How to launch a pop-up cinema

How to launch a pop-up cinema

By Rachel Segal Hamilton IdeasTap 22/08/13

Scalarama is a UK-wide film festival that celebrates cinema in all its forms by encouraging people to do their own screenings and events. Ahead of a workshop on starting your own cinema, Scalarama Producer Michael Pierce shares advice on everything from venues to licensing, programming to building an audience...

The easiest route is to use an established venue like a cinema or a bar, which already has a license and equipment to hold screenings. Otherwise, go to your local council website for a Temporary Events Notice. Each council’s different, but usually the form needs to be received by them 10 working days before the event. If you’ve been to a screening at the venue before, contact the company that organised the screening and ask them how they did it.

A screening in your home or garden counts as home entertainment but if you’re charging for it or advertising to the public, you need to get a license from the rights holder of the film. With films that have recently been released in cinemas it’s usually possible to track down the rights. But if it’s an old film, one that hasn’t been released in the UK, something from TV or an artists’ film it can be more complicated. 

Go to the BBFC website. They have a database you can search for the distributor to contact. If it’s a screening from DVD, try Film Bank. You have to set up an account with a £150 deposit, but then you can start booking stuff. Sometimes with shorts or obscure films, you can find out who the filmmaker is and get in touch with them directly.

Think as if you were the customer. What would excite you? Remember you’re competing with everything that’s going on in your area so try to make it special in some way. That could be by doing a double bill or showing shorts beforehand. You could do it as an interactive event and try to get people to dress up. You could do an introduction to the film. Try to think of it as an event, rather than just the film itself. 

Make sure you’re not out of pocket. It usually costs around £90 to license a film, but costs vary. If it’s a really simple event it’s a standard price, or a percentage split of the box office, but if you want to show a film in a tent at a music festival they might base the cost on the maximum capacity of the tent – even if there’s only going to be a few people there.

If you’re not looking to make a profit, then keep your ticket price low and look for things you can do on the side. Depending on the license you might be able to sell drinks and other refreshments. People sometimes sell limited edition posters, t-shirts and other merchandise.

When you’re starting out it can be daunting to approach a cinema or venue with an idea. Build up as much hype as you can beforehand and present yourself as bringing a new audience to the venue.  Cinemas are really worried that young people aren’t coming to see films there anymore. Prove you’ve got a following. Do something on Home Cinema Day [A Scalarama initiative on 29 September where people invite friends and neighbours to watch a film in their home] and start building up an audience from there.


Useful resources 

The British Federation of Film Societies and the Independent Cinema Office both offer guides to starting a cinema.

Once you have selected your films, here are a few useful links for tracking down the screening rights:

The British Board of Film Classification is good for recent releases. For DVD or non-theatrical bookings, try this list on the Independent Cinema Office website. The British Federation of Film Societies operates a booking scheme. Also try: Filmbank, the Motion Picture Licensing Company, Hollywood Classics, Park Circus, the British Film Institute, Dogwoof's Pop Up Cinema and Palisades Tartan.

For inspiration, check out the declaration  participating programmers and exhibitors came up with for last year’s Scala Beyond festival and this Guardian article about film clubs.


Scalarama will run from 31 August - 29 September 2013, with an open submission policy for events, so there is still time to be involved! Drop them a line at  Scalarama’s workshop on how to start a cinema is at the Horse Hospital in London on 9 September. Book your place here

For more articles, jobs and opportunities, visit our Film hub.

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