An extract from the forthcoming book
“A Century in Stone – The Making of Teesside and the movie” (Coming 2024)

Sept-Oct 2004:

MAKING HISTORY

THE FIRST EVER TEESSIDE MADE FILM ON A MULTIPLEX !

After six months of packing out pubs, clubs and village halls; and then smashing the film box office record at Stockton ARC, the obvious next step was to approach UGC (now Cineworld) in Middlesbrough.

I knew that Teesside Uni. had hired a screen for their animation festival ‘Animex’ the year before. Also, my actor friend, Les Simpson, had done a Q&A with the audience on the opening night of ‘Dog Soldiers’ the British horror movie that he had a part in. I was therefore pretty hopeful that UGC would give a feature-length local film a full public release. It would be a historic first for Teesside…

I met with the manager Richard Hardaker and he told me that people had already been asking for the film. This was music to my ears! Richard was on board but the decision ultimately rested with the London office. I sent a DVD off pronto and a few days later got a call from Heike, one of UGC’s film bookers. She was totally positive and offered me 4 screenings a day for 4 days in mid-September and a 50/50 split of the door. I was ecstatic. All I had to do was get the film classified by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) and have it transferred to 35mm film as UGC did not project anything digital. I had about 3 weeks to sort it all out…

To my horror, I discovered classification was going to cost about £800. I told BBFC it was out of the question as it was only showing at one cinema. They then told me that in such a case, I could actually get a licence for a single cinema from the local authority. So I called up Middlesbrough Council and the next day found myself bizarrely in a queue with all the taxi drivers at the licencing office at the Town Hall. I submitted a VHS copy and a cheque for £10 as requested and a few days later they gave the film a 12A certificate. Considering they had never done this before, it was remarkably easy. And what a saving!  

The cost of the film transfer however was a different story. It was £15,000 for one copy and that was with discount! Obviously, that was never going to happen so I looked into hiring a large video projector. I found a company called PicSell, just two minutes away from the cinema, who supplied video projectors for big corporate events. They had never installed a projector at a cinema before so they were up for it and did us a good deal on a high-end machine. It was another epic saving!

UGC’s in-house film projector was this monstrous thing that was fixed to to the floor and couldn’t be moved. We therefore had to set up the video projector on a stand in the back row of the cinema. We fed the video cable up through the window into the projection room. We plugged that into a DVD player that I had brought from home and the audio cables we patched from that into the cinema’s sound system. It was unorthodox but it did the trick and everyone was amazed at the quality!

Two weeks before opening, Middlesbrough Council got in touch offering their support. They put £1,700 in the pot which paid for the projector, the posters and ads in the papers. The posters went up all around the cinema. What a thrill that was to see. Middlesbrough Mayor Ray Mallon and the press came down to do pictures. We were all set…

On the opening day, all the staff were buzzing. How was the local indie going to fare against Hollywood on every other screen? In the foyer I had my Century exhibition all set-up and the theme music looped on the house speakers for when people walked in. Richard the manager was beaming. It was 10 minutes before opening on a Monday morning and people were queuing up outside. He told me it had never happened before. What a start and what a week it turned out to be…

History was made and in emphatic style – thousands turned out! The queues snaked right through the place. I introduced most of the screenings and took questions after. The craic was brilliant everytime. At the shows when I wasn’t able to be there, the manager told me that people still clapped at the end. That was another first! We had to turn people away at the evening shows and it ended up being moved to a higher capacity screen.

The Guardian ran a story on the first day. That was seen by BBC Radio 4 who interviewed me the day after on arts show ‘Front Row’. That was heard by DocFest, the national documentary festival in Sheffield, who then booked me as a speaker for the festival a couple of months later. It was a good week for getting the word out.

On the fourth and last day, it was virtually sold out all day. Former Eston miner Miff Brighton came and by strange coincidence, it also happened to be the 55th anniversary of the last shift at Eston. A lot of Boro fans also came to the 5pm show before going the Riverside. The Boro were playing their first ever game in Europe. It truly was a historic day and yes they won beating Banik Ostrava 3-0!

At the end of the last show, Richard broke the news that the film had outsold every other film over the 4 days. He also told us that the news had reached UGC Head Office in France and they had been on the phone extending their congratulations.

Heike meanwhile was gutted that she couldn’t keep the film running as all the other screens were long booked out. She therefore booked it for a full week two weeks later. The momentum was lost a bit as people thought it had finished but it did well enough to get a third week. A total of 2,845 attended in 18 days. I had no complaints!

THIS PAGE IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF RICHARD HARDAKER WHO VERY SADLY PASSED AWAY IN 2007. 

SPECIAL THANKS TO: UGC (as was), Heike Wolkerstorfer, Middlesbrough Council, PicSell Projectors, The Guardian, Kirsty Lang & BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Cleveland, Evening Gazette and Northern Echo. And all who came and helped us make history!

A CENTURY IN STONE
The Teesside DVD Bestseller