Scanning and Surveying Our New Site

The time has almost come for us to start working on one of the biggest projects we’ve ever tackled.

We’ve spent weeks in the planning process for what is going to be a revolutionary  update of a truly historical building.

The theatre that we’ve been working on has been closed and empty for the last three years, as such there are a few practical issues that it’s vital that we attend to before we take our refurbishment and renewal plans to the next stage.

When you leave a historic building, such as this one, to it’s own devices for as long as it has been, then you are always going to come across the same kinds of faults and problems. Due to the archaic way in which the building was first constructed, we’ve had to ensure that a complete structural assessment is taken before any real design work can take place.

For these kinds of tests we always try and hire surveyors from outside of the company. We have a number of completely certified surveyors within our ranks, however we always like to bring in niche historical surveying experts to consult, as it is very much the small details that can prove to make the deciding impact when it comes to preparing a final report.

Of course, these things never come cheap.

Indeed, this is part of the reason why so many refurbishments and restorations flounder in the early stages  of development. In order to balance concrete scanning costs, independent arts companies often have to lean on public funding, if they don’t receive the results that they are expecting, then the results will invariably be bankruptcy or dissolvement.

We try and offer clients, like our current theatre owners, the option of a free, no-obligation survey in order to offset any initial doubts that they might have about their property, this is also a great opportunity for us to get a peek inside the building at what’s in store for us.

Sometimes owners don’t want to take a closer look at their buildings, seemingly afraid that they might find something that would throw their whole business in jeopardy. On occasions we have found ourselves in a legal bind when we’ve discovered an invasive plant such as Japanese knotweed and have had to inform the client. Unfortunately the legal problems surrounding Japanese knotweed can often prove to be very expensive, but it’s always better to tackle these issues head-on, rather than choosing to ignore them.

As such, there’s always a sense of apprehension amongst the owners when this survey take place: either way that the results go, there are usually thousands of pounds riding on them. If the building’s safe to modify and refurbish, then the owners will have to start to consider how best to proceed, whether they want to continue to work with us or maybe put the design out to tender.

If, however, our external surveyors can not give us the go ahead then the building’s future will be put on a completely different path.

There can be many reasons why our structural surveyors will give us a  negative answer. With many of these old buildings, the sheer age of the materials involved could be compromised by time, moisture and wear.

Oak beams can warp over time. Concrete columns, only a couple of decades old, can succumb to damp. Even, sturdy looking stages can prove to have rotten over the course of ten years ago.

Put simply, it always pays to hire an expert to take a long hard look at your theatre, before you decide to go ahead with any more work, whether that’s intellectutal or structural.

New Job: Old Theatre to New Cultural Centre

With work coming to a head with the cinema, the team are already looking forward to their next job…

…and it looks like we’ll be heading back into the world of the theatre.

It’s always exciting heading into a theatre restoration.

These buildings are often more dilapidated than the usual cinema we renovate, which leads to us having to make much more interesting decisions, especially when it come to structural adaptation and use of space.

The cultural landscape of British theatres has changed immeasurably in the last few decades. There was a time when theatres were strictly places were one would come to watch a show. Matinees performances, evening performances and rehearsals: these were the only uses of a traditional theatre.

Today, because of limitations on funding as well as the waning interest that the paying public has for small scale theatrical productions, modern theatres are having to prove that their spaces can be used for much more than just putting on a show.

Ticket sales can no longer be the only source of revenue for a theatre.

These historical institutions that we work on have done well to survive for so long, especially considering the sheer amount of competition that they have to deal with on a daily basis. In their heyday, there were very few competitors in the world of entertainment. Unless there was a circus in town, you could pretty much guarantee a sold-out crowd every night.

Today though, things are a little different. Consider the other entertainment options that the 21st century punter has at their disposal: Television is still popular but now there’s also video steaming sites such as Netflix which have essentially empowered the viewer as a curator of their own TV channel. Add to this the relatively recent developments of social media and video games – it’s a wonder that there are any theatres still open today!

Luckily, there are some things that a well-run theatre can offer which simply can’t be rivalled by another form of home entertainment.

A modern theatre has to be many things today. It needs to be a hub for community theatre productions, a rehearsal space for upcoming artists and even a venue for alternative one-off performances, such as touring musicians or comedians. A potential cafe or bar also provides an informal environment to relax in which can also be the home of art exhibitions  or children’s cultural activities, it’s also a space that can be hired and adapted for events, so that each and every space of the building can be profitable.

Whilst some have bemoaned this cultural shift from a simple building with a sole-purpose to a more amorphous community focused institution – we see it as a challenge.

Although  we are most certainly still in the development phase of our project, some great ideas have already been thrown about as to how we’re going to transform this Goliath of an old school theatre into a modern, profitable theatre.

We’ll be working hard in the upcoming weeks to find a way of adapting and rebuilding this existing space to fit the modern sensibilities of a 21st century theatre.

Watch this space for more updates!

Electric Motors, Regeneration and Relevance

We’re almost reaching the end of our journey here.

Each and every restoration project that we take on is more than just an opportunity to bring life back to a previously unloved building.

We live in a society where ‘new’ things are often prized over older ones. Nowhere is this shift in perception more noticeable than in the mercurial commercial centres of our towns and cities.

In the last decade, there has been an increased focus on rapidly modernising shopping districts, leading to the abandonment of the faded shopping malls of the mid-90s and the adoption of more Utopian commercial centres, that favour wide spaces and natural light over traditional polished floors and confined spaces.

These new shopping areas are often a boon to the city, however their construction will always prove to be a detriment to someone.

The victims of these developments will often be the independent business owners and, unfortunately, the run-down cinemas. Suddenly forced onto the periphery of the public’s interest, these businesses have the choice of either slowly fading into obscurity or completely restructuring their brand.

We’ve found with our current project that sometimes it’s best to take an establishment in a completely new direction, for the good of the business as well as the people that will have the opportunity to visit it.

Our team have finished sourcing the necessary parts and pieces to bring this traditional cinema back to life once more.

The site now functions as it should do. A number of electric motors have been fitted to shift the plush new curtains that were fitted last week and the final parts have been found to bring the Philips DP70 Projector back into working order, but our work’s far from done yet! Now that the place is functional, it’s up to our Programs and Acquisition team to make the business relevant and unique enough to attract cinema goers back inside.

The entertainment industry is a crowded market place. When cinemas first started to populate our landscape in the late 20s and mid-30s, there was not much to compete with them. Of course, there was radio, football and, for most men, with feet propped and pipe puffing, the ever present newspaper – but nothing could really compare with the sheer novelty of cinema in those times.

Things are a little different in today’s day and age. Who could have predicted that the television screens, that wormed their way into the homes of Great Britain in the 50s, would find a way of miniaturising and resting in our pockets, an ever present form of distraction?

With the theatre slowly reaching a point where our construction crews can take a step back, the task at hand is to once more make this cinema a relevant and attractive option to the paying public. We need to seek out past patrons of the cinema as well as reach out to new ones.

In real terms, this means identifying our target demographics and finding an effective method of reaching out to these people and letting them know that there is a new alternative for their movie trips – one that will take them away from their digital worlds and sharp shopping districts and back into an analogue realm of rich technicolor that they might have forgotten existed.…

More Than Just A Trip To The Cinema

A new kind of event is on the rise and it’s showing cinemas how to get people excited about movies again.

Cinema is one of the unifying cultural standards that has the power to bring together all kinds of people, no matter how disparate their origins. Cultural landmark films, such as Titanic, Grease and The Matrix are revered today (despite their age) because of the power they had to inspire and influence so many people upon their release.

These classic films have now found a new lease of life, being re-screened within the context of innovative events that allow fans to relive their favourite movies on the big screen through a different perspective.

Although we’re firm in the belief that any trip to the cinema has the potential to be a life affirming experience – depending on the quality of the film and the state of the cinema – there’s a new kind of movie experience that is increasing in popularity and it’s giving the ‘standard’ night at the movies a run for it’s money.

The Drive-in Cinema

It might well be a cliche in and of itself, that is associated with the American genres of Midnight Movies and Grindhouse cinema, but the Drive-in Cinema is starting to make waves in the UK. So much of our cinematic culture is influenced by the States, it only makes sense that we should start to adopt this distinctively retro tradition as well.

Taking advantage of balmy summer nights; events companies are making a killing setting up temporary cinemas in wide open spaces and showing classic films that are guaranteed to draw in big crowds. It’s a new way to experience movies that makes you feel like you’re almost part of one!

The Movie Experience

Each and every film is a cult favourite for a reason. Whether it’s an iconic outfit or a particularly memorable set – it’s often these physical markers of a film that will make them endure: think the Cantina in Star Wars.

Companies like Secret Cinema are now capitalising on the ambience of cult hits such as Bladerunner, The Lost Boys and Alien, by creating tailor-made, one-off experiences based on these iconic films. Set in breathtakingly unusual venues and featuring hired actors in authentic costumes, fans of these films can enjoy re-watching them whilst being immersed in a simulacrum of the movie world.

The Orchestral Movie Night

Often, it’s the soundtrack for a movie that sets it apart from it’s competitors. How thrilling would the opening for Jaws really be without John Williams’ pulsating score? Whilst it’s always fun to re-watch these classics, without the iconic music they might not be as enjoyable.

Touring orchestras have recognised the love people have for music in cinema and have started to perform entire scores alongside screenings of classic films. Most recently, the world of Harry Potter has been brought to life with a live orchestra accompanying a touring screening, giving Potter fans an excuse to get lost in their favourite world once more and share an unforgettable experience.

In order for cinemas to remain current and sustain ticket sales, we think it’s important for them to expand their programming to include these kinds of events, in order to foster a real sense of community within their establishment and create exciting moments, for their visitors to enjoy.

The Restoration Business

We’re in the business of resurrection here at the Regal Group.

The very act of restoring the faded cinemas and theatres of the world is, in itself, a task that involves dredging up long lost techniques of the past.

Whenever we take on a new project, we have to involve ourselves in a variety of methods in order for us to be able to assess the condition of the build as it stands and get a clear idea of what we need to do.

In some ways the task of restoring an entire building is not too dissimilar to renovating a classic car.

An expert in, say, Porsche 928 parts for restoration, would need to be just as well versed in how the particular parts of a certain model of a 911 fit together as we would an outdated make of projection system. Just like the historically minded mechanic, we would need to source discontinued spares to ensure that our own machine ran as smoothly as it did when it was first built.

We’ve got our work cut out at the moment.

The entire team is tackling a project that has us working round the clock to renovate a dilapidated cinema in time for it’s grand re-opening in December.

Early Cinema architecture here in the UK was heavily influenced by the grandiose designs of the Theatre and Music Hall traditions. Wanting to attract large audiences and instil them with a similar sense of wonder that they would have had at a traditional live action show, the designers of these early Cinemas focused on recreating the intricate plaster gilding and using similar thick, velvet drapes to evoke a sense of luxury and wealth.

As the Cinema quickly started to overtake the Theatre as the most popular form of Entertainment for the paying public; mass production of cinemas forced architects to think more pragmatically about their designs. This led them to abandoning the grandiose nature of Theatre in favour of the Art-Deco design that defines some of the most iconic cinemas in the world, such as Shanghai’s Cathay Cinema and the UK’s Odeon Cinema in Birmingham (closed in 1962, but surviving today as a Bingo Hall).

Despite the ornate nature of American Art-Deco cinemas, the form of the style that British architects adopted from the 50s onwards is a reflection of the speed that they were required to work at, as well as the limited budgets they were stuck with. Grand and austere in their own way; these buildings stand out from the ugly concrete tower blocks of the time.

For this particular project, our work has primarily been focused on replacing the outdated projection gear in the single screen theatre and reupholstering the entire building.

Footfall is a major contributor to a feeling of disrepair in cinemas and this case is no exception.

Many of these ex-Art Deco buildings have had their original carpets replaced with cheap alternatives – usually a decision made by margin-wary owners. Our first suggestion was to reinstate these thick lush carpet. They might well cost more and be tougher to clean, but they last much longer than the cheap stuff and they look gorgeous. A similar approach will be taken to the seats, which have certainly seen better days.

As far as projection gear goes, we’re currently on the hunt for a 70mm projector, similar to one that would have originally been used in this place. The popularity of this format is on the rise and we’ve convinced the owners to invest the time and money in tracking one down.

All we have to do is find the parts and piece one together…

Retrofitting Yesterday’s Cinemas: Converters and Curtains

The technology of cinemas has come on leaps and bounds in the last few decades.

Usually a key part of most of our briefs, when taking on a cinema restoration, is to somehow retain the spirit of the existing picture house, whilst fitting it with the kind of new, flashy technology that the 21st Century cinema-goer expects.

This constant push-pull between old world and new is what makes our jobs so interesting at every level.

People don’t like to say it, but what they really want out of a cinema is unadulterated nostalgia. You can see it in the constant stream of sequels and reboots that somehow find their way onto our multiplex screens every year. The films that have regularly brought in the biggest crowds over the last few years have either been direct sequels to movies that were released a few months ago, or they’re remakes of properties that were released decades ago.

Think: Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Fast and Furious, James Bond. As much as there are always a wealth of new movies, based on new concepts, that are released each year; the movies that are keeping the big cinema chains afloat are the multi-picture franchise tent poles that find a way of tapping into the inner child of all of us.

What’s the secret to the success of these films? Is it the returning cast members? Is it the familiarity of the setting? Or, perhaps, is it the comforting ambience of an old loved thing that’s been revamped with the very best technology?

We’re inclined to think the latter.

A large part of the work that our technical team sets out to achieve is often as simple as replacing light bulbs.

Old cinemas are full of charm and often quirky in design, however they are also, usually, riddled with inefficiencies. The 70mm theatre we’re currently working on is no exception.

Although the theatre is technically functional now – the projector and seats were fitted a few weeks back – the building is still some way off being complete. After all, there’s a lot more to the cinema experience than just a comfy seat and a beautifully projected movie…

When we’re asked to prepare a tender for a restoration job, we’re always sure to inform the owners that we don’t do anything by half measures. If you’ve got an old rundown cinema, then simply reupholstering the seats is not going to solve all your problems.

Every system in the building should be overhauled, so that the cinema experience is completely revamped for your consumer.

That means installing new lighting systems, replacing ac-dc power supplies, servicing sound systems and even re-thinking the concessions stands.

When your customer comes in, after a 6-month renovation period, you should be able to proudly show them how much has changed, rather than leave them guessing as to which part of the cinema has received special attention.

We are of the belief that vising the cinema should always be a special occasion. These are times that should be cherished and remembered. They should never be humdrum or routine – they should be familiar, at the same time as being fresh new and new.

Just like your favourite blockbuster returning for another crack at box office glory.