We went down to The Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington to catch up with Rooftop Film Club’s founder Gerry Cottle Jr. and discuss his new venture, Cine Gigs.
How did you first get started with the Rooftop Film Club?
I’d been a promoter and worked in PR for about eight years, and to be honest it was just a need and a thirst to do something with my life. I’m obviously a big fan of film and music – I played in a band for about ten years – and I thought: how can I combine the things I love with what I do as a promoter? Then I just saw the Queen of Hoxton and thought it would be great to put some films on there.
Did you expect it to take off so quickly?
I thought It would do OK and would be a bit of fun – and with the precarious weather I was a bit like: will it work? Would people buy tickets when they could get wet? But I thought: you know what, if you don’t take a chance you don’t get anywhere.
It took us about a year to get going and one summer I just did it. At the same time I was working in PR, launching a ride for London Dungeons and in the evening going home and doing the Rooftop. I launched them both in the same week – neither of them knew about each other.
That was three years ago, and we managed to sell-out that whole summer. The next year we acquired another venue – The Roof Gardens in Kensington – and it’s just gone from there, and now we’re just about to open our fifth venue tomorrow in Ealing.
How do you feel about the rise of pop-up events in general?
Crazy! I never started Rooftop Film Club knowing that would happen – I just started it not even thinking about it. I’d obviously heard of Secret Cinema, but they had been going ten years anyway. It’s just kind of weird timing – I just started it and then found out that quite a few people are doing this. But what’s nice is that our thing is the rooftop.
It’s a great time because it brings in a whole new element to cinema and it takes away the kind of mundane boringness of cinema. It’s kind of brought cinema back to the old days, where it’s more about community and sharing experiences.
Have you always tried to pick unusual spaces for your screenings?
Yeah – for example, Peckham’s Bussey Building was kind of a gift to us, really. We were looking for a good venue for 18 months, and there are lots of good rooftops around – but they’re just rooftops! What we try and do is find somewhere special, and the Bussey Building just came out of the blue – it’s got a view of the whole of London.
At the Queen of Hoxton you’re immersed in the buildings, while the Netil Building has amazing views and The Roof Gardens sits on its own as a beautiful Tudor garden place, and now with Ealing it’s great to have a venue in west London.
What reaction do you get from the people who come to Rooftop Film Club?
It’s a really great crowd. It’s more like watching a show: people clap at the end of every film and during musical films – such as Dirty Dancing and Grease – people will literally get up and start dancing in the aisles.
That’s the sort of stuff you usually expect to see in a West End show – not the cinema. It just makes it a real fun event, as you’d never think of doing that in a cinema.
So are the Cine Gigs a natural progression?
Yeah. It’s something I actually thought about 18 months ago. I love live music and used to play in a band, so I appreciate what musicians do and the feeling of not only playing live, but seeing live music. And I thought to myself: all of these legendary gigs, wouldn’t it be great to see them on the big screen?
Obviously you can watch them at home, but cinema is about escapism – so to be able to go and see it with a real big sound-system would be a great idea.
The whole point of Cine Gigs, and the reason we called it that, is that the gig factor is a major part – there’s no seats, it’s all about standing there with a beer, watching a band. If you wanna go mosh or whatever, you can. The response has been phenomenal – we just did Queen live at Wembley, and everyone was dressed up and dancing.
Why did you choose to host a Cine Gig at the 02 Islington Academy?
The 02 Islington Academy is going to be great, because we’ve always done it outside with headphones, and now the next transition for us is to take it in to a proper gig venue – a place where you would see a real good band.
We’re gonna have a massive screen, so it will be a life size Michael Jackson coming out at you. And the usual elements we always bring will be there – it’ll be like a party.
How do you choose the gigs you put on?
Well, all of the acts so far – Queen, Michael Jackson and Nirvana – have all passed away, but I don’t think that’s the reason why I initially chose them. I suppose in the back of my mind they’re all gigs I wish I had gone to. But we are going to do more current bands later on – so it doesn’t have to be just dead rock stars! But I think it will always be ‘what’s the best gig you wish you’d been at?’ Essentially we’re bringing legendary gigs to the big screen.
Where would you like to take Cine Gigs next?
Cine Gigs is obviously a lot of fun, but it’s also for serious music fans. Therefore, it would be great to get on a regular circuit – almost like a real band. We’d also love to do a big festival tent or a really big venue, with a few thousand people.
Cine Gigs are screening Michael Jackson Live at Wembley ’88 at the 02 Islington Academy on August 8, and Nirvana Live at Reading ’92 on September 19.