Back yard to Hyde Park: How an independent cinema is transforming brand experiences

Having secured a partnership with Penguin Ventures to bring The Snowman to Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland this year, Back Yard Cinema is expanding its offering for the modern day cinema goer.
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A game of cliché bingo with Dominic Davies, the brains behind London’s Backyard Cinema wouldn’t last long at all - he’s ticks them all.

A film buff who struggled at school so set up a business from his back garden, drew an idea on a napkin on a train journey home and is now selling 100,000 tickets a year to his own self-started cinema experience, and that’s a full house for this young up and comer.

A number of you will recognise the name by now. If not Davies, then certainly Backyard Cinema. That’s because for the last six years, Davies and his cinema going initiative have been scaling up business and growing in popularity among the UK’s movie lovers.

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For two years, Backyard Cinema has been transforming South London’s Mercato Metropolitano into winter night gardens, snow kingdoms or Miami beaches to serve as the backdrop to special screenings of some of our best loved movies and bringing a whole new level of experience to cinema-goers.

If you’ve never stepped into an ice cave, carried a lantern across a snowscape setting and traded it in for a vile of alcoholic potion on the other side, before settling into a beanbag to watch a screening of A Muppets Christmas Carol, have you ever really experienced modern cinema?

Earlier this year, Davies revealed that Backyard Cinema was taking its audience immersion expertise to the next level through a new partnership with Penguin Ventures for a special The Snowman experience at Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. It’s a deal that seems to have sparked the next move for the self-made business owner and has opened up new avenues into the world of IP experiences.

In fact, it’s why Dominic Davies is here at Brand Licensing Europe this week: he’s scouting the next move for the Backyard Cinema outfit, and as brand owners lean closer and closer in to the live experience sector, his timing couldn’t be better.

“It’s when I see that the press are starting to pick this up - I see the questions from you guys, and I realise that ‘yeah, actually this is a game changer,” Davies explains to Licensing.biz.

In particular, he is talking about the recent deal with Penguin Ventures to bring a drawn out, walk through The Snowman immersive experience to Hyde Park this November. It’s part of Penguin’s 40th anniversary celebrations for the brand and part of something entirely new for Davies and his team of seven movie lovers.

“We have tested the waters before with regards to some premiers that we have hosted. We decked the cinema out as Miami Beach for the DVD release of Baywatch and we have done some brand takeovers,” Davies explains. “But this is our first full blown partnership with a specific IP.

“This has much more in common with a theme park ride - I am a theme park geek myself - so for me, seeing something that started as an idea on a napkin become a real thing with a big company like Penguin... it's awesome.”

It’s been somewhat of a learning curve for Davies, and a steep one at that. From setting up bed sheets as film screens in his back garden six years ago to suddenly finding himself the maestro at the centre of Hyde Park’s main event this winter is hardly a baby step into the licensing world.

“Luckily, Penguin Ventures have been amazing to work with,” he enthuses. “What has been really interesting is they have been really protective with their IP and you realise just how important something like the Snowman is for Penguin. But at the same time, they have a lot of energy, the creative director has been a joy to work with because as much as they want to protect their IP, they want to push boundaries and try new things.

“They’re not scared to put it in the 21st century and let Backyard Cinema do its thing. They are really open to new ideas.”

With a mission statement that reads ‘changing the face of cinema,’ transforming empty spaces in permanent themes homes for movies is Backyard Cinema’s bread and butter. However, it seems the firm has acquired a taste for big name IP experiences, too.

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Davies continues: “We are definitely scouting more of these kind of partnerships now to bring IP to life in this new way. This has opened a huge avenue where we see a large part of our company expanding into, and as total film lovers ourselves, the idea of being able to bring some of our favourite pop culture icons to life in some way or another is an absolute dream job. 

"Penguin has opened our eyes and it spans films, TV, computer games, books, comic books… there’s a huge pool of endless entertainment and we now have the ability to bring it all to life.”

Nostalgia is a huge allure when it comes to the experiential cinema going sector, but beyond that and Davies is already looking at some of today’s modern classics. He describes Stranger Things as the “low hanging fruit for this kind of concept,” but there’s more he wants to explore. That encompasses video games, various Netflix series, he has already ticked off Game of Thrones and Netflix’s Lost in Space.

“The Snowman is the next and hopefully the first of many concepts licensed around standalone IP,” he says. “We are able to keep a brand alive while studios are waiting for that next release. We are a way for fans to maintain that engagement with a film or brand. Through us, they can feel it, touch it and keep that passion alive.

“Experiences are key to customers across all kinds of industries. We are seeing it in retail, theatre, social media; people want to feel a part of the action. We have always been loyal to the experience from the beginning, we’re not jumping on a bandwagon, this whole company has been built on an experience - that’s from the days in my back garden.”

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