YFN Stories: Amy Cresswell

From YFP to Genesis Cinema, Bethnal Green in London

Amy Cresswell taking a selfie with a Minion balloon.
Amy is a 25-year-old from St Albans, now based in East London. She set up OPEN HOUSE film club YFP in 2021 with three friends and is currently a manager at Genesis Cinema in Stepney Green.

I had just moved back home to St Albans and my parents were bugging me to find a ‘career’ and ‘use my degree’ and I was super lost about everything in my life: My travel plans had been cancelled and 2020 had hit. All I knew was that I was spending all my time watching films on my laptop and dreaming of the cinema. These factors all led me to stumble upon the ICO’s webpage, and in a wish to fulfil my parents nagging to get a life – or rather job – I emailed the ICO about Young Film Programmer groups in March 2021. There wasn’t one in my local area but I had more than enough time to set something up myself with my friends!

Becoming a YFP

I had worked as an usher at the Odyssey, the single screen 426-seater indie cinema in St Albans and so we reached out to the cinema with our proposal. Could we show a film a month with the aim of getting more young people in? In all the years I’d worked there, there’d rarely been a film with more young people than those on staff that day: there was definitely a need for us! I also wanted to start the group because I didn’t know how to meet anyone anymore – most of my friends had moved to London and I was feeling pretty disconnected from the place I had grown up in. This was a way to build a community with like-minded film fans, as well as learn about programming, the exhibition industry and connect with other venues.

OPEN HOUSE film club

Our first meeting as a group was in my dad’s shed in May 2021. After talking with Julia at ICO (who is a wonderful mentor, guide and person!), we decided to form as a Community Interest Company so that we could work independently of a venue. We did this so we could push ourselves to see what we could achieve without tying ourselves down to a huge cinema. We named ourselves OPEN HOUSE film club, set up a bank account and applied to Companies House. Our first film was in August 2021: we showed But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) at the Odyssey, with a sweet set up of introducing the film (and ourselves) as well as keeping the bar open for 30 minutes after the film finished so people could meet each other and discuss the film. It was nerve-racking but a great success: we had 91 people watch the film, and we met a group of about 15 under-30s who would become regulars at our screenings.

Progression Opportunities

We’ve learned lots of new skills running our YFP and took up even more progression opportunities that were on offer through the Young Film Network. Two of us attended the YFP Presenter Training and were then paid to host live webinars with industry professionals on Film Poster Design and Film Funding. We’ve also reached out to other local groups and organisations, with Ask For Clive, a charity working to make pubs and venues safe and welcome spaces to LGBTQ+ people and St Albans Film Festival with whom we put on a slumber party. We also got the opportunity to present our success at the Film Hub East Forum at Rich Mix Cinema which was scary but amazing to meet so many other people working in SE cinemas. Through all this we really developed our public speaking and networking skills, met lots of new people in the industry who have been super helpful helping us get our ‘foot-in-the-door’.

Getting a job in the industry

Then, in 2022 I got a job as a manager at Genesis Cinema in London as their Social Media Manager for their in-house festival, Fragments. I applied for the job in January after seeing it on the ICO jobs newsletter and thought it was exactly what I needed and could do: working with people; coming up with ideas; learning about projectors and being able to take what opportunities I wanted from the venue and colleagues. I edited my CV to focus on my hospitality roles, management and OPEN HOUSE, emphasising the skills I had gained that matched the job description. Within a week I had an interview – I was chuffed!

The interview process was two rounds, the first pretty casual and the second with the owner of the cinema – but I went in with the mindset of, these are my skills and my passions, if you don’t like it or don’t think it’ll work out, that’s okay! This was one of the first times I have felt this in an interview – confident in my skills and what I could bring and why I wanted to learn more there. I know I wouldn’t have achieved the confidence and skills to apply and get that role if I hadn’t started OPEN HOUSE and joined YFN – it’s taught me so much about taking risks, making mistakes and knowing you can do it better next time. It’s also shown me how everyone is trying new things and no one knows the ‘right’ or ‘perfect’ way to do something – so you don’t need to worry if you don’t get a full house every time, it’s all good experience.

My role today

Now, in my role at Genesis Cinema I get to see how a venue puts a programme together and suggest ideas of my own which will be in development over the next year. My day-to-day is making sure the cinema runs smoothly, dealing with difficult customers, general building management, and ensuring the projectors are all up, working and have the right programme in. Each day is different and whilst the hours can be long into the night, at least I get free cinema tickets across London! If anyone else is looking to work in film exhibition after doing YFP, I’d recommend pushing yourself to do as many big and wild ideas as possible as part of the group – it’s a place for learning and experimenting and listening to your instincts. Film exhibition is as diverse and big as we want it to be, and if you want to put on that film with this goal and these fun bits to add to it, just do it!

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