The newly refurbished Regal Cinema in Fordingbridge is a real gift for this small Hampshire community
Long famous for its ancient arched stone bridge across the Avon, Fordingbridge is a Hampshire town of some 6,000 people on the edge of the New Forest. Although its cinema history is obviously far less venerable, older residents still remember with affection visiting the town’s Regal cinema, even though it closed over 52 years ago. Fordingbridge had a cinema on this site from the early 1930s — originally called The Picture House, it was built in the Art Deco style, with a 20ft wide proscenium and some 250 seats. By 1937 it was The Regal and by 1944 new ownership made it The Glendale Theatre. A further change of owners meant the Regal Cinema name was restored in 1947. By 1963, now operated by Haggar’s Cinemas Ltd, times were hard for cinemas and the Regal closed in late 1965. Until 2012, the building was used by Branksome China, to manufacture porcelain tableware. When they moved out, it remained empty for four years. A solitary reminder of the original Regal cinema, apart from the renovated front façade, is the external ladder to what used to be the projection room, on the building’s right side.
Enter the White Knight
Local businessman Brian Currie is chairman of Corintech, an advanced electronic design and manufacturing company with bases in Fordingbridge, Hong Kong and the US. He plays a full part in local affairs, and has long held a keen interest in cinema, though he never imagined he would own one. When the site became available, he came up with an idea to redevelop it to provide seven high-spec apartments, primarily for workers at Corintech, and to incorporate a newly built 30-seat luxury cinema in the former rear stalls area of the original cinema
Finding a solution
Brian worked with local company BrightSpace Architects and they looked at many options for the cinema, starting from an appreciation of the history of the building. They came up with a solution that satisfied the requirements of the planning authority and yet provided a financially feasible outcome that includes a first-class cinema. After much discussion, New Forest District Council agreed to the plans, and welcomed the re-use of the property which had been in poor condition after lying vacant. The Regal re-opened on 30 June this year with a screening of Casablanca.
A sensitive restoration
From the exterior, the original brickwork and tiles have been fully restored, and aluminium slimline windows tastefully replaced the previous timber frames. It was considered important for the entrance to remain relatively unchanged, so existing timber bi-fold doors were refurbished. The introduction of a pitched roof allowed two apartments to be situated on the ground floor and six others in the space created in the first floor.
Great care was taken to ensure the auditorium is sound-proofed, eliminating extraneous noise within the screen as well as ensuring the apartments are not disturbed by even the loudest films through the cinema’s Dolby Atmos system.
with full masking in the auditorium
The 30 seat auditorium (five rows of six) is a delight, although truthfully it reminded me of a luxury home cinema that a millionaire might have built to show off to friends. The acoustically transparent 20ft by 13ft screen from Screen Research is just the right size for the room, and has fully remote controlled black masking to match virtually any aspect ratio, something any multiplex would do well to emulate. To meet modern access requirements, a wheelchair space can be created by removing one of the seats..
Join the club
Much thought was given to how the cinema would operate, knowing that it would only manage to pay for itself if it were mostly run by volunteers. The Regal Cinema is operated as a not-for-profit community cinema by the Fordingbridge Regal Cinema Club (FRCC). Tickets for screenings can only be purchased by FRCC members, who must be over the age of 16, with priority given to local residents. Various types of membership are available, costing £15-35 per year, with tickets for screenings costing around £9, with a range of discounts and family ticket options available.
The cinema uses the Veezi cloud-based ticket system, and since it isn’t possible to keep a booking desk manned for long periods, it was originally planned for tickets solely to be bought online via the Regal’s website. In the majority of cases this works well, but it became apparent that some of the town’s older residents didn’t have or wish to have internet facilities, so a local store has been cajoled into installing Veezi software on its tills, allowing any member to buy tickets easily. The PoS terminal in the cinema’s bar has also been modified to take the Veezi software, providing yet another option for members wanting to buy tickets.
Making it all work
Club secretary, Emma Goddard has been a driving force in this massive project, pulling together the team of volunteers who help with the running of all aspects of the cinema. She stressed that anyone interested in becoming a member should come along and look at what has been achieved — the team really wants the community to see how the building has been transformed. Emma did much of the early work of setting up the cinema and establishing the club, and is in charge of PR activities, with a special focus on trying to establish Saturday morning cinema for children. She liaises with local schools, trying to get kids to choose to come to the cinema rather than consuming content on phones and tablets.
With a long history in the technology behind banking, Barry Robbins is currently managing day-to-day operations. He is a cinema enthusiast with a love of films which he shares with the owner Brian Currie. He explained the progress being made in gaining members and volunteers. There are currently some 350 members, a surprising proportion of whom have opted to take up lifetime (platinum) and gold memberships rather than the basic silver associate membership at £25. It is expected that this number will grow to the 500 or so required to fulfil the long-term aims of the business plan. Equally importantly, there are currently some 35 regular volunteers who do all the tasks needed to ensure a cinema works well, including providing a welcoming atmosphere for members. The cinema is currently open two days a week (Fridays and Saturdays) and demand for tickets has proved high. As numbers of members and volunteers increase, it is anticipated that the numbers of screenings will grow to match a widening demand.
Programming and selling
Having looked at the recent programmes, mainly a variety of classic and modern films, I asked who was responsible for selecting the films — these are chosen by a ‘film committee’ which selects what they think will appeal to the community — true local democracy! One idea that has already taken off is to encourage locals to book the cinema to share ‘My Favourite Film’. One member starts the ball rolling by booking 10 tickets for £100, inviting interested friends to share a showing. The cinema commits to selling the remainder. Such shows often include a short presentations on why the movie has proved a favourite, with background information and facts.
Private hire is expected to be popular as the cinema is perfectly suited to such events. The stylish interior, combined with state-of-the-art technical facilities, allow tailored packages to be put together for individuals and businesses. Businesses can hire the venue for all manner of events from training to conferences and the high-speed teleconferencing link is expected to prove popular. Costs compare favourably with charges hotels make, especially when you account for pricey catering hotels insist on.
Prior to each showing, Barry explained that he or one of the volunteer projection team goes through each BluRay movie to check the timings and to ensure that projection settings are correct and the automatically controlled masking is set to match the appropriate aspect ratio for the film. Sitting in the auditorium he adjusts the sound to the level considered most appropriate for the film and for the audience. The shows are then completely automated, with lights fading up and down on cue. The complete programme is built in advance, including local ads and trailers streamed from RIB Audio Visual, who provide the pre-film content shown when the auditorium is opened for members in the run-up to the films’ advertised start times.
Having watched and listened to some superb pictures and sound from Hacksaw Ridge, I could see the general public would be completely happy with the technical quality of the presentation, which came from a 4K BluRay disc. But I was curious to learn why the decision had been made not to install ‘professional’ DCI-spec equipment, which would have enabled the cinema to have a wider choice of early release movies, rather than having to wait a few months for them to appear on BluRay. A couple of years back the answer would have been purely down to cost, but with 2K DCI projection equipment currently available at less than £20k including a built-in server, and a 4K Sony digital cinema projector available for under £30k the difference in cost between that and a 4K high-quality video projector can be insignificant. In fact, the chosen projector retails at over £30k, so money obviously wasn’t the main consideration, although value for money in terms of getting the best possible 4K picture within the available budget had been paramount.
The technical equipment had been selected and installed not by one of the usual digital cinema integrators, but by local AV company RIB Audio Visual, based near Bournemouth Airport. They act as the interface between the customer and equipment suppliers and RIB specialises in turnkey installation of high-end home cinema systems. They also have experience in home automation enabling simple control of complex AV systems. This was vital to operation of the Regal by non-technical staff. I saw just how easy the system was as Barry controlled the cinema from an iPad.
Technical decisions: why not DCI?
Talking with Robert Bawden, managing director, and Richard Pugh, technical director of RIB Audio Visual, their enthusiasm for ensuring everything at the new cinema was as good as it could possibly be shone through, and it was good to have some clear, straightforward answers to my probing questions. First, owner Brian Currie was determined that this cinema would have 4K projection. Next, the design of the auditorium, with no space for an adjacent projection room, meant that the projector would have to hang in a pod at the rear of the room. This in turn meant that the projector needed to be able to work without special cooling arrangements, apart from an external vent. With a largely volunteer staff who wouldn’t have the expertise to change a xenon lamp, and with limited access to the overhead projector pod it was important that the projector would need little maintenance. The decision was made to go for a laser-phosphor projector with a promised light-source lifetime of more than 20,000 hours — many years of operation at a venue like The Regal. Discussions with the owner made it clear he had no plans to show first-run movies — classics and long-term favourites would form the bulk of the repertoire at The Regal — so the (to me, surprising) decision was made that a 4K DCI cinema spec projector wasn’t needed, and that they would instead choose the best possible 4K AV laser projector.
Several suitable laser projectors are on the market, including the Sony VPL-VW5000ES, which is significantly more expensive, but JVC’s DLA-Z1 projector ticked all the boxes, with a claimed light output of 3,000 lumens and, important for cinema use, its ability to provide 100% of the DCI-P3 digital cinema colour range, as well as some 80% of the BT2020 HDR colour spectrum that is coming into use for UHDTV applications. The projector is the first in the world to be recognised as a THX Certified 4K Display, a standard introduced by THX to certify displays that faithfully reproduce video as it was intended to appear by the director. Qualifying displays must pass 400 strict tests of image quality. The Z1 supports the new Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) high dynamic range format, as well as the TV industry standard HDR10, but not Dolby Vision’s dynamic metadata HDR platform.
The imager chipset uses three newly developed D-ILA devices, with a pixel pitch of 3.8 μm. They are tiny at 0.69in, and allow the projector to achieve a high-definition display at 4K resolution (4096 × 2160 pixels). Patented technologies reduce light scattering and diffraction, enhancing contrast. The 100mm diameter 18-element lens has been tailored to reduce colour distortion to a minimum while maintaining optimum brightness. The JVC BLU-Escent laser technology features a blue laser diode array that provides the blue light and excites a yellow phosphor on a high-speed, reflective rotating aluminum disc. Yellow light is then combined with the blue light to create white light and a wider colour range.
event cinema on the programme, too
Event cinema from a range of sources will be an important part of The Regal’s offering to its local audience. An 80cm satellite dish has been installed at the cinema, and this feeds a Technomatic (domestic) satellite receiver that can provide the wide range of Freesat programme signals as well as theatre, opera and ballet transmissions.
A first-rate scaler
Readers who have attended the CTC’s ‘Making the best of your presentation‘ courses will understand the importance of using a good-quality ‘scaler’ to make the best use of a variety of input signals when feeding them to the projector, so I was pleased to see that RIB had chosen to install a Lumagen Radiance scaler. This allows input sources from 1080, 720, and SD up to 4K 60fps and a range of computer sources to be adjusted for size, aspect ratio, keystone correction and masking, ensuring the best possible quality of image always appears on the screen. Most films are shown from 4K BluRay disks via the Oppo UDP-203 4K BluRay player which provides 4K pictures with HDR, but the Lumagen scaler enables low-res BluRay disks to be upscaled to produce first-rate images and makes the best of images from other sources.
Sound processing is via a Marantz SR7011 9.2 channel 4K Ultra HD AV receiver with built-in Dolby Atmos. There are six Steinway A2 digital amplifiers each offering four channels at 400Watts.
Speakers are from Danish company M&K Sound, all approved to THX requirements. Eleven iW300 amps (four in the ceiling for Atmos), are each capable of handling 300W. Four M&K X12 subwoofers are used, each with two 12in drivers mounted in opposite phase in a push-pull arrangement.
A flexible cinema like The Regal will need access to a wider range of content than BluRay discs, so I was interested to learn of the Kaleidescape Strato movie player. The Kaleidescape Movie Store is an online store with a library of content from Hollywood’s studios. It offers 4K Ultra HD titles, and thousands of movies in full BluRay HD quality which Strato scales up to 4K. Movies are available with lossless multichannel and object-based audio, including Dolby Atmos. Unlike streaming services, each movie is downloaded and stored on a hard drive on the movie player (server). Strato plays downloaded movies in 4K Ultra HD at up to 100 Mbps and 60 frames per second, without the startup delays, buffering messages, or quality drops that streaming services can suffer.
A truly worthwhile project
Owner Brian Currie is to be congratulated on a successful outcome to what must have been at times a daunting project. Although he is an experienced engineer and project manager, he admitted that this restoration of a cinema was completely new to him, but is delighted at how it has turned out.
The re-opened Regal is not only a credit to him and his team, but a major asset for Fordingbridge, and an great example of a local businessman putting value back into the community. Initial ticket sales and memberships numbers are good, and local press coverage positive. I look forward to watching the Regal’s progress.