Set up a community cinema

Community cinemas provide an informal way to bring people together. They’re also a great outlet for any local film-making talent. Your set-up can be as simple as a one off film night outdoors on a summer evening, or a regular event in a local venue. Most communities, big or small, once had their own cinema. Fortunately, community cinemas can fill that gap, offering a range of films that your nearest cinema probably won’t.

You will need

  • Somewhere to show your films. If it’s a hot summer, with warm, dry evenings, then try a white sheet and a projector in a local park. If it’s winter (or a typical British summer) then go for somewhere indoors with plenty of chairs and windows you can black out. The great news is that a change in the Licensing Act means you no longer need to get a premises licence to screen films if your screening is not-for-profit and held between 8.30am and 11.00pm. You will, however, require a licence from the copyright holder of the film — read on...
  • A PA system and a projector. These can be a bit pricey but your local school might have one you can borrow, or you could hire one with a view to buying one once you’ve sold enough tickets.
  • Something to sit on. Cushions to prevent people’s bums from going numb. Blankets in case it gets cold.
  • Ushers or usherettes for those all-important tickets and refreshments.
  • Tickets – raffle tickets will do. This will help you keep track of attendance, which is handy for health and safety headcounts.
  • A torch, to show people to their seats.
  • A selection of films, including a licence to play them. Filmbank is a great place to start. Or you could go down the route of joining Open Cinema, which allows you to choose from their wide selection of films for a fee — and you can even list your event on their website.
  • Marketing materials — posters, postcards, Facebook pages... anything that gets the word out.
  • A business plan. Everything other than manpower will cost money, so you need to ensure you more-than-cover your costs. The British Federation of Film Societies (BFFS) website is good for this.

Instructions

Circulate a really simple survey

This will help you to find out what kind of films people want to see, give them prompts —them for their 'top three', their favourite genres and actors — and also which night(s) are easiest for them.

Find a venue

It should have with plenty of chairs and windows which can be blacked out in the summer months (unless you plan to view films outside). Some cinemas will let you hire a screen, which could be a simple shortcut.

Check out insurances and liabilities

This is an important part of the process to make sure you're covered.

Decide on your payment model

For example, you could go for a pay-per-view approach or a film club with a subscription.

Decide on how much to charge

Most film societies charge between £3 and £5. You will have to pay a royalty to play the film to the public and you might have to hire the space, so make sure that you’re not relying on a full house every time to make a profit.

Get permission to screen a film

The BFFS can help you with all of this, or contact another local film society for advice. Filmbank is also helpful. As is Open Cinema, which sorts all this out for a monthly fee.

Plan your programme

Use your survey results to help. Launch with something reasonably recent and mainstream if you can, and if it didn’t make it to the local multiplex, so much the better.

Decide on a name

Clever is fine, but including a local reference will help people realise it’s their cinema club.

Set up social media

Set up Facebook and Twitter accounts and encourage all of your members to like and follow them.

Advertise the programme

Advertise the programme (and membership if appropriate). Use local and national papers and listing guides, include the obvious: film, time and location, as well as the club’s social media links. A flyer through the doors and distributed via volunteers will also raise the profile.

Lights, camera, action!

Once you’re established, your group could run film weekends or a season of films. In the holidays you could run a series of films for children and families and tie your programme in with community or national festivals or celebrations.