10 Dos and Don’ts For Running Your First Film Screening

film event planning

Ahead of your first cinema event or screening, you are likely to be feeling very excited, but perhaps a little overwhelmed too. Cinema curation is very often a matter of trial and error and about learning from the mistakes and triumphs that occur along the way.

With that in mind, here is a ten-step guide of dos and don’ts to help you through your first community film screening:

Do: Use Twitter Effectively
If used correctly, Twitter is a wonderful tool to engage new and existing audiences. Shouting about your event on Twitter is one of the several effective ways of marketing your event on social media but you must be careful to not just tweet at your followers. If you treat Twitter with self-focused tunnel vision you won’t get the interest you’re looking for. Engage with other organisations and events and dialogues as well as publicising your own screening. Share and promote others and encourage them to do the same. You’ll quickly see the benefit of having a sincere Twitter presence instead of simply making self-indulgent noise.

Don’t: Over Tweet!
Even if you are effectively using Twitter to connect, converse and promote, you may still be falling into the trap of over-Tweeting. When it comes to any form of social media, less is – almost always – more. Your followers may be quick to click ‘unfollow’ if they feel bombarded by information. Try limiting your output to 2 – 3 tweets a day, one about your events, one promoting another and one directly engaging your audience. By reigning in and tailoring your Twitter content, you’ll be more likely to retain the followers you have already gathered.

Do: Prioritise Access
When it comes to ensuring that your venue is accessible to all, you need to do much more than installing disabled toilets and wheelchair ramps. Disability can range from physical impairment through to a range of mental health conditions and invisible disabilities. Think about the entire layout of your venue – are there seats that you could reserve for any customers who are partially sighted? Is there an option to screen your film with subtitles for the hard of hearing? Is your venue dementia friendly? Is it autism-friendly? There are lots of charities and organisations who can provide training in all these sorts of areas which will not only make you a more accessible venue but will send a wonderful message to local audiences.

Don’t: Underestimate Comfort and Convenience
As well as ensuring that you are programming, marketing and producing appropriately, it’s important to remember the smaller and less glamorous details that can make or break your event. No matter how wonderful the film is, it’s hard to enjoy anything if your seat is uncomfortable or the room is too cold or if you’re constantly distracted by the glow of the fire exit. These tiny details can have a huge impact on your audience and whether they will return. Ensure all the above are considered so that the environment is as enjoyable as the film being screened.

Do: Know Your Audience
There’s no point in creating a cinema event if you don’t tailor it to your audience. Before you even begin to work on the details of the event, ensure you have a strong understanding of your potential audience and what their demand is for. Will they enjoy a particular genre of film? Will they expect a particular type of food or drink to be available? Are they likely to want printed brochures? You need to ensure that what you are offering is communicated clearly, targeted well and that you manage audience expectations.

Don’t: Rely on the Film
Even though you may have confidence in the films you are screening, this doesn’t mean you should underestimate other elements of your event. Community cinema always needs to contain a human element, making it bespoke for your audience. Give your event personality and ensure that your audiences remember why they chose to spend a winter’s evening with you rather than at their local multiplex. Get to know your audience, offer one-off specials such as film-themed food and drink so that they’ll have a reason to return again and again. Go beyond just the basics.

Do: Your Research
The legality processes in place around film exhibition can be an absolute minefield. Sometimes you can get lost in a labyrinth of trying to source who holds a film’s screening rights – it could be anyone from a director, a production company, a corporation or an estate. To make things simpler, why not look at film exhibition agencies who can offer you films to hire from their catalogue. Alternatively, if you can be flexible with your programming, you could look at umbrella licensing which will allow you to save money on multiple screenings.

Don’t: Rely on Volunteers
Almost all community cinemas and screenings rely on the time, dedication and professionalism of volunteers. This resource – if you are lucky enough to have it – must not be undervalued. Your volunteers will feel valued if they are fully briefed, which will make life easier for everyone involved. Listen to your volunteers, place them in roles that will give them the experience they desire – whether it be in customer service, projection or events management. Why not hold an annual in-house awards ceremony or team Christmas meal to keep your film family engaged and feeling constantly appreciated?

Do: Gather Feedback
Nobody likes to be badgered for information from someone gripping a clipboard, but feedback is vital for your progression, programming and development. It may be worth applying some creative thinking when it comes to gathering feedback from your audience. You could encourage attendees to put programming suggestions into a suggestion box and programme from this collection of ideas once a month. Meanwhile, you could use online survey tools to send quick and simplistic email feedback surveys to your audience members, post-screening. Why not ask for their immediate reflections on the films via post-it note, something that will soon become a lovely visual diary of previous events.

Don’t: Make Things Complicated
There are many elements that need to be considered when organising your first film screening. More than anything, remember to keep things as simple as possible – from your marketing campaigns and your ticketing systems through to the navigating of your venue and the screening itself. Making things as simple as possible for your audience will lead to smooth processes which will, in turn, impact the running of the event.

Ultimately, it is important to ensure you are keeping your audience front of mind throughout the pre, during and post stages of the film event. These dos and don’ts provide a framework to do this. Good luck!

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hannahmchaffie@hotmail.com'

Hannah McHaffie

Since graduating with a MA in Film Studies from The University of Edinburgh in 2014, Hannah has forged a career for herself within the film journalism and film exhibition sectors. She currently works full time as part of the year round team behind Sheffield Doc/Fest – the world’s third largest documentary film festival. Hannah has been a freelance film journalist since 2012. As well as writing for EventBrite UK, Hannah has previously been published by The Double Negative. She runs her own film site, posting weekly film reviews and blogs at hannahmchaffie.com. You can get in touch at hannahmchaffie@hotmail.com with any queries about commissions or freelance work…or just for a chat about her favourite Robert De Niro movies.