Taking Cinema To New Heights: Rooftop Film Club

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This article was originally featured in tmrw magazine #24.

The art of watching movies has evolved rapidly. We now live in an on demand age where watching the latest blockbuster on your phone is a normality and searching and finding that little reported independent film you saw someone mention on Twitter takes just a couple of minutes. 

In part due to the rising cost of tickets, we’ve seen a decline in cinema trips meaning the joy of communal watching has been reduced to you and a group of your friends crowding round a TV screen as you watch something on Netflix with the lights off in a weak attempt to recreate that now forgotten magic.

If you’re lucky enough to live in London, Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami or New York there is an alternative. The Rooftop Film Club.

As a former teenage trapeze artist in his father’s circus, Gerry Cottle Jr knew that a way to a crowd’s heart is to show them a spectacle high above ground level. After deciding life in the big top was not for him, he spent his 20s living in London, working in public relations and event management. Although both can be exciting careers he wasn’t completely happy, harbouring ambitions to follow in his father’s footsteps by running his own business. He just needed an idea. In his previous roles a keen eye for detail and a creative mindwas required and this is what he needed to find his idea. Due to a passion for films, Gerry had attended a number of successful outdoor movie events set up by different companies in parks. Seeing the sheer number of people interested in these sort of events got him thinking about other potential venues people would enjoy. Gerry observed his surroundings and noticed a number of unused rooftops. In a city where space is a sought after commodity and the brand’s level of quirkiness can become an important USP, these rooftops were the missing piece of the puzzle Gerry was looking for. He had the idea ready and now the Rooftop Film Club was born.

Now he had the idea, he just needed the right venue. His first rooftop of choice was in Shoreditch, at the Queen of Hoxton bar. Discussions with the owners went smoothly and the first venue was now secured. And now the real fun was set to begin. With him still holding down a full time job, his lunch breaks and after work was the time to brainstorm. Eschewing lunch time trips to Pret, he would instead head off to make calls to banks to discuss vital funding, order deck chairs and inquire about film rights. Although some days he was working up until the early morning on his idea, his excitement for the cause kept him going.

By June 2011 Gerry was ready to show the world his idea. With the coming-of-age dramedy Stand By Me selected as the first film everything seemed set. That is until the potential for noise complaints was raised. Like the best films, there’s always a little strife that the protagonist will have to overcome before credits can roll and this was no different for Rooftop Film Club. With just two weeks to find a solution, Gerry, possibly inspired by silent discos, ordered wireless headphones and hoped for the best.Thankfully the event was a roaring success. The headphones have become something of a calling card for the company, with them still being used despite many venues now being able to host amplified sound. They allowed cinema goers to enjoy a movie in a different way to the usual cinema experience. Gone are the days where a climatic sequence are ruined by incessant talking or the rustling is crisp packets. With the headphones all of that can be blocked out. An enhanced experience is the backbone of Gerry’s whole endeavour. The Rooftop Film Club is what Gerry terms social cinema. With a city’s immense skyline as the backdrop it’s an event primed for the “Instagram Generation”. Every moment be it the cocktails and street food they have before or the stars they sit under during the film can be documented and shared. Cinema selfies, once confined to the popcorn laden lobby, can now be taken in front of a setting sun.

Building on each experience has allowed the company to expand. They now boast three venues in the capital and multiple venues across America. With every new screening they continue to reshape the cinematic experience. Harkening back to the days where watching a film was more about the movie than the cost. They’ve made enjoyment paramount and taken cinema to new heights.

Daniel Eggleston