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“What I love about America and what makes me feel positive about the future is the American attitude; It’s the can-do attitude” With Gerry Cottle Jr.

What I love about America and what makes me feel positive about the future is the American attitude. It’s the can-do attitude.There’s also a lot of kindness here. Being a Brit, for example, I go to the supermarket and I’ll walk in and someone will say ‘hi, I like your jacket,’ and I’ll start chatting […]

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What I love about America and what makes me feel positive about the future is the American attitude. It’s the can-do attitude.

There’s also a lot of kindness here. Being a Brit, for example, I go to the supermarket and I’ll walk in and someone will say ‘hi, I like your jacket,’ and I’ll start chatting with someone and they say ‘I love your accent’. They don’t do that everywhere and I end up leaving the supermarket feeling like an absolute God. My point is that it wouldn’t necessarily happen at home. People are less forward. Here people really go out of their way to make sure you’re okay or give you a compliment.

Even sometimes you might be stopped on the side of the road after a morning run and someone will come by and say ‘are you okay,’ or something along those lines, which is very refreshing. I guess it’s just about people not being scared to reach out and make sure you’re okay. There’s a really good positive attitude in America and I think that goes a long way. It’s something that makes me feel optimistic about living here. And I don’t think a lot of people think that about America. They get a lot of negative views from the news, all the problems and the politics and all that but America’s a very kind country and that’s very important. You never regret being kind.


Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Gerry Cottle, Jr., founder, and CEO of the Rooftop Film Club and Rooftop Cinema Club in the UK and the United States, respectively. The son of the famed circus owner, Gerry Cottle, young Gerry grew up in the family business, traveling the world and performing in his father’s circus shows. When he got into his 20s, the younger Cottle decided to run away from the circus and he moved to London, where he began work in public relations, representing such brands as Cirque Du Soleil and Disney. In 2011, Cottle decided to take a leap of faith and combining his love of cinema and entertainment, along with his passion for PR and marketing, he launched the Rooftop Film Club in the UK, and five years later, he brought his concept to the United States as Rooftop Cinema Club. Today, the company has three venues in London, five in the US (two in Los Angeles and one each in New York, Houston and San Diego) and plans to open another 20 venues in the US over the next three years.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

First off, thank you for having me. I grew up in London and was born near Wimbledon, but I am the son of a circus owner so I was born into the circus. We traveled all around the world so you could say entertainment is kind of in my blood.

I had what you could probably say was a mixed upbringing. I was very lucky to work at the circus, but also to have a good education as well and that gave me a good grounding and future opportunities. When I grew a bit older, I moved to London and ran away from the circus. I loved the circus and all that went along with it, but I knew in my heart of hearts that I wanted to do something else. I have always loved events, but I also loved the creative flair and unpredictability of marketing and PR, and I also liked doing normal things like playing in a band and socializing with my mates so the traveling lifestyle was not for me. I spent time in London working with some great PR clients and then I started Rooftop in the Summer of 2011 and I’ve never looked back.

Once I started Rooftop Cinema, I realized that I was combining my love of film — I always loved great films — with my love of events. I love having the chance to make people smile and I sell popcorn for a living, just like Dad, so it really is quite funny how it’s all come full circle. You could say I’ve gone from Big Top to Roof Top.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?

I’ve always loved America. Ever since I was a young boy, I was very blessed to spend a lot of time here over the years on family holidays and such. I saw a lot of opportunity in America and how much bigger it was than the UK, I just loved the gravitas of everything. Things were more accessible here and the breadth of the country was immense. I love (Ford) Mustangs and I am a massive Elvis fan so I’ve long had an affinity for America and some of its cultures and I’d always dreamed of at some point wanting to live here.

When I started the Rooftop Cinema in the UK we were doing really well. We had five venues and they were all selling out, but we started to look at other opportunities because of the seasons. It wasn’t the same in England. In the north, the sun sets later, it rains a little bit more, especially in Northern England, so we really were stuck with this great concept, but we had a very short season. Around that time, I was on a stag do/ bachelor party with one of my good friends, Nick Frow, who now happens to be my business partner, and I told him that I’d been dreaming about maybe bringing Rooftop Cinema to America, so that’s when we started talking and formulating this plan to bring our concept to the USA. I knew there we’d have more opportunities and essentially longer seasons in states like California, Texas, and Florida. Nick had spent 10 years in finance and wanted out so the clown and the banker joined forces and we have never looked back.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

Absolutely. We started Rooftop Cinema in the US with a venue in New York at Yotel, just off Times Square. I officially moved over in July 2017 and settled in Los Angeles with my family. Looking back, it was actually quite tough I’ve got to say. I don’t think it was LA per se, it was just a very different city from London where I went from being sort of surrounded by lots of friends and family to actually being quite lonely for me and my wife Amy. I had gone from an office full of people and several venues to host friends and clients to once again sitting in a co-working space all by myself. I had to start again. We’d just had a little boy, little Gerry, and he was only six months old so it was kind of a struggle for all of us those first few months just adjusting to a new life, especially in a city like LA, which is so spread out. And just like I said about LA, I don’t think it was America, it was just moving to a new country is quite difficult and it’s not always done so easily, but as we started to meet people and make friends and build a new community, it got so much better and I’m pleased to say we’re really enjoying it now. You have to remind yourself that change can often not be easy but it’s the only constant in life so best to get on with it in the best way you can.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

I’m glad you asked because there certainly is. When I got here, I met a gentleman by the name of Tom Vaughan. He was an English gentleman and I met him through a friend and he’d been here awhile before me. He’d moved here a year or so before my family and I did, and not only was he a great contact, but he helped me find good people to work with and he really took it upon himself to help me get settled and he helped me immensely both in my business and professional life.

Through these contacts, I made a lot of great friends along the way so he was really really great help, but unfortunately, he passed away this year, which was very sad for me and those who knew him. It was a sad situation, but I am thankful I got to spend time with him and he holds a special place in my heart.

When you’re in a situation like ours, especially moving to a new country and foreign land, in this case, America, friends like Tom make all the difference in the world. Even though they obviously speak English in the US, you’re in a totally different culture, a different land with different requirements and you essentially start your life again — whether it’s opening a US bank account, setting up a gas bill or taking your California driving test. It all adds to your personal admin as you essentially reset your life. All these elements mean it can be very difficult adjusting to this new environment, yet all it took was one very kind individual to really help. Tom was a great influence and a great inspiration to help me set up my life over here in America and for that, I’ll forever be grateful.

And I’d be remiss too if I didn’t mention my family. My wife Amy was a true rock. She was there holding down the fort at home whilst I started to build a new team. She put her life and her professional and personal life on hold in a sense to help support my business ventures and I’ll forever be grateful for that. And the truth is, we’re all really enjoying it right now and we’re glad that we made it through the tough times. I like to think It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry.

So how are things going today?

We are very pleased with where we are today and we’re excited about what the future holds.

First off, it’s all about the people you surround yourself with and we’ve built a great team here. From Day One, I had great people helping me build a team here when we were building a team in America. We’ve been very fortunate to find good people and build good partnerships, kind of strength-to-strength, and for that, we’re very proud.

Also, we’re very excited that we’ve just taken on our first round of investment. Our goal is to build 20 new venues in the next three years. That’s huge for us. As a company, all of our hard work feels as though it’s starting to pay off. We’ve never wanted to rush and create venues that were anything other than exceptional and we think that we’ve done that and we’re looking forward to the next few years. We’ve always tried our best to perfect the art of outdoor cinema and make sure we do it properly and do it with excellence first-and-foremost, and now we have the backing to be able to expand on the three key territories we talked about — Florida, Texas and California — and then hopefully many more after that.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m a true believer in happiness comes from serving others, and when I say that, I’m not just talking about serving someone at a restaurant or at Rooftop Cinema Club, but it’s doing the little things, like opening a door for someone or smiling at someone and saying hello, doing something that can change someone’s day.

What we’ve done with Rooftop Cinema, and I always tell our staff here, we work hard, but we also should have fun and we should share that with our guests. At the end of the day, we have a fun product and our job is to entertain people. Our job is to allow people to forget the troubles of their day and have an escape.

Cinema is all about escapism. At Rooftop Cinema we hope that people can leave their worries at home and when they come up to one of our rooftops it’s our job to make them feel enchanted and we try to make their night as magical as possible.

I should add too that we want to extend this goodness beyond the rooftops. I have long been a believer in helping others, just as others have helped me, so we want to do lots of giving and support worthwhile causes when we can. This year at all of our venues across the United States leading up to Christmas, we participated in 12 Days of Giving and the program was designed to address the homeless problem that is so prevalent across the US. We were fortunate to partner with some fantastic organizations in New York, Los Angeles, Houston and San Diego to help raise awareness about the problem of homelessness and our guests were tremendous partners in donating much-needed clothing items while also contributing financially to help support programs that aid the homeless.

At the end of the day, our mission is to give people a good time, but we really believe in charity and in the future, we want to continue to help charities and most importantly educate our guests about these issues. And it’s not always or only about raising money, just as importantly it’s about raising awareness. This year we chose homelessness because as we like to say at the Rooftop Cinema, we don’t need a roof over our heads but some people do and we wanted to do our part to help. The journey has only just begun.

You have the first-hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, what are some things would you change to improve the system?

I certainly don’t want to talk out of turn but it’s very tough, the immigration system that is. I appreciate that there’s a job to be done there and I certainly respect the work that they do, but they don’t make it very easy for us as a company to bring people over to the US. Whenever we’ve brought anyone over to work here, it’s only because we believe that they’re really going to help grow the business, but it’s not been easy. For me personally, it took me more than a year to come to the country to launch this concept and for me to do so, I had to fill out a lot of paperwork and there were several stages of interviews that I had to go thru along the way. A lot of stress for my family and me.

And again, I don’t mean to speak out of turn and I greatly respect the job they have to do, but just a bit more flexibility for businesses like ours would be great. If we could find a way where they would look at young entrepreneurial businesses like ours and just make it a little easier for people like us to get up and running. We stayed the course because we knew we were coming with a great idea and we were going to employ lots of American staff and create a great opportunity in America.

Can you share a couple of “keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

I think learning about the US and its cultures and traditions was the big one for us. And we learned the hard way at the beginning. Not that we ever go anywhere with ego, we’ve never done that, we’ve always gone in and made sure that we’re very aware, but I think America, unfortunately, suffers from people who like to think it’s a similar culture to where they’ve come from, especially when you come from a country like England because it speaks the English language. But actually, it’s very different in America. If you were coming from somewhere like Hong Kong or Dubai, you might do a little more research on the customs and how to do business, but I think sometimes America suffers because it’s a very different game out here. What I’d caution others on is people just really need to do their research about American business culture before they come here because it is different, especially when you deal with people. There are lots of different etiquettes and people aren’t afraid to talk openly about things like money and such, so that kind of thing takes a bit of an adjustment to get used to. And that’s not a knock, it’s just the American way of doing business and we sort of learned that the hard way.

I think we also learned that things are a bit more expensive here because there are a lot more people involved. It’s something you have to make sure you budget for. Again, you’re in a foreign country and I think you assume it’s going to be the same sort of economic structure but things are a lot more complicated here. I think for us we came over here and ended up spending a lot more money than we’d done previously when we were over in the UK building venues.

And it’s all worked out fine but those are a couple of lessons learned along the way.

It can be quite aggressive in a sense and people can be very cut-throat, but at the same time, there’s real good karma here and a lot of people who want to help you and over the last couple of years I’ve met some amazing people and made some amazing friends.

We know that the US needs improvement. But what is it that makes you optimistic about the US’s future?

What I love about America and what makes me feel positive about the future is the American attitude. It’s the can-do attitude.

There’s also a lot of kindness here. Being a Brit, for example, I go to the supermarket and I’ll walk in and someone will say ‘hi, I like your jacket,’ and I’ll start chatting with someone and they say ‘I love your accent’. They don’t do that everywhere and I end up leaving the supermarket feeling like an absolute God. My point is that it wouldn’t necessarily happen at home. People are less forward. Here people really go out of their way to make sure you’re okay or give you a compliment.

Even sometimes you might be stopped on the side of the road after a morning run and someone will come by and say ‘are you okay,’ or something along those lines, which is very refreshing. I guess it’s just about people not being scared to reach out and make sure you’re okay. There’s a really good positive attitude in America and I think that goes a long way. It’s something that makes me feel optimistic about living here. And I don’t think a lot of people think that about America. They get a lot of negative views from the news, all the problems and the politics and all that but America’s a very kind country and that’s very important. You never regret being kind.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I could, of course, say ‘The King’ Elvis Presley, but unfortunately, he’s not with us anymore, so I can’t choose him but one of my heroes is definitely Richard Branson. I love that he’s an adventurer and he’s a real maverick. He’s not afraid to make a fool of himself (his words not mine!) by dressing up when launching an exciting new product and anyone who’s not scared to show different sides to themselves gets a tip of the hat from me. I think he’s very clever in the way he’s created multiple brands and I love all the ideas and his lust for life. He seems like one of life’s gentlemen and he’s a real hero of mine and I hope one day to meet him.

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Website: https://rooftopcinemaclub.com/

Facebook: @Rooftopcinemaclub

Instagram: @Rooftopcinemaclub

Twitter: @RooftopCinema

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