made you want to set the website up?
Back in 2000 my parents happened to notice, publicised in a local paper
- may even have been the Croydon Advertiser! - a subtitled screening
of the animated movie 'Chicken Run' at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton.
I later learned that this was the first English language film to be
subtitled in a UK cinema, produced as a trial by the cinema industry
to see if there was any interest in such a screening.
Back then, in 2000, there was no English-language subtitled cinema.
The only way deaf people (like me) could enjoy cinema was to watch a
foreign-language film. So I went along with my parents, we were the
only people there, and it was... amazing. I could finally enjoy the
cinema experience. The sound was muffled but the words on the screen
made it crystal clear. So after the film I asked my mum and dad why
there weren't more films with subtitles at cinemas? Good question, we
all thought, let's look into it.
With the help of my parents I set up a website and email discussion
board, and started campaigning to create awareness of the possibility
of 'accessible' cinema.
long has it been running?
Since summer 2000, so almost nine years.
what exactly is it?
My company 'Your Local Cinema .com' is the only cinema listings service
of its kind in the world. It's sponsored by the UK film industry and
exists to create awareness of - and increase audience figures for -
subtitled & audio described (narrated) cinema releases and shows,
for people with hearing or visual problems. We cover the UK and Ireland.
Our site also includes subtitled and audio described trailers and clips.
We are advocates for the public, and deal with the representatives of
the cinema/film business on their behalf. We are members of the film
industry's 'Disability Working Group', a collection of representatives
from cinema, distribution and technology companies, as well as representatives
from the main charities for people with hearing or sight problems. This
group meets regularly to review and plan the future of 'accessible'
does it work?
In a nutshell, the cinema industry uses my service to reach out to people
with hearing or sight problems who are interested in going to the cinema.
All cinemas with a subtitle & audio description system email my
service their listings each week. I sort them all out, and every week
send out an e-newsletter to more than 60,000 addresses, containing those
subtitled and described films, locations & showtimes. There are
around 500 subtitled shows every week, and thousands more audio described
shows in more than 300 cinemas nationwide.
They said you have changed attitudes within the UK film industry, persuading
it to prioritise accessible cinema – could you explain what they
mean by this and how you have done it?
I started the service with the aim of persuading the cinema industry
to become accessible to people with hearing problems, like myself, and
somehow provide on-screen subtitles.
TV has had subtitles for people with hearing problems for more than
20 years (via teletext). Video tapes have had subtitles for almost as
long (accessed via an inexpensive add-on box). Almost all DVD discs
have subtitles, accessed via the remote control. But before 2000 cinemas
did not, even though cinema is at the start of the movie 'chain'.
Subtitles were always produced eventually - in time for a film's TV
and video/DVD release - but nobody had thought to produce subtitles
6 months beforehand, in time for the cinema release. To be fair, at
the time the technology that existed in TV and DVD land was not yet
possible in cinema land. It's changed now - all going digital - but
back in 2000 cinemas were still using technologies developed a hundred
Coincidently that was also the year that DTS, a USA company known for
its cinema surround sound technology, introduced its 'Cinema Subtitling
System' - a solution for cinemas to project on-screen subtitles on foreign
language films, to reduce the cost of producing subtitled film prints.
I found out about this system whilst looking into the situation in the
USA, and realised that it could of course also be used to project English
language subtitles. It also had an 'audio description' feature, which
enabled people with sight problems to enjoy films. (A narrated soundtrack
plays through wireless headphones - only the user can hear it). Audio
description has now appeared on TV and on many DVD releases but back
in 2000 it was quite a new feature.
So it appeared that the perfect solution was out there. I just needed
to ensure that the UK cinema industry heard about it, liked it, bought
it, installed it and used it!
The campaign started with a petition to the cinema industry. My mum,
dad and myself trialed it in my school - Rushy Meadow Primary, Carshalton
- which had a dozen deaf students. The petition got over a thousand
names from that school alone. So we launched a website to publicise
the petition nationally and over the next year or so we got many, many
thousands of names. We also bombarded the UK film industry with information
on the DTS system, in the hope that they would take an interest in it.
We don't know for sure if that helped, or if they were actually interested
in it anyway, but eventually they decided to trial the system in a handful
We wanted the system in every major town at least. So we took the petition
to the UK Film Council, who spend millions of pounds annually on film-related
projects, and persuaded them to seriously investigate the DTS system,
and accessible cinema in general. They looked into the matter, held
focus groups, meetings, worked out costs and eventually produced a report
which recommended that around a hundred cinemas - a fifth of the UK
total at the time - should purchase and install a subtitle system. They
also recommended that my website and information service - which by
now had become 'the' place for all things 'accessible cinema' related
- be supported and funded by the film industry.
In 2004, after more than three years of campaigning for better access,
but not just moaning - actually working with the film industry - my
company was hired by the film industry to be the 'marketing arm' of
cinema access. My job is to round up people and get them into subtitled
shows. The main cinema companies and film distributors, as well as a
few technology companies and the UK Film Council now sponsor my service.
do you intend to grow the service?
This year I will be upgrading the website to include more subtitled
trailers and clips, delivered more smoothly, via flash technology, rather
than the quicktime standard currently used, as well as including many
more audio described clips. I will also be adding better search features
and maybe produce versions for mobile phones, such as the iphone. But
the website is just a part of the service. I have been talking to industry
contacts about providing accessible versions of official movie websites.
Mini-sites that contain subtitled and audio described trailers, complete
subtitled and described UK listings, text accessible to blind people,
voiceovers etc. I'd also like to make audio described (narrated) soundtracks
as common as audio books, available on iTunes etc.
were you contacted about the Enterprise Young Brits Awards? How did
you become to be nominated?
(Your Local Cinema .com won the Daily Mail 2009 Enterprising Young
Brits 'People's Choice' Award).
dad heard about the Awards and entered my name and company. I didn't
know about it until I was shortlisted, about a week before I had to
attend the ceremony!
What did your friends think about it?
Typical teenagers - a quick 'Oh, heard about your award, nice one',
and that's it! They're not impressed...
it scary going up in front of the judges?
I was very, very nervous. I don't like the limelight, prefer to keep
my head down, doing my work, behind the scenes. I had to endure a 'Dragons
Den' style pitching process and a question and answer session from the
high profile judges, which was very nerve-racking. I thought I had messed
it up, but it turned out OK in the end.
did they say?
They said that they were very impressed with my service, and that I
had a very good chance of winning the Teen Award AND the 'People's Choice
Award', which is voted for by the public.
I didn't win the Teen Award, but DID win the People's Choice one! My
company received the most votes overall. All the finalists from all
categories - about 20 people in all - were up for that award and I beat
them all, so I'm very pleased. I heard afterwards that I got three times
as many votes as anyone else.
How did you impress them?
I get a lot of feedback via my website and it's clear that many people
really appreciate services like mine. So I decided to show the judges
some of the feedback letters which show that my service makes a real
difference - it enables people with a hearing or sight problem to enjoy
the popular social activity of cinema-going. I reminded them that as
we get older we all lose some hearing or sight - we all may appreciate
services that help us appreciate sound & vision! I said that I really
hope to win, because winning awards really helps to spread awareness
what I'm doing.
What was it like meeting Alistair Darling?
It was good. His eyebrows are even more bushy in real life. I gave him
my business card, as I do with everyone, but only spoke to him for a
half minute. All twenty finalists were queuing behind me to speak to
he say anything to you?
He said that it's good that my work has been recognised and said that
I had enterprise, imagination and determination. At least that's what
I think he said - being deaf I don't always catch what people say!
you try and turn the website and information service into something
I would like to, as I don't expect to be successful in applying for
funding from the film industry every year. I don't ever want to charge
the public for using my website and service, but I may try running advertising
sections on the website. It's estimated that there are around 5 million
people in the UK that use TV or DVD subtitles regularly. If some of
these people attend the cinema they will most likely require subtitles
there too. As the only service that caters for their needs, they will
most likely visit my site to find out what's on, where, and when. So
I reckon that many of those people use my service regularly.
helped you set up the website, for example designing?
My dad is in marketing and my mum is a graphic designer, and they helped
to get it up and running. But I've been using computers since I was
three years old, so from the beginning I was able to do almost everything
myself. It's very easy to set up an online business.
you done anything else like this before?
Absolutely not. But I was only nine years old when I started...
you have any ideas of any other ventures you’d like to do?
For now I'd like to continue with the cinema stuff. My biggest challenge
and goal is to invent subtitle spectacles! Like 3-D specs - lightweight,
throwaway, but rather than provide a 3-D effect, they provide subtitles,
on the specs, which only the wearer can see. The subtitles are on the
cinema screen, but so faint that they can't be seen. Only wearers of
special 'polarised' spectacles can see them. Something like this would
enable a person with hearing problems to attend a choice of many more
subtitled shows. A film can screen four or five times a day in say,
screen number one, of a cinema. It would be unacceptable to have many
of those shows subtitled - most people simply don't like subtitles,
that's a fact. So most cinemas only show one or two subtitled shows
a week. 'Subtitle spectacles' would mean that all shows, all day, all
week could be subtitled.
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