Birmingham’s Electric Cinema is to re-open its second screen and launch a new digital recording studio after a £100,000 refurbishment.
The Station Street cinema, which is the oldest working cinema in the UK, has not had a functioning second screen for five years.
The new 78-seat venue will include black sofas, waiter service and a new £60,000 digital projector – the major cost of the project.
Owner Tom Lawes, who bought the cinema in 2004 and has spent the past four years restoring it, said the re-opening of the screen had been partly prompted by the closure of Midlands Art Centre (MAC) for refurbishment.
He said: “The idea hit me in January that I could move the dubbing theatre, which was upstairs, to the basement and launch the second screen to take those who would have previously gone to the MAC. It also gives us the opportunity to run mainstream films Screen 1 and have scope to put on more specialised films in Screen 2.”
Mr Lawes, who financed the refurbishment himself, added that films such as the latest Indiana Jones and Sex and the City had been very successful for the Electric.
He added: “The mainstream films have been the financial powerhouse. The response we had to screening Indiana Jones was phenomenal and made a serious contribution to our turnover.
“By launching the second screen, we are now able to serve both our audience groups – those who want to see mainstream films in more comfortable surroundings, and those who want to see more specialist films.”
Long minimum booking periods on mainstream films have also restricted the variety of films that the Electric can show. The new screen would resolve that issue, Mr Lawes said.
He added: “It was also difficult for us to guarantee the cinema for private evening functions as dates are not often confirmed until four week before the screening.
“For example, Quantum of Solace - the new James Bond film - is currently scheduled for October 31, but it is still in production. If there is a delay, that date could change. With the second screen we do not have to worry about changes to films in Screen 1 and book events in Screen 2 and programme films around them.”
The new screen will also be used for special screenings such as sports events, opera and pop concerts.
According to Mr Lawes, the additional screen is predicted to increase revenues by 40 per cent annually, taking the Electric’s turnover to approximately £500,000 a year.
He said: “The business has come a long way since 2004. In our first year we had a turnover of just £50,000, but now we have built up our audience. It is a difficult job when we often have to compete with publicly-funded organisations, but this is now a successful business.”
The cinema currently sees approximately 40,000 visitors annually, Mr Lawes added.
The new sound studio, relocated to the cinema’s basement has been designed to improve working conditions with better lighting and soundproofing.
The Electric dates back to 1909. It was known as the Select in The 1920s and in the 1930s became a repertory cinema showing a programme of classic silent movies. It has been known as The Jacey, The Classic and The Tivoli and has functioned as an amusement arcade and adults-only cinema. It is the city’s last independent cinema but was shut in 2003.
Originally failing to sell at auction, former Handsworth Grammar pupil Mr Lawes decided to buy the cinema in 2004 with an initial personal investment of nearly £750,000.
The second screen opens on Friday with the Oscar-nominated film Mongol, Blade Runner Final Cut and Wizard of Oz in high-definition digital cinema.