Getting a Local Screening Series Off the Ground

February 25, 2010
posted by sheric
Panama City Beach, FL a paradise for indie film?

Panama City Beach, FL a paradise for indie film?

Some of you may know that I am currently staying the the Northwest of Florida for a time. Personal family issues that require me to physically be here. While I am here in a beach resort town with limited big city entertainments, I want to try to do something that I think is the future for theatrical screenings of independent films.

I am not going to labor on about the state of independent film distribution. That ship has sailed in many a film festival panel discussion. I think the time is ripe for what Jon Reiss calls the live event/theatrical screening experience. A more grassroots approach to getting your film out in front of the public in more places than the traditional theater and doing more than just a film screening; creating an event out of your screening to entice the audience to actually want to come down to the venue and participate.

I had a wonderful meeting today with the local arts alliance. This group is responsible for bringing all of the touring companies for musical productions, bands, comedians etc. to town and they have a beautiful facility that holds 2,500 people. OMG!  I told them my idea. I want to create a local screening series for independent film and to tailor it to the interests of the local community. I think this last part, tailored, is key. Many screening series are founded by someone who thinks the community should be educated in some way by independent cinema. While it is an admirable goal, it also gives independent film that “genre” feel of being something you should like, but don’t. Like taking medicine; you know it should help you, but it is hard to digest (I know you know what I am saying). I want the audience to be entertained and enlightened and they will tell me what that means to them.

I would like to partner with local organizations who already have an audience and who can use an event like a film screening to bring awareness or further their cause or help to market their services. These may be charities, local businesses, resource organizations, Chamber of Commerce, senior living facilities etc. Maybe we can even involve clubs and find films that are tailored to their interests. I know there exists hundreds, if not thousands, of films that most people have never heard of but will resonate with these audiences. The trick is to find them and put the two together. I can do that. In a way, this is reverse engineering. Instead of having a film that needs an audience, I have an audience that needs a film!

Over the next few months, I will be recounting all that we go through to get this series off the ground, what films we choose, what kind of response we get, whether we are successful and this series will continue or even grow to surrounding communities. We have identified our first film and the partners we want to be involved with us for the first screening. I made the request today to the filmmaker and we’ll see if he is game. Our aim is to have the first screening in late April. We need enough time to properly market the series to the public. This arts organization as well as the local organizations have close ties to the local media, so that it is very useful too.

There is a caveat to this, dear filmmakers, and I want to you to take note. This change in the business model of distributing your films means that you must change your mindset as well. All of this snobbery about insisting your film screens in the theater and that bookers need to deal with your sales agent or distributor has to be reshaped. If more and more of these local screening series crop up and become successful (I predict that they will), it is much more beneficial (ie, money wise) to allow bookings to be made through you rather than your middlemen. If a small screening series provides the venue and the on the ground marketing, the cost to you is minimal upfront, maybe free. With a distrib, yeah they pay the P&A up front for you, but they take it all out of your backend and the theater gets a cut too. The accounting for that is not transparent either. And you can’t sell merch on site or interact with your audience in many cases. Booking with you is lots less hassle for the screening series too. When you are carving out your rights to sell DVD’s and downloads through your own channels, don’t forget to carve out a separate right to book screenings in local venues. Now, you can let the distribs handle a certain geographical area like NYC and LA and you can’t do local bookings there if you want less time hassle, that’s all they will usually do for you anyway. Reserve your right to book in smaller places where there are known series. As I chronicle our experiment, I will inform you of other successful series going on. I can tell you right now that you need to talk to Pericles Lewnes of Pretentious Film Society in Annapolis, Maryland and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, TX.  If you run a screening series and want to let filmmakers know about it, post it in comments here.

Watch this space and see how we do. As I get to know the tastes of the audience a bit more, I will be looking for screeners that can fill the need. Maybe for trailers as well. We are looking at a shorts program for families around June time. If you have a short that is suitable for all ages, let me know.

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