How to organise a film screening

Film Screening

Film screenings are a great way to fill a quiet night in a venue, raise money for charity or even to launch your own event business. In this post I’ll look at some of the key things you need to think about.

Introduction

I have organised countless film screenings in the last 20 years and there is one piece of advice that I would always give to anybody looking to organise a film screening and that is the choice of the film and alignment to your target audience is key.

I have had free-entry film screenings where I’ve had audience members on the floor because it was so busy and others where I have allowed my own ego to pick the film but the room has been remarkably empty!

Compared to 20 years ago competition now exists from the likes of Netflix and Amazon along with other streaming services that are able to provide a wide range or films six months or even earlier after they’ve been in the cinema. It is not always possible to gain a license to show such films any earlier and you’ll need to consider properly licensing each screening.

A word of caution (here in the UK) you are NOT allowed to simply raid your home DVD collection and play a film of your choice to a group. We will get into the legalities of film screenings later in this post.

You may be hosting a film screening for a few reasons, such as:

  • Community Cinema in local libraries
  • Film societies in Universities
  • Film Festivals
  • Charity fundraisers
  • Pop-up events
  • Experiential cinema events

Who is your target audience

Film Screening Target Market

As with all events, starting off by considering who is your target audience is important. Doing enough market research at this stage can save you time and money further down the line and it will help to ensure that your event is a success. You should try to think about the kinds of people who would be attracted to the film or films you want to show.

For example not everybody will want to attend a film screening of an offbeat indie film, but a wider audience may want to attend the latest Hollywood blockbuster. This is not too say that that the indie film doesn’t have the potential for a great event (indeed whole film festivals are based on this!). What you must consider is who the audience is and how to reach them and how you will add value before, during, and after the film screening.

A great resource you might want to look at here in the UK is the ‘Audience Finder’ tool from The Audience Agency. It’s totally free to use and provides some great insight and pre-made target profiles within arts and entertainments in every post code across the UK.


What will be your added value?

As always providing value is key. In the world of online streaming video services where people can watch from the comfort of their homes, delivering a remarkable and memorable experience is key to the success of any film screening event.

There are some great examples of companies such as Secret Cinema making fantastic experiences out of films . No doubt the production cost of such experiences are huge, so you’ll have to balance this with what you feel that you’re able to charge in terms of ticket price if you go down this route. Be careful not to oversell the experience and then underdeliver on the actual event.

It may still be possible to pick out certain elements of the film and translate this into a live experience on the event. For example, organisations like Secret Cinema use actors as attendees are entering the screening who are in character from the film. This adds a completely different dimension to the experience of going to see a film. You are no longer simply a passenger but an active actor in that experience.

You should consider how this value can be delivered during three phases of the event delivery; before, during and after. Much of the before will be connected to your marketing and promotion for the film screening so try to think about how you can pick out elements of the film and deliver those as valuable touchpoints to your audience before they buy a ticket. Here are some of the ideas used by film screening companies to engage on a deeper level with their target audience:

Before

Think about the following touchpoints that an audience member is likely to experience in the build-up to buying a ticket and attending your film screening:

  • your website,
  • your social media,
  • your ticketing page,
  • your emails.

You should endeavour to deliver a consistent experience as customer through each.

During

During the screening you should think about touchpoints from the moment the customers arrive to the moment they leave and how you can take them on a journey that ties into the film. This doesn’t require huge amounts of money and try to be creative in the way that you bring the film alive on the evening!

I would advise consideration is given to how to serve food and drink during the film, what kind of seating is provided (note try not to use hard seats!) and the kind of service that they will receive from your staff or volunteers. Giving a good experience at this point helps to build your reputation especially if you’re considering future film screenings.

After

Depending on the film screening and the amount of time and money you have available, it may be worth attempting to do undertake some evaluation with your audience to enable you to get feedback on how to improve future events.

This doesn’t have to be an onerous task. You could send an email survey to all the people who bought tickets from you or you could simply look to do something creative at the end of the event.

One example I came across a few years ago was during a film screening for the film Seven (with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman). At the end of the event the organizers had somehow located large quantities of doll heads and each person was asked to place the head in one of 10 boxes. This is quite a creative use of what is a well-established evaluation tool known as The Net Promoter score. Essentially, they were asked to rate if they would recommend this film screening to a friend you can check out the theory behind this at this link.


Marketing

When considering how you’re proposing to promote the film screening you should always reference back to your target audience. This is key in understanding how to reach them and what will resonate with them to help build a desire to attend your event.

Consider which social media channels your target audience uses and how likely it is that any posts you add will be seen by them. Remember that the algorithms on social networks like Facebook are weighted heavily against organic natural posts. It may be worth giving some consideration to a small budget for paid advertisements on these networks.

Try to tap into any community groups local to where your film screening is taking place and if you’re choosing to use the event to fundraise consider tapping into any groups or mailing lists that your charity may have.

You may be undertaking the film screening as part of a University or College film society so be sure to communicate the information through any social media groups or email lists.

If you’re considering this as a business idea, with plans to run more film screenings in the future, you should consider starting an email list as this one of the most effective ways to sell event tickets.


Budget

Film Screening Tickets

The first thing you’ll need to consider with your budget is how much you need to pay for the screening of the film. In the UK there is a requirement under Copyright Law to ensure any film screenings for entertainment purposes require a license.

Luckily there are organisations that license film screenings. One such organization in the UK is a company called Filmbank Media. They license film screenings in several ways. If you are simply showing one screening, then you can buy something called a Single Title Screening License or STSL. This allows you to show the film to an audience once. Within the STSL there are non-commercial screenings and commercial screening options.

Non-commercial screenings are those where the audience attends for free and you pay a fixed fee from £83 pounds for indoor screenings or from £139 pounds for outdoor screenings.

Commercial screenings allow you to charge the audience a ticket price but the difference here is that you are required to pay a percentage of your box office takings if they are greater than the non-commercial fees.

For an indoor screening you will be required to pay from £83 or 35% of your box office (whichever is greater) and for outdoor screenings from £139 pounds or 40% of your box office takings (whichever is greater). These prices are illustrative of the price you could pay and the fees increase with the venue capacity. (prices are correct as of April 2020)

You can find further information on the Filmbank Media website.

The choice to pursue the non-commercial or commercial routes is therefore dictated by whether you feel you need to charge for entry to the film. You may consider that you can make up the revenue through other avenues at the screening such as selling snacks or drinks or by offering additional experiences that tie into the film. These are fine as long as entry to the venue is free.

You will also need to consider costs such as venue hire, staffing (before and during the event), the cost of any marketing materials or advertising, any website hosting fees or design, and any theming you wish to include with the venue.


Picking a venue or location

External Cinema

The choice of venue or location will play a huge part in the experience you deliver. As I mentioned earlier you should consider how the audience will watch the film. You will need a large screen and projector along with a suitable sound system for the size of venue you have chosen.

Many smaller independent cinemas allow you to hire out their screens. This may be the easiest solution if you are looking to host a charity film screening that will fundraise but if you are considering a more in-depth experience then you might want to consider a more bespoke venue.

The previous example of the Seven film screening that I mentioned was actually screened in a disused retail outlet and careful thought was given to the ambiance, lighting and decoration to match the dark nature of the film.

If you’re considering screening the film outside, then you may want to consider using specialist audio visual company to provide the screen projector and sound. You will also need to consider other infrastructure that is needed such as seating fencing and lighting. you should also check if any additional licenses or permits are required wherever you are planning to host the event.

In the UK a Premises Licence is required only if you aim to generate a profit from the tickets being sold. Please check the Licensing Act 2003 for more information.

You should make sure that your venue or location is completely accessible to all people who would want to attend your event. This may also include:

  • Subtitles or sign interpreters,
  • ensuring people are aware of any flashing lights used in the film,
  • preferential seating for those who are partially sighted,
  • ensuring the venue has wheelchair access.

Other paperwork to consider

As with most events you should consider any other paperwork such as insurance and safety documents as key elements of your event plan. Check with your venue for any procedures to do with fire safety they may have and what your role would be in any emergency such as an evacuation. It’s very important to work with the venue if you are planning to include props and theming to ensure this doesn’t become additional hazards during the event.

Best of luck with your film screening!


Some other great resources:

UK Film Screening licenses: https://www.filmbankmedia.com/licences/stsl/stsl-pricing-options/

Making film screenings accessible for communities: http://cinemaforall.org.uk/

Mark Norman

Mark has over 20 years of experience in the events industry from working in live music venues through to major outdoor events like the Olympic Torch Relay and the Tour de France. He now works as a feelancer, consultant and Senior Lecturer in Events Management.

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