Scottish operator of West End cinema reveals Edinburgh Filmhouse takeover bid
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Gregory Lynn, who has been at the helm of the Prince Charles Cinema, just off Leicester Square, for 20 years, has vowed to revive the fortunes of the Lothian Road landmark if a bid for the building is successful.
Mr Lynn pledged to reverse the long decline in the condition of the Filmhouse building, which he claimed was allowed to be “run into the ground” under its previous operator, and overhaul its programming to win back audiences.
However he insisted the venue would continue to be a home for "cultural cinema”, as well as play host to the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) and other events which have been regularly staged there.
The Filmhouse has been shut since the Centre for the Moving Image (CMI) arts charity, which also ran the EIFF, suddenly pulled the plug in early October with the immediate loss of 107 jobs.
Mr Lynn, who runs the Prince Charles Cinema with business partner Ben Freedman, said the pair’s Filmhouse bid was “fully-funded” from their own resources.
The new-look Filmhouse would be run on an entirely commercial basis under the vision for the building, with no public subsidy required to help pay for either the revamp or its day-to-day operation.
It is hoped the cinema could reopen as early as April once an initial phase of repair and refurbishment is carried out.
Mr Lynn, who was born in Bathgate and began his career in the industry working in the town’s Regal cinema and the Robins cinema in Dunfermline, has lived in recent years in Dunbar, East Lothian, but has been commuting regularly to and from London.
The Prince Charles, the only independent cinema in the West End, dates back to the early 1960s when it initially operated as a theatre.
A repertory cinema since the early 1990s, it has played host to filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino.
The former church on Lothian Road, which had been home to the Filmhouse since 1978, was also the long-time home of the EIFF, which dates back to 1947, making it the world’s longest continually-running celebration of cinema.
Mr Lynn said he made enquiries about a possible takeover of the Filmhouse building before it was even announced the CMI had gone into administration after hearing rumours it had run into financial trouble.
He said the bid had received an “encouraging response” from government agency Creative Scotland, Edinburgh City Council and the Edinburgh Film Guild.
Mr Lynn said: “We have built up a robust balance sheet over the years. The bid that we’re going to put forward will be wholly covered from our balance sheet. It is confidential at the moment, but it will be a lot of money.
“We have already commissioned extensive surveys of the building. I was shocked by its condition.
"The amount of refurbishment that is needed just to make the building watertight and sustainable is going to cost an arm-leg, even before you even look at the decor, new carpets and new seats. In excess of £1.5 million is needed just to get it to a workable level after the purchase of the building.
"The decline in the building over the last ten years is clear to see. It wouldn’t surprise me if the cinema seats are 30 years old. They are disgusting.
“If we were to take over, we would spend quite a bit of money on the outside of the building. We would completely re-carpet and re-seat the inside of the building, and do a bit of decoration.”
Mr Lynn admitted the “biggest change” at the Filmhouse was likely to be in its programming, but insisted there would be no point in trying to replicate what other cinemas in the city were offering.
He said the reborn venue would play host to “an eclectic mix of world cinema”, adding: “I would defy anybody to look at the Prince Charles Cinema programme and not find something they would want to watch. We have hundreds of titles on sale at any one time.
“Our policy is that we love movies and want people to fill the place and enjoy themselves. We do show new movies, but we don't know the new blockbuster on release, because that is not our thing, although they do find their way into seasons that we do.
“Everything that played in the Filmhouse previously was funded. There was no need for them to be commercial as they were getting money from other sources to pay their bills and wages. We are a commercial company and it will be run as such.
"We’ve had encouragement from Creative Scotland, Edinburgh City Council and Edinburgh Film Guild. Everybody is excited about us putting a bid together because at the moment it looks like we’re the only ones to stand up and put a bid in to retain it as a cinema.”