How to be a savvy film fan

Toby Symonds explains how to find the best cinema experience on a student budget.

(C) Wikimedia Commons

Whether it be tactical food freezing or the meticulous scanning of supermarket shelves for infamous “reduced to clear” labels, the canny student has it in them to mould frugality into an art form. With sky high tuition-accommodation-caffeine expenses, the need to navigate bargains has never been more necessary. And let’s face it, a trip to the cinema is a bit of a luxury.

A standard stalls ticket to catch the latest release at St Andrews’ own New Picture House, for instance, costs £7.50; add £1 if the said picture is in three dimensions, another £1 if you want to sit upstairs, and a further 50p if you’re paying by card. To put that into perspective, for this sort of money you could make your way through three pints at the Union.

New Picture House Cinema

So, what do you do? Turn to piracy? I implore you to think again. Setting aside moral ambiguities, the quality of an online experience is a pale imitation of that on the big screen. If you’re lucky maybe you’ll stumble across a decent quality rip (no sub-titles, nobody getting up to restock on popcorn halfway through) but the quality of the sound and visuals can’t compare to the big screen and you are still missing out on the immersive quality of a cinema experience. Films aren’t made to be watched on a 13-inch screen alongside a Facebook tab or in competition with Snapchat for your attentions. They were produced to captivate.

As a wannabe film journalist, so far in 2017 I have managed to get to the cinema 30 times. More impressive – if such cinephilic addiction can be termed impressive in the first place – is that I haven’t paid the full price of admission for a single one of these visits. Indeed, to five of these big screen experiences I gained my entry completely free of charge and prior to their national releases. How? It’s surprisingly straightforward.

The most obvious way for a student to save on film viewings is via the student discounts that are unfailingly on offer in cinemas. At the NPH you can save 50p on your admission by presenting your matriculation card, whilst it’s around £1 off at most multiplexes. The best deal for students, however, comes courtesy of the Dundee Contemporary Arts gallery where it costs just £5 for a student to spend the evening in one of their delightfully cosy cinema screens. True, there’s the expense of getting to Dundee, but the DCA has the added attraction of screenings films overlooked by mainstream cinemas, from this country and abroad, by way of its passion for supporting independent cinema and through their connection to the Europa Cinema brand. Similarly, classics regularly return to the DCA, with Kubrick’s The Shining showing as part of their Dundead Film Festival only next week.

Dundee Contemporary Arts Gallery

Cinema deals aren’t just restricted to student discounts though, and some of the best deals make all the time spent supermarket discount searching worth it: Tesco Clubcard points can be swapped for tickets to Cineworld and Odeon cinemas, Sainsbury’s Nectar points can be exchanged at any Vue, and when you hit 5000 points on your Morrisons Match card you can exchange the points for a gift card for any major multiplex.

It also pays to subscribe to the cinemas themselves. Odeon and Cineworld charge £17.99 and £17.40 per month for unlimited cinema access, and If you have a My Cineworld or Showcase Insider account, both will – for free – grant you price reductions without the monthly commitment. Odeon also have a no-strings club called Odeon Première in which members can earn points with each visit to be redeemed down the line for tickets, food or drink. Vue haven’t such an offer, but fans of film art might be interested to hear that the chain do often give out free posters with new blockbuster releases when you book with them in advance.

Beyond discounts, Odeon also offers audiences the chance to watch films before their national release through their “Screen Unseen” program. Usually at least once a month (the next sceening being April 24th) Odeon announce an extra special, new and exclusive, one-night-only preview screening at the reduced rate of just £5.

(C) Odeon

There is a catch, but it’s a rather splendid one. As “Unseen” implies, this exciting and savvy experience is delivered to audiences blind without any foreknowledge as to what the film is actually going to be. They drop a few hints on social media in the lead up, vouching all the while that the film is to be one worth seeing, but until the title card appears through the projector, you could be about to witnesses anything from any genre. Horrorphobes don’t have to worry though, as scary films are promoted under the brand Scream Unseen so you won’t be unknowingly dropped into anything traumatic.

Since January these previews have included Oscar winners Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea, with Jordan Peele’s outstanding Get Out being the most recent of the horrors. It’s been a while since they’ve announced any of these, so it seems very likely that a new one is just around the corner…

Neat though these tips certainly are, none yet have eradicated the ticket fare in its entirety. But there is away. Whereas some films, the latest Fast and Furious for instance, have their arrivals trumpeted way in advance of release dates through franchise or leading stars’ popularity, for others, cracking the box office is no mean feat. These films ultimately rely on audiences seeing the film and promoting it for them through positive word of mouth.

This is where ShowFilmFirst steps in. This third party intermediary company make it their business to set up free preview screenings throughout the country and right across the year. Releasing secret codes into newspapers and magazines, they allow distributors to locate their target markets and spread the word. Since launching in 2003, ShowFilmFirst have given away over nine million cinema tickets with their recent offerings including Their Finest, Raw, and The Lost City of Z. The easiest way to access the service is to sign up on their website and keep your eyes peeled. The Guardian and Telegraph are regular distributors of codes too, whilst it’s also worth checking in with the Radio Times, Hello and the Daily Mail for freebies. Officially speaking, the sharing of codes is frowned upon, but so is sneaking in a quick snack on the top floor of the library and, as all good students know, where there’s a will there’s a way. In this case, websites like FMUK are the ones to source out.

The Byre Theatre

Closer to home, St Andrews is itself a hub for local film screenings, both within and outside the University. St Andrews Film Society and the Reel Film Series host regular screenings throughout the semester. Film Soc is screening Trainspotting today, and the Reel Film Series is screening the last instalment in their “unruly women” series, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, today as well. Similarly, family films are screened for free at Holy Trinity on the second Saturday of every month, whilst the Byre’s Film Club runs every Thursday morning for £6 and they are currently in the midst of a £5/film Gangster Season, next week featuring The Godfather.

Of course, it is sometimes rather nice, and just what’s needed, to settle down for a film night at home. Netflix and Amazon Prime are good choices for their vast back catalogues, whilst Curzon Home Cinema and the BFI offer brand new viewing content online, but these do come with a price tag. Instead, make use of your status as a St Andrews student by mining our very own library and its vast collection, including everything from Alien to Zulu, by way of The Lion King and even Fifty Shades of Grey. Equally handy is that your St Andrews login credentials also give you unlimited access to Box of Broadcasts, a streaming website full to brim with films and TV series recorded from UK television channels. Essentially, if it’s been broadcast on the box, it’s yours for the goggling.

Go forth and use these tips wisely, be as sly as a twenty-first century fox, live cinema and save your cash. With Dunkirk, Alien: Covenant, and even Baywatch on the cinematic horizon, alongside a depressingly relentless stream of bad news in the press, escaping to the pictures has never sounded like a better offer.


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