Cinemas and screening rooms have endured a lot during the last 12-plus months – forced closures during the COVID lockdowns, cancellation of events, loss of staff, shortage of films and, for most, an extreme cash flow crisis. This has particularly affected independent cinemas, who may have lacked the cash reserves that the chains have. In addition, even before the pandemic, many commentators felt that cinemas had run dry of creative ideas to keep them competitive with the rise of the streamers and ahead of other away-from-home entertainment options. Pocket Films has discovered a couple of organisations that can offer support for independent cinemas.
One company that has emerged feels it has creative ideas to collaborate with independent cinemas and engage culturally and commercially. Mustard Studio, founded in 2020 by ex-Soho House and Curzon cohorts Mandy Kean and Kate Gerova, understand how crucial the bottom line is to a resource and time-poor venue, who are also usually the cornerstone of their community.
‘What we know is that cinemas are full of brilliantly entrepreneurial and passionate teams, but because they have to do everything, they can struggle to realise projects. We work with teams, embedding into the day-to-day to make differences on a strategic level”, explains Kean, “and because we come from a film and cinema background, we can dive in straight away, we know the business”.
The services Mustard Studio provide range from brand identity and consistency, 360-degree hospitality, digital and leadership, and they are most successful if they can take a holistic approach to the business. “It does make some people nervous when we turn up” smiles Kean, “but we’re only ever there to offer business solutions that make it a great, successful environment. It works for cinemas because we’re not on the payroll, and they can get the help they need and it works for the staff to have a fresh perspective”.
One of the most important philosophies Mustard Studio has adopted is to create partnerships with other people and other businesses. Most notably, they are working with Edinburgh-based INDY Cinema Group. INDY offers a range of operational services to help small exhibitors succeed. From programming and bookings, through day to day marketing support, to remote technical management and POS services, INDY aspires to deliver operational efficiencies that a standalone, independent cinema could not normally achieve on its own. The goal is to free cinema staff to focus on customers and to help each cinema’s unique local identity to flourish while improving business performance through economies of scale that are normally only available to bigger circuits. INDY now supports a diverse family of more than 70 sites across the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand and is currently expanding their range of services.
Mustard and INDY have their first joint commission to create a feasibility study for a potential new cinema. Gerova comments, “that’s very exciting to us, as we are looking at all aspects, from number-crunching through to interior design and the digital journey. With INDY’s background and ours, we can offer a very comprehensive business case study for emerging and established venues.”