Monday, 17 September 2012

Podcast Interview with Philip Wood, Director of Scala Beyond, and Co-Founder of the Roxy Bar and Screen

Philip Wood in Brussels, at the Kinoclimates meeting (June 2012)
In June 2012, I met with Philip Wood in Brussels, as we both attended the Kino-Climates meeting, a meeting for independent alternative cinemas in Europe ( The meeting was organised by the Cinema Nova, a fantastic volunteer-run cinema in Brussels ( On this occasion, I interviewed him and made this podcast.

Philip Wood is the co-founder of the Roxy Bar & Screen, which is a cinema, a bar and a restaurant all at the same time, and which opened in London in August 2006. It’s a bit of an unusual cinema, as audiences can have a meal at the same time as they watch a film on the big screen ( Philip Wood is also the director of Scala Beyond, which is a 6 week film season celebrating all forms of cinema in the UK, between 18 August and 29 September 2012 (

In this 15-minute podcast, Philip Wood tells us about how he programmes films at the Roxy Bar & Screen and about how Scala Beyond (and its previous London-based version, Scala Forever), were born, and also about why he cares so much about film exhibition.

Transcription of an extract of the podcast interview with Philip Wood

To give you an idea about the podcast, I have transcribed here the last part of the podcast, in which Philip Wood talks about the role that cinemas can play in helping audiences to discover new films.

At the moment, with the internet, people can watch any film, any time, but what we discussed with Philip Wood, is that this situation might paradoxically reinforce the importance of cinemas, as these can guide people through this endless choice of films.

I find this point very interesting, as I sometimes wonder if something that is missing in our internet-based societies at the moment, is the opprtunities for “transmission” between one person and another. Independent cinemas, by putting on film nights with a personalised touch (with the programmer introducing the film, accompanied by a debate, or simply through consistent quality in their programming) can precisely offer this “transmission”. If audiences learn to appreciate a certain cinema, they will trust their programming and might discover new films that they would not have watched otherwise. And this "transmission" might give a film a different value than if it was watched on a computer or at home, simply because it will be connected to a place and a community.

These ideas participate to the wider debate about the role of cinemas nowadays and about their evolution, and I think that it’s important to think about the value of cinemas at a time when the internet might make them seem obsolete.

Photo of the Roxy Bar & Screen, London

Philip Wood:

“What me and Michael [Pierce, co-organiser of Scala Forever and Scala Beyond] really like, is the social, communal aspect of the cinema. I think that’s what I am most proud about Roxy [the Roxy Bar and Screen, in London, is a cinema in which you can watch films and eat and drink at the same time]. The first question people ask at Roxy is “do people talk during the screenings?” Because you sit at tables and you can have a drink. “Do people talk? Is it noisy? Can you concentrate on the film?”

We’ve never ever had to put a sign to say “please don’t talk” or “please turn your phones off”. When you go to a normal cinema, there’s a lot of “don’t do this, don’t do that”. We’ve never had to do that, and I think that’s because of the environment that we’ve created, because it’s sociable, because you interact with staff at the bar and with other customers who might be sitting at the same table as you. Because it’s a different environment, it becomes a different experience, a more sociable communal experience, so people respect each other in the room. It’s not perfect, but it’s a much better communal social experience than going to a normal cinema where you have a ticket, you have to sit in this seat, you can’t see the people behind you, you can’t see the people in front of you, and it’s very sort of alienated experience. You’re a number, you have to sit there, and when the lights go off you have to leave.

At the Roxy [Bar and Screen], you can come before the screening, you can stay after, and you can chat. It’s much more communal, and I think it’s really important for the art form. I think this type of environment is really important for any art form to really connect with audiences. It’s not just about putting something on, or watching something on your laptop. For it to be successful, it’s important that the experience is the best that it can be. So I like that added value.

So with Scala Beyond, I think that it’s really important that audiences find out who programmes the Star & Shadow Cinema [which participates to the Scala Beyond], who put that on? Why did the programmer put that on? He didn’t get paid for it, he spent a lot of his time and effort putting it on, so I want to know that, because it makes me more interested in what that screening is. If I know that the person who did it, did it for this particular reason, and he’s really interested in this, it makes me more interested in the film. And I think that’s really important, so that’s what we wanted to celebrate. Because it’s not just someone picking a film. A lot of thought and effort goes into it, and that’s what can connect with an audience.

(…) In the 1980s, you had these rep cinemas like the Scala and there were plenty of others. So that was very much a way to discover this world of cinema, because someone had picked it, and they would put that film with that film, and that was part of this season, so you could discover something you would never have known about. Because someone guided you, or that cinema had a particular identity that you could connect with. So you could go “I don’t know what that film is but I’ve read about it on the Scala programme, and I like the Scala, so it must be quite good”. So it’s a kind of way of introducing it. And then when they closed, for my sort of age group, a lot of it was through TV. And you had stuff like Videodrome, with Alex Cox. And he would introduce the film, so you could watch Videodrome, and it could be any film, but you would know that they picked it, and it was a certain type of film, so it was a way of introducing me to stuff. And I was introduced to a lot of Black and White stuff, on BBC2 or late at night, or even Kung-Fu stuff. So you watched TV, but you were introduced to this stuff, because someone somewhere decided to put certain films on TV.

Whereas now you can say “you can watch any film in the world”, but where do you start? You don’t know where to start! Whereas then, you just turned on BBC2, or you went to that cinema, and someone picked it for you. When there’s too much choice, you just go “I don’t know what to watch!” or “I’ll watch something I’ve known, or I’ve seen before”, and it’s very hard to find something new. So it’s very important for venues to have a personality, and an identity, so that audiences can choose to engage with that place."

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