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Edinburgh Comedy Festival 2008 - London Press Launch
by John Park, Shoreditch House, 10:00 am Thursday 5 June 2008
Today's press conference at Shoreditch House, Bethnal Green, London, launches the first Edinburgh Comedy Festival (ECF) and its programme brochure to London and national media.
We give here an account of the whole press conference. Where possible the words are those used by the speakers, with some speeches summarised (often the summary is in brackets) and abbreviated. Where this has been done, the intention has been to be fair to the point of view expressed and we will accept corrections. We have identified speakers where they announced their name; some didn't; we will add names if notified.
Edinburgh Comedy Festival (ECF) pools the comedy output of four venues. They are represented today by (in alpha order of venue): William Burdett-Coutts (venue director, Assembly); Fraser Smith (head of press, Gilded Balloon); Anthony Alderson (venue director, Pleasance); Charlie Wood and Ed Bartlam (joint venue directors, Underbelly). Present are about 30 people from media or connected with the four venues.
Ed Bartlam: Part of the Fringe's success is its ability to evolve, and Edinburgh Comedy Festival is a natural development. We hope to focus people on Edinburgh as a whole. Today is to let you ask questions.
John Park, editor Fringe Report: Are you aiming to destroy the Edinburgh Fringe?
Ed Bartlam: Absolutely not, we're very clear that we are creating Edinburgh Comedy Festival on the Fringe. We're aiming to generate more awareness, more sales, and more audience. We believe that more focus on comedy will help all the other genres.
Steve Bennett, editor Chortle: Is there a danger of friction?
William Burdett-Coutts: I don't think friction is a bad thing. We're trying to define what we're doing. What we've achieved in pulling the four venues together is enormous. We don't intend to exclude anyone in future. They will be very welcome to join us if they want to. We intend to be inclusive. I've been there from the start of comedy on the Fringe. This is my 30th Festival. We all adore comedy.
Chris Cooke, editor Three Weeks: If the aim is to pull everyone together - if you go outside Edinburgh in August, the profile of Edinburgh (Fringe) is very small - (will this help?)
Anthony Alderson: The production of the brochure helps to find sponsors. We've got to do it in stages. It's going to take 18 months. This programme shows we can put forward an impressive line-up to attract money to back it.
Ed Bartlam: What Edinburgh (Fringe) needs as a whole is a proper national marketing campaign. We need a commercial sponsor to fund that.
Unidentified woman: If you get a sponsor, will some of that be passed on to performers? To subsidise new acts?
Anthony Alderson: Yes, if we can produce more money. Yes, is the simple answer. It costs a fortune to go to Edinburgh.
Caroline Raphael, commissioning editor for comedy & entertainment, BBC Radio 4: What is your relationship with the Edinburgh Fringe? Eg, the (ECF) brochure doesn't mention that you can get tickets from the Fringe.
Anthony Alderson: Well, the Fringe launches today. Our brochures have never given their contact numbers. We push people through our box offices.
(Editing notes: (1) the Edinburgh Fringe official programme launch is taking place at the same time today as this event, but in Edinburgh; the ECF press launch in Edinburgh took place last night. (2) The Fringe takes commission on ticket sales through the Fringe - venues get more money by selling show tickets direct to the public through their own box offices)
William Burdett-Coutts: We're not splitting away from the Fringe. We will enhance the relationship.
Unidentified man: You haven't entirely won over the comedians, have you?
William Burdett-Coutts: Take a look at the brochure (there are a lot of comedians in it).
Ed Bartlam: Ultimately, we're trying to sell more tickets.
William Burdett-Coutts: When you're in Edinburgh in August, you think it's the centre of the world. It isn't. We have to fight hard to get the public interest.
Charlie Wood: A few years ago, when stand-up at Edinburgh started, there were very few festivals (in the UK). Now there are fifty a week.
Unidentified man, Sky TV: Do you actually have contractually-binding agreements that people will be available to talk to us (it takes a lot of people and equipment to get a broadcaster up to Edinburgh, and it's difficult to make a case to broadcaster decision-makers to invest the money in going there)?
William Burdett-Coutts: We don't have contractural relationships (binding people to do interviews). We have to negotiate with each (act). TV coverage of Edinburgh is pathetic. Glastonbury (Festival, a UK open-air music event) gets loads of hours. It's down to enthusiasm and noise in the press (generating broadcast interest).
Same unidentified man: (Have you thought about) anywhere to park a satellite truck?
William Burdett-Coutts: There are lots of places in Edinburgh to park a satellite truck.
Chris Cooke, editor Three Weeks: In the 12 years we've covered Edinburgh (Fringe), only three comedians have refused an interview. How about a single press office? (Editing note: the four venues have their own separate press offices)
Ed Bartlam: Separate press offices make sense. We need to work hard on making press facilities (better).
John Park, editor Fringe Report: Will there be a central organistion for ECF?
William Burdett-Coutts: We're putting a toe in the water. The complexity of what we do is immense. Our job is to make things easier for the press and public.
Charlie Wood: When you go to your first (Edinburgh) Fringe, it's chaos. That's fun but we need to make it easier to navigate.
Tim Arthur, Time Out: You can understand why people see this as a massive arrogant fuck-off? I have a lot of complaints from new acts. Where did this come out of?
Charlie Wood: The first year we have to get it going. It's hard enough for us (four venue directors and the four venues) to get together. If you have a website on line (it makes a difference).
William Burdett-Coutts: Our job is to attract more people to Edinburgh. We haven't responded to a lot of the press (comments) so far. It's not arrogant. We all put everything together on a shoestring with wax.
Charlie Wood: Crucially for new acts they need to reduce their costs, and part of that is getting sponsorship. That's a fundamental reason why we're doing this.
Anthony Alderson: A great deal of the programme is new acts. (and acts which have developed through the years, eg:) Mark Watson for example has gone from (a small venue at the Pleasance) to (a large venue at the Pleasance) in 3 years.
Sophie Mann, media services manager, Foreign Press Association: To pull in our members - they're used to having these things organised. You don't have a central person.
Charlie Wood: We have Hector
Hector Proud, managing director, Idea Generation: Hello
Steve Bennett, editor Chortle: Isn't the existing Fringe Society the best (central body re the Fringe)? (editing note: the Fringe Society is the official governing body of Edinburgh Fringe)
Anthony Alderson: It has its hands tied by having to be all things to all people. We're taking one of the big successes of the Fringe and getting behind that. We've met a lot with Jon Morgan (Edinburgh Fringe director). We work together.
Stephanie Merritt, feature writer, The Observer (novelist, deputy literary editor The Observer 1998-2005): What news of sponsorship?
Charlie Wood: We're talking to three bodies. Sponsorship of this size takes a long time - two years. We'll have more news on that this year, and more next year.
Unidentified woman: Is it going to become the Barclays Comedy Festival? A lot of people don't like that.
Anthony Alderson: We're going to have to handle that with kid gloves.
Charlie Wood: The Fringe box office is sponsored by a sizeable partner (sponsorship is not new).
Ed Bartlam: We shouldn't be afraid. If that (commercial aspect) generates more sales and brings people up to Edinburgh, that's got to be a good thing.
(no more questions asked)
Anthony Alderson: Thank you very much for coming and see you in Edinburgh.
Ed Bartlam: Thanks very much to Hector (Proud) and Kate (surname unknown) for organising today.
at Edinburgh Comedy Festival Press Launch, Thursday 5 June 08, Shoreditch House, Ebor Street, Bethnal Green, London E1 6AW, approx 10:00 - 10:45 am
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