The London Symphony Journals. #9.

Editors note. Alex Barrett has charted the production and release of his latest film, London Symphony, on Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second for a couple of years now. Though the site has shifted in focus in recent months we thought it fitting that Alex would cap off his filmmaking journey with one final post. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Alex on the success of London Symphony, and to thank him for letting Hope Lies tag along on the way. 

Last August, Adam posted a news piece on the site outlining what was, then, our upcoming tour of UK cinemas and alternative spaces. Several months on, I thought it might be worth writing a brief reflection on my experiences during this tour. I spoke about the organisation of the screenings back in Journal #7, so I won’t repeat that here, but it’s perhaps worth saying that I started out with the aim of screening the film in 5-10 venues in London, and 5-10 venues outside London. At the time of writing, the film has now had just over 60 screenings around the country, with another seven still to come – so not a bad result.

It has meant, though, a much bigger time commitment than was originally planned, especially given that many of the screenings featured Q&As or live music – that’s certainly not a complaint, as I’ve loved every minute, but for filmmakers thinking about doing something similar, the amount of time and energy that it takes to not only organise and promote the screenings but also to travel and attend them, shouldn’t be underestimated. There is also the logistical necessity of making sure that all the venues have what they need when they need it (most crucially the screening copy of the film). Liaising with over fifty venues and keeping track of everything certainly took some organising (thank God for spreadsheets!). But if the organisational and logistical side of the tour can feel like a chore (it’s hardly the sexiest part of filmmaking), the interaction with audiences certainly makes up for it – as exhausting and as time consuming as the travelling can be, getting to see new places and meet new people, and discuss the film with them, is definitely the highlight of the process (especially when people like the film which, thankfully, our audiences seemed to do).

As has been mentioned in previous posts, the venues we screened at ranged from conventional cinemas like the Barbican Centre to alternative spaces such as the London Shambhala Meditation Centre. One of the interesting observations about playing these alternative spaces – particularly the religious ones like temples and churches – was seeing new audiences enter the venues especially for the screenings. When organising these events, we had assumed that the majority of the audience would be from the venues’ regular attendees (e.g., the church’s congregation), but this turned out not to be the case, with many of our audience members coming into these spaces for the first time.

The opposite was the case with the film clubs and societies that we played at, which drew strong audiences from their regular supporters, with many of the screenings reaching capacity. It was exciting for us to show the film in small, remote towns and still draw sizeable crowds. Film clubs and societies are a vibrant, exciting network of venues for independent filmmakers, and I would certainly encourage people to look at them as a viable exhibition circuit for their work, especially given the warm, community atmosphere that many of them have.

Teaming up with these clubs and societies, along with the independent venues and community cinemas that we played, also helped us with the marketing, as they have strong followings of their own. In terms of promotion, I focused my time on marketing each screening individually, rather than marketing the release as a whole, as this enabled me to target people local to the venues – perfect for fostering the community feeling of the project. One problem that we faced, though, was that most of my promotion was done online, and the audience for our film ultimately ended up skewing a little older, meaning that much of our marketing was missed by the people who were coming to see the film. Local word of mouth proved a much stronger pull.

The tour officially ends on February 23rd with a (sold out) candlelit screening at Southwark Cathedral, but more screenings are still being confirmed, with three now occurring after this date. Still, the screenings are starting to quieten down, and the Cathedral will also be hosting a photography exhibition of images I took during the making of the film, which feels like a fitting conclusion to the theatrical run. The exhibition runs from 10th February – 2nd March 2018.

Adding to this sense of closure is our forthcoming UK DVD release through New Wave Films, which comes out on February 12th.  The film has also already been released internationally through Flicker Alley, who released it on blu-ray and VOD last October. This disc was voted Best silent film DVD/Blu-ray release of 2017 in the recent Silent London Poll of 2017, and we also picked up Gold Awards for Best silent film theatrical release and Best modern silent of 2017, which really does make all the hard work feel worthwhile. In the UK, the film is also available to stream on the BFI Player, with an introduction by Mark Kermode, who made the film his choice of the week. (For those wondering how we managed to secure these distributors, we simply approached them directly via email.)

These releases nicely round off the four years of work it has taken to complete the project, and point to a conclusion of some kind. This week I’ve confirmed another public screening and a University lecture about the project, so the project is still far from over, but it does feel like the right time to round up both this journal and The Community which I’ve been running on our website (though that will continue for another couple of months, to cover the Southwark screening in detail, before being capped off with a free e-book featuring all of the updates).

I’d therefore like to thank everyone who has been following these infrequent updates – and, of course, all those who have seen the film on one platform or another. Making and releasing the film has been a brilliant experience, and I’m very grateful to all those who have come on this journey with me. But now it’s time for me to start thinking about the next adventure…

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