By Lyndall Cave
You’ve gone through the grueling process of film school and congratulations…you’ve made a film!
Movies are made to be seen on the silver screen, viewed by an enthusiastic crowd. But is it possible to show a film on the big screen with limited independent filmmaker resources and budget?
Yes! You can host your own premiere. It’s a great way to showcase a collection of short films or a feature.
I hosted a premiere of my student short films when I came home from film school. It was surprisingly easy.
Firstly, know what you hope to accomplish with your premiere. Do you want to simply say you’ve done it? Do you want to host a fun evening? Do you want to show your films to a full house? If so, you’ll need to focus on publicity, and choose a date that will appeal to many people. Do you want to make money from your films? Tickets will be a necessity.
Knowing your goals will help you to evaluate the success of your premiere later.
Finding the Right Movie Theatre
Do a quick internet search for the movie theatres in your area. Call them up and explain that you’re an independent filmmaker interested in hosting a premiere at their theatre, and ask if they would be open to working with you. Some theatres offer private viewings of a movie of your choice for birthday parties or other events. This is a good hint that they may be open to showing something independent. E-mails, phone calls or going to the theatre in person are good ways to make contact.
I found success with an independent theatre; others have found success with chain theatres. You won’t know until you ask, so be bold!
Finding the Right Time
Once you have found a theatre willing to work with you, choose a day and time for the premiere.
It’s a good idea to organize things about a month before the actual premiere. Any shorter than that, and you may run into problems with the theatre not being available, or not having enough time to advertise thoroughly.
Also bear in mind that heavy-traffic times like weekends and evenings will be more expensive to book. The theatre that I used charged about $300 CAD for weekday afternoons, but that went up to around $800 CAD for an evening on the weekend. I chose a Wednesday night, which cost me $550 CAD.
Whatever films you are showing, make sure you have permission from everyone involved to show the films. If they’re your films and you had everyone sign release forms, this shouldn’t be a problem. In my case, I was showing a collection of student films, so I made sure my classmates were ok with me showing their films publicly.
Also, consider if you want to show this film at a festival. Some festivals insist on having the premiere of a film, and if it’s been shown publicly in their region before, they might not agree to showing your film.
If you have a collection of short films, it’s good to compile them into a single file using an editing program. Fade to black between each film, and add intros for each film if you desire. Export it as a single file, so all you have to do is hit play once on the big day.
Pay attention to which films are played next to each other. At my film school’s premiere night we showed one film that ended with a kiss. The next short film started with the same guy kissing a different girl, and no one could take the second film seriously! I made sure I corrected the order before my premiere.
The Technical Stuff
The normal way to show a film at a theatre is with a DCP (Digital Cinema Package) or Blu-Ray. It depends on the theatre. Make sure you ask what format your theatre uses to play films. If you need to make a DCP click here for a great how-to from No Film School.
However, if the theatre is able to play home movies, you may be able to play your films through a HDMI connection. This is how I showed my films.
I exported the films as an Apple ProRes 422 (.mov) file. I played them from a MacBook through a HDMI adapter to the projectors. The picture quality was surprisingly good. I had to make sure the sound was set to external speakers, rather than in-computer sound in the settings however.
Make sure that whatever format you use, it is tested ahead of time. It’s best if you can go to the theatre a couple weeks beforehand and work out any problems before the premiere.
Publicity is super important. After all, what good is hosting a film premiere without an audience?
If you’re aiming to show mainly your family and friends, then social media, e-mails and word-of-mouth are the best way to go. Create an event on Facebook, and ask people to invite others.
If you want to invite a broader audience however, create an eye-catching poster with the date, time, location, cost and type of films you’ll be playing. If you don’t have graphic-design savvy, ask a competent friend or (if your budget allows) have something professionally designed. Place the posters in various places around your community, such as the theatre itself, libraries, community centres, stores and so on. Decide who your target audience is, and place them in places they’re most likely to hang out.
Contact your local newspaper and radio station. Most smaller media outlets are hungry for stories and will be happy to talk about your work, especially when it is made by a local artist. I contacted my hometown newspaper and radio station, and both of them interviewed me on the spot. So be prepared, and know ahead of time what to say if a spontaneous interview comes up!
It would also be helpful to create a press release which includes a short article about your event, a few photos of the people involved or behind-the-scenes of your movie, and a copy of the poster. Then you can send it to media outlets if they request a pre-written article.
Paying for the Event
Theatres are not cheap to rent. In order to pay for the event, you could sell tickets, have a freewill donation box at the event, or ask people to sponsor the evening.
If you are planning to ask for sponsors, write a formal business letter outlining the evening, specifically requesting money and sponsorship, and offering free advertising in exchange. It’s also a good idea to include something specific to the business you’re asking, so they know you haven’t given them a form letter. Drop the letters off in person, and contact them again about a week later for their response.
Ask local businesses, places that are friendly toward the arts (look at similar artistic events in your community, and see who sponsors those events), and businesses that are related to the topics of your movies. Does your film take place in a grocery store? Ask grocery stores. Does your film feature a seamstress? Ask a sewing machine repair shop for sponsorship.
The big day is here!
Arrive at the theatre early to set up, just in case you have some last-minute technical issues. This way, you’ll have enough time to iron them out before the audience arrives.
It’s fun to dress up. I went in a semi-formal outfit, but one day I want to host a premiere with red-carpet clothing. But this is YOUR event, so you can dress in a way that reflects your personality and the feel of the evening.
I personally like having audience interaction, so I introduced myself at the beginning of the evening, and then had a time for Q & A after the films. You could do this, or simply play it, like regular movies.
But most importantly, sit back, relax, listen to the reactions of the audience, and enjoy seeing your films on the big screen!
Not everything may go according to plan; that’s life. But regardless of what happens, if you host your own premiere, you win. You DID it! Learn and do even better next time!
Having a premiere night at a local theatre is well within reach, even if you’re just a film school student with a small budget. Now go out there and host your own premiere for independent filmmakers!