www.yourlocalcinema.com
 

'Croydon Advertiser' article, 2009.

The founder of 'Your Local Cinema .com' has recently been voted winner of the Daily Mail 'Enterprising Young Brits: People’s Choice Award', at a ceremony honouring the outstanding contributions of young people.

What 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.

How long has it been running?

Since summer 2000, so almost nine years.

And 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' cinema.

How 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 years ago.

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 of cinemas.

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.

How 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.

When 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).

My 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...

Was 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.

What 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 him!

Did 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!

Will you try and turn the website and information service into something profitable?

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.

Who 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.

Have you done anything else like this before?

Absolutely not. But I was only nine years old when I started...

Do 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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