LISTEN: Use the player above to hear our full interview with The Projector’s general manager Prashant Somosundram
SINGAPORE — Running an independent cinema is no easy job, as The Projector’s general manager Prashant Somosundram will tell you.
Opened in 2014, the venue has steadily built up a loyal following with its diverse film selection and by offering uniquely engaging audience experiences.
Here are five things we learnt about the cinema from Somosundram during his appearance on our “On The Mic” podcast:
1. It takes ‘a village’ to run it
While the Projector may seem a modest operation with just three halls and its Intermission Bar eatery, it still takes Somosundram and a team of 14 full-timers to run the show.
Besides selecting the films to be screened, he said a lot of work is put into making the cinema “commercially viable” by offering visitors a memorable experience.
“It really takes a whole village to run this thing. Everyone’s pretty passionate about it. They bring their own element of creativity and their own voice to the space,” said the 40-year-old.
Somosundram noted the importance of every member of his team – right down to the bar staff and those manning the box office – in proving a welcoming and familiar consumer journey for those visiting The Projector.
Other touches include hosting question-and-answer sessions alongside screenings and encouraging audience participation for some films, such as allowing viewers to throw toilet rolls in the cinema during The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
“I think the local audiences really are game for that, which is the reason why they come to our cinema. It feels like you can let go and be part of a larger community,” said Somosundram.
2. Not just for the artsy types
Yes, cinephiles may be drawn to The Projector but the cinema’s audience is just as diverse as its film offerings, said Somosundram.
“Sometimes, we programme films about cats and that brings all the cat lovers out of the woodwork. We have some others like music documentaries and that brings in a whole different audience. Or like LGBT-themed films bring their own audiences,” he said.
3. Surviving the pandemic
With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the closure of local cinemas in late March, Somosundram and his team scrambled to launch Projector-related merchandise. This effort, along with the aid of loyal supporters, helped to buy them some “breathing room” to plan their pivot towards the online space.
“For an organisation that prided itself on bringing people together, we now had to get our heads around, first, technology and then how to create that communal experience in a socially distanced environment,” he said.
This led to the launch of Projector Plus, an online streaming service that allowed brought the venue’s film offerings right into people’s living rooms. Built from scratch, the platform took three months to build – and was launched at the time cinemas were allowed to re-open.
Still, the platform has been an important revenue stream given that The Projector’s halls are currently at only 30 to 40 per cent of their usual capacity due to safe-distancing regulations.
4. It’s more than a cinema
Now approaching its sixth year of existence, The Projector could be said to have established a firm foothold in the local arts scene.
“For us, we do feel like we contribute in feeding the creative minds of the arts scene and in providing a platform for emerging talent in Singapore,” said Somosundram.
He noted that many local movies have been given extended runs at The Projector and that his team also works with local film distributors who have taken financial risks to acquire films.
“We try and make it viable for them. As long as the whole ecosystem benefits, we benefit too,” said Somosundram.
5. Value-guided business
As much as commercial viability is a motivating factor for his team, Somosundram said that they also operate by certain core values, which include a strong focus on diversity and inclusivity.
This has led to annual events such as The Projector’s Women Make Film showcase and Pink Screen LGBTQ film festival.
“These are films that may never get to see light of day in mainstream cinemas but we think it’s important to have to the opportunity to discuss the issues around them,” he said.
When it comes to films addressing social issues, such as the environment, the team also tries to get the audience engaged with the subject matter through hosting post-screening Q&A sessions.
In the case of Lee Yuan Bin’s documentary I Dream Of Singapore, which explores the experience of migrant workers here, Somosundram said that putting the online helped increased its audience reach “to the thousands” for both the film and its virtual Q&As held with migrant workers.
“For me, this was the silver lining in trying to go into a virtual (space), where we were reaching out to audiences who would never have come to the cinema at Golden Mile Tower,” he said.
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