New Notions Cinema

A pop-up cinema for documentaries in Belfast.
Aaron Guthrie, Producer, New Notions

Why we let our audience pay what they want

We’ve had some trials to help us decide whether allowing our audience to pay what they want to our events is something that could work. Since New Notions is quite young (we just passed our first birthday), we’re still growing and testing new ideas.

We believe that documentaries have the power to nudge the world in different ways. Especially since we’re all about trying to understand the world better through docs, and linking into the current world, the media, social justice there is a strong case for this stuff to have no barrier to access.

We set out to trial this new admissions strategy on a couple events.

The Trials

Our first, a double bill of Ken Loach – Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach and after I, Daniel Blake on Cinema Day, August 28 (it’s a new, yearly celebration of cinema in Northern Ireland led by Film Hub NI).

At the time we had the highest number of attendees ever. We nearly filled our new screening space at The Ormeau Baths.

Our second was Boat Builders, an event about bringing Belfast’s old shipyard back to life through archive film, a new documentary (our first original commission), and live storytelling.

This show was completely full. We had to add extra chairs for people on the waiting list. To be clear, we had never seen audiences of these sizes of ~100 people. Before our highest was ~30.

We had the largest amount of financial support on the door at Boat Builders. We also think that it was the best show we ever put on. There may be a link between the two – it’s not exactly a precise tracking system, but it’s another soft indication of how well we performed.

It removes the barrier for entry

After our Ken Loach double bill, an audience member was so moved by the film that she responded by writing an article about her experience in dealing with the benefits system, which she hadn’t shared up until this point. We reached out to her (Sarah Wright) to ask if we could publish it in our magazine, this was her response.

“It took so much to write the article and to be public about something we are persistently shamed into being silent about, but I’m so glad I did. I’m feeling a lot less alone. Without seeing the film, I honestly don’t think I would have found the strength to put it into words.

“I had to leave for a few minutes during the film because I was sobbing, but I’m so grateful to have been able to see it, and relate to so much of what the characters went through – it was a stunning portrayal of the realities of the welfare cuts. Thank you as well for asking people to pay what they could afford, I wouldn’t have been able to see it otherwise.

“Please feel free to share the article, I hope that it helps to humanise the impact of the benefits system.

Thank you so much! Sarah”

Read Sara’s article in full here → “Writing on something I’m shamed into being silent about.”

Sarah reminded us why we do what we do. Films have the power to be inclusive, lets us see into other lives and to (gently) nudge the world.

Is anyone really going to pay if they don’t have to?

There’s an understandable cynicism that people will just take what they want and leave the payment part to others. On the whole, we don’t think that’ll happen. In fact, it hasn’t so far.

We’ve had more people in our screenings with this strategy than ever before. Granted the average amount paid per person is below £5, the total amount is greater because the barrier to come into the room is removed, so more people are in the room.

It allows people the freedom to take a bet on us if they haven’t been before. That way, if they like it they tend to show it by supporting us.

It’s also true that some people won’t pay, but we trust that the dividend for them is much greater than the ticket price (see Sarah’s example above). Especially if you recognise that some people pay a higher amount than say, as our previous set-price was, £5.

The future

So obviously we’re still learning as this is an ongoing experiment. Already our audience have responded so well. We raised the amount of people coming to screenings (sometimes x3), and on the whole raised the income. We see that sometimes we may be short on covering our running costs, but think that our tea and coffee stand could make up any difference.

Our audience seem to believe in us, as they believe in documentary film. In return, we believe in them. We think that if we’re doing something good, enough will come forward to help us do it: whether that’s by contributing money, time, or whatever they can.

To all who have supported us, we thank you from our hearts – you breathe life into the project! To all who have yet to experience a New Notions event, we hope our programming entices you.

If you have thought we could do something better, or have a suggestion for a film event, please do holla. We’d love to hear from you – get in touch here.