Beyond the Multiplex: Audiences for Specialised Film in English Regions

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Geography Politics and Sociology

Abstract

The aim of the project is to understand firstly how to enable a wider range of audiences to participate in a more diverse film culture that embraces the wealth of films beyond the mainstream; and secondly how to optimise the cultural value of engaging with those less familiar films, identified here as 'specialised' films. We will do this by investigating how audiences engage with and form around specialised films in four English regions. Audience formation is here understood as the processes of engagement with films that generate audience experiences. Drawing on industry definitions, specialised films are understood as films outside the mainstream, including small scale UK films, foreign language, documentary, archive and hard-to-pigeonhole films, and films with unconventional narratives, themes or cinematic techniques. Provision of mainstream film is good across England; however, provision of specialised films is low across the English regions outside London, which limits the opportunities for people to experience a more diverse film culture. We need to know more about the provision of specialised films in those regions, and how audiences form in relation to specialised film provision. Although audience reception studies have made audiences increasingly visible within academic debate and although the industry and policy makers also gather intelligence about audiences, little attention has been paid to the specific contextual relationships and interactions between media and people that generate and sustain audiences in English regions. Audience policy for specialised films takes a regional approach in attempting to improve provision and create a more diverse film culture. Our project aims to provide a firm evidence base for such policy developments by establishing a detailed understanding of how audiences form in their engagement with specialised films, the extent to which they are committed to film cultural diversity and the role that regional identity plays in that process. To achieve these aims requires an holistic approach that addresses the details of consumption and the opportunities to consume, namely the provision of film at a regional level, including online. The goal is both to advance scholarship and to provide concrete recommendations about how UK audience policies can be improved.

This focused, comprehensive and impactful project will explore the relationship between audiences and specialised films by examining the practices of venue-based and online film consumption, how different audiences experience specialised films, and the value of venues in the regional provision of film. It will also address the provision of specialised film by examining the industry processes of funding, production, distribution and exhibition (including online) of specialised films in four English regions. The audience research will involve a multilevel comparative study of audience formation in relation to specialised films in four English regions, collecting data that is in depth and at scale and using innovative digital humanities analytical methods. Following an earlier pilot study (http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/fhn), we have developed a highly experienced interdisciplinary team to undertake this project, comprised of academic experts in film studies, sociology, cultural policy, digital humanities and partners from film policy and the film industry. Through a partnership with the British Film Institute's (BFI) Film Audience Network and the Film Hubs (which organise provision of specialised film and foster audience participation regionally), the project is designed to have direct impact on the BFI's efforts to improve regional audience figures, widen film choice, and enhance the cultural benefits of specialised film. The project will therefore establish a strong relationship between the scholarly understanding of audiences and the development of official audience policies and industry practices in the context of regional provision.

Planned Impact

We aim to achieve impact within the British film industry through a programme of research that directly supports the work of the British Film Institute (BFI) Film Audience Network (FAN). FAN is composed of the nine Film Hubs which cover the whole of the UK. The aim of FAN is to position 'specialised film' as a recognisable, valued and important part of people's cultural lives. FAN seeks to achieve this by a) developing a larger, more diverse and sustainable audience for specialised film and b) creating a more confident sector for the distribution and exhibition of specialised film. Our project will help FAN and the industry sector address these two objectives by providing evidence (raw data and research outputs), tools for conducting their own analysis of the data (the online interface), and a methodology for conducting similar audience studies involving quantitative and qualitative data (the ontology). If funded, the project is timely because its findings will feed in to the BFI's next round of planning for the continuation of FAN beyond 2017. Our pathway to impact is targeted at the strategic level and the applied level.

The project is thus designed to have a direct impact on the BFI's efforts to improve regional audience figures, widen film choice, and enhance the cultural benefits of specialised film. More generally, the project is designed to inform and influence the specialised film sector, industry leaders and stakeholders through a series of impact activities that make use of the audience data and the search and visualisation tools and assist them with their decision making processes at regional and national levels. One aspect of the impact plan will be to run a series of workshops that use the project's digital deliverables as part of a Delphi Methodology to influence policy development. The project will thus establish a strong relationship between the scholarly understanding of audiences and the development of official audience policies and industry practices in the context of regional provision.

Publications

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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/P005780/1 01/06/2017 30/06/2018 £725,449
AH/P005780/2 Transfer AH/P005780/1 01/07/2018 31/05/2020 £498,125
 
Description We have started to develop impact in terms of the ways in which the BFI film hubs are consider the ways in which they engage with audiences and the methodologies they use to undertake audience research. Our project methodology has built in the pathways to impact from its inception. At the moment, the impact is at the level of raising awareness about out project and how out project might facilitate new ways of engaging with film.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description BFI Film Hub press release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The BFI Film Hub FHN released a press release about the project and the project launch
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.beyondthemultiplex.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Press-Release-Beyond-the-Multiplex-Lau...
 
Description Project Launch:Beyond the Multiplex: Audiences for Specialised Film in English Regions 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The launch of Beyond the Multiplex: Audiences for specialised films in the English Regions (BtM) was designed to introduce the project to stakeholders and to provide an opportunity to discuss how the project can better support stakeholders in their day to day work. Keynote speakers set out the current specialised film context including the challenges and opportunities ahead and the support available.
Four facilitated discussions about audiences took place during the afternoon covering policy, exhibition, research and audience development.The event attracted 38 representatives from BFI, ICO, FAN, Showroom Workstation, Sheffield Doc Fest, Watershed, HOME, Broadway, Glasgow film, Film Northern Ireland, Film London, Audience Agency, Cinegi, Birds Eye View, universities, INTO film and many more.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.beyondthemultiplex.net/launch-beyond-the-multiplex-2/
 
Description Regional newspaper report about the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Newcastle Chronicle published a half page report and discussion about the project called 'Cinema habits research' by David Whestone 24th October 2017. Citing BFI's Ben Luxford's quote at the launch and in the BFI FH ' Research such as this is essential to help us understand contemporary viewing habits
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Talk and discussion about the project to the BFI regional fFlm Hub in the South West of England on he 14th December 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The activity was a presentation and discussion about the project and approaches to audience development with the Film Hub members (FHSWC) at the Watershed Bristol. It fostered a discussion and audiences, audience experiences and who they form in the South West of England.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017