What happened when our Editor Charlie Swinbourne spoke to Odeon’s bosses

Posted on December 22, 2017

Please sign (and ask your friends and family to sign) Charlie’s petition for better cinema access for Deaf people, here.

After the outcry following a cancelled subtitled screening of Star Wars on Sunday night, our petition calling for multiplex cinemas to have a dedicated screen for subtitled films has now reached over 13,000 signatures in less than 72 hours.

During the week, I’ve been in regular contact with a spokesman from Odeon, and requested a conversation with those at the top of the organisation.

Yesterday, I asked our readers for measures they’d like me to ask cinemas to provide, and I received many replies on both Facebook and Twitter (thank you to you all, I raised as many as I possibly could).

This morning, I spent over an hour talking to Carol Welch , Odeon’s Managing Director and Simon Soffe Group Head of Communications via a Google Hangout text chat.

The conversation was friendly, with Welch explaining how apologetic Odeon are about what happened in Brighton and saying that they have learned a lot about the needs of deaf guests in the last week.

She told me that they have increased the number of subtitled screenings this week to try to make amends. She also said they screened 102 subtitled midnight fan screenings of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, following feedback from deaf guests (an increase on the 46 subtitled midnight screenings of the previous Star Wars film in 2015).

Welch mentioned that Odeon try to give deaf people complimentary passes and extra screenings when subtitled screenings fail.

I replied explaining that many deaf people have lots of complimentary passes, but this doesn’t compensate for the wasted time going to failed screenings and the feeling of being let down.

I told them that many deaf people have stopped going to the cinema as a result of the poor service they feel they receive from all UK cinemas, not just Odeon, along with subtitled screenings being scheduled at inconvenient times.

I asked about whether projectionists could be better at checking subtitles are working when films are shown, but I was told that the company no longer uses projectionists, with the system being preloaded with a digital file instead, which can sometimes crash, as happened in Brighton.

Welch told me that Odeon “is continuing to look at ideas around new cinema technology and different screenings to move forward.” She is also a board member at the UK Cinema Association and told me they had discussed new technologies last week and are continuing to pursue these options.

I brought up some of the ideas that have come through this week, including some from our readers.

This included the petition’s proposal for a dedicated cinema screen, better technology such as subtitle glasses, the example of the Depot Cinema in Lewes (which shows subtitles in every screen all day on Mondays), a short film about subtitles before subtitled screenings, better information for deaf audiences and a mailing list.

I also more generally told them that deaf people want to be able to go to the cinema whenever they like, not limited to just a few screenings a week.

What I wasn’t able to get was many firm or concrete commitments to improvements but there were some positives from the meeting. In summary:

1) Odeon say they are committed to increased screenings with subtitles over key periods for their big films.

2) They are committed to discussing a new mailing list and better online resources for deaf customers in January.

However, for some areas they felt they needed more time, and said that they do not want to raise expectations.

They told me that they would:

1) discuss the idea of having a dedicated subtitles screen at multiplexes with their senior management team

2) continue to look at technological solutions to make subtitled screenings easier to attend

3) discuss the idea of making a short film to be shown before features explaining why subtitles will appear with their senior management team

4) will look at what Lewes Depot are doing by showing subtitles in all screens on Mondays.

They also said they want to talk to deaf groups on a regular basis.

One area I did talk to them about was the possibility of a change in approach towards subtitled screenings, of being much more positive and proud of them, as opposed to the current situation where they don’t seem prioritised by cinemas.

While I didn’t get the radical changes I was hoping for, the meeting was positive and polite and I got a sense that at the very least, deaf audiences are now on Odeon’s radar.

Overall this week has shown me that it is possible to raise the issue of subtitles at cinemas and to engage with people from cinemas at the highest level, which I hope to continue with other cinema groups in the new year!

Right now, it’s time for me to enjoy Christmas and new year with my family, but I’ll be returning to this subject in January, so keep your eyes peeled for new developments.

Please sign (and ask your friends and family to sign) Charlie’s petition for better cinema access for Deaf people, here.

Charlie Swinbourne is a journalist and is the editor of Limping Chicken, and is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter. Charlie has just set up his own media production company, Eyewitness Media. Both episodes of his new sketch comedy in BSL, Deaf Funny, can be seen on the BSL Zone website

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