. First night on Friday went well and Grease was a roaring success with the audience singing and dancing along without a care in the world while my team and I spent the night anxiously scouring BBC Weather, the Met Office and the Windy App for the rest of the weekend forecast. Cancelling screenings is always, always a last resort. It is never what any of us want to do and there is never a right time to do it. If you cancel too early in the day and the weather improves, which it often does when you are at the coast, audiences could be very understandably disappointed. If you wait and wait to see if the wind drops and cancel too late, audiences can be annoyed that they may have started their journey and the decision feels too late. We try to balance it out but it’s a really tough call when you want a screening to go ahead but the first priority is always audience safety and ultimately that is the deciding factor. And that’s what we had to do this weekend. I know we made the right decision but it still feels like a failure – even though I know controlling the weather is slightly beyond even our organisational skills.
We have one more weekend to go. Please send some good weather our way.
*Tinside Lido, Royal William Yard Green and carpark, Mount Edgcumbe, The Box Piazza, Tamar Trails.