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How to make your cinema screening a real event

Turn your next community cinema screening into a really memorable occasion with some added elements.

  • A red carpet film premiere

As all community cinema organisers know, running a community cinema is about much more than booking a venue and pressing ‘play’ – it’s about creating a unique film experience.

To make your screenings extra-special and really cause a stir, include some extra elements to turn your screening into a larger event. It’s a great way to attract local – and even national – press coverage while attracting new audiences and generating a huge buzz in your area. 

Take a look at some community cinema event ideas.

INVITE CELEBRITY AND SPECIAL GUESTS

A celebrity appearance adds extra sparkle to any occasion and can really help draw a crowd.  Think about inviting local public figures too, such as the mayor, sportspeople, TV presenters or even your local MP. Promote a celebrity appearance well in advance, and don’t forget to invite your local press to come along and cover the event.

Members of a film’s cast or crew are excellent special guests, and they may be happy to read aloud from the script before the screening or to take questions from the audience afterwards.  Once you ask around, you’ll be surprised at the connections to film you might have in your neighbourhood. Maybe the Costume Designer from Sense and Sensibility visits the local post office or the pub landlord’s son provided the location catering for Harry Potter! What fantastic ‘behind the scenes’ stories they’ll have for your audience. 

Showing a local film can be very effective in attracting famous faces from your region. In December 2014, Llancarfan Community Cinema screened the joint premiere of Welsh-language film Dan Y Wenallt, an adaptation of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. 

 “The undoubted highlight of our screening was an introduction and Q&A session by two members of the film’s cast, Sharon Morgan and Carwyn Glyn. We couldn’t have asked for more gracious, funny and insightful guests,” says cinema coordinator Jim Barratt.

Can’t get a celebrity or special guest? You can always roll out the red carpet for your own community. Invite everyone to dress in their most glamorous outfits and celebrate your local superstars in an Oscars-style Local Heroes ceremony after your screening.

Ways to arrange celebrity and special guests:

  • Aim to contact potential guests before you decide on a screening date, giving them more chance of being able to attend.
  • Use local or personal contacts – is anyone in your community related to a director or an actor in a film you’d like to show?
  • Do some research online to see if your film’s cast or crew have any connections locally or live nearby – it’s as simple as Googling an actor’s name and your county or town. If they do, contact them through their Twitter profile to ask if they’d be willing to support your screening by appearing in person.
  • Look up the celebrity’s agent – again, a simple Google search should bring up their details. Send a polite email explaining what your cinema is, which film you’re planning to screen and how much your audience would benefit from having a very special guest attend.

WORK WITH LOCAL GOOD CAUSES

One of the most rewarding things about community cinema is collaborating with other local organisations to support each other. Running a screening event that ties in with activity happening in your community is great for cross-promotion and attracting a wider audience.

Look out for a local cause, new opening or special event taking place near you, then ask its organiser if you can collaborate on a film screening that promotes you both. 

Suggest a film that has a strong connection to the local activity – for example, if a new adventure playground is opening, you could host a family screening of The Jungle Book. 

Organise special extras for your screening - like a themed competition to win camping or adventure gear from a local outdoors shop, or an ape-impressions contest before the screening - to really get your audience into the spirit.

HOST A LIVE PERFORMANCE

A live performance adds a truly unique edge to any cinema screening and live music is a great match for cinema. Consider asking a pianist to play the film’s score while your audience has a pre-screening drink, or arrange for a local band to perform songs relating to the film’s theme afterwards – such as covers of Johnny Cash songs after a screening of Walk the Line.

Theatrical performances will also transform the atmosphere of your screening to feel like a bigger event. A short show by members of a local amateur dramatics society, a dance performance or even a comedian or impressionist performing a routine are all great ways to create an unforgettable event.

CHOOSE AN UNUSUAL VENUE

  • An Audience watching a film in Cine North's cinema yurt at the Magic Loungeabout Festival

If your cinema usually takes place in the same venue, why not mix things up and host a screening event in a special location? 

Rooftop Film Club launched in 2011 and screens films from rooftop locations in London.  

Its founder Gerry Cottle says: “The locations we use mean that our screenings are a whole event. Our audiences come to an incredible space, meet their friends, admire the views – and then get to watch an amazing film!”

Your venue choice can reflect the film you’re showing – for example, a horror film screening in an underground cellar space or a period film in a local museum. 

Other spaces to consider might be:
•    Parks and lidos
•    Art galleries
•    Stately homes
•    Local interest sites such as a vintage railway station or historic dockyard 
•    Local business premises, like a large independent coffee shop

Choosing somewhere with a reliable power supply makes life easier, but you could also look into hiring a generator if you wanted to host a summer screening in the woods, for example.
 
Make sure your marketing is really clear about the special screening’s address; sending out an email in advance is a good way to make sure your audience has it to hand on their smartphones. 

You could also work with touring cinemas in your area, who’ll be able to help you find a new space and make sure everything flows well at the screening.

Then think about ways to make your special screening really come to life.

“A red carpet, a glass of prosecco and a programme of the screening event all help to provide that added value that ‘eventizes’ the evening – and makes it so different from a standard evening at the cinema,” says Melissa Cogavin of Event Cinema Association.

Finally, don’t forget to ensure you have all the correct licences in place for your venue and your film.

BE SEASONAL

Take advantage of holiday periods and bank holidays by running special themed screening events. 

Street parties are an increasingly popular way for communities to get together on summer days. Consider joining in with The Big Lunch or organising a street party on the road outside your cinema venue, complete with barbecue and entertainment, followed by a film screening once the sun’s gone down. Choosing a film with a community theme – such as Pride – will tie everything together.

Find out more on the government website about closing streets to host a party.

In the colder months, there are plenty of ways to warm up with a screening event. Christmas 2014 saw many community cinemas host special sing-along screenings of Disney blockbuster Frozen, drawing huge family audiences. 

It’s been reported that some of the mums and dads sang even more enthusiastically than the children… so don’t underestimate the appeal of a sing-along screening! You can help everyone with the words by switching on subtitles or handing out lyric sheets as the audience arrives. Lyrics website STLyrics.com shows lyrics from many popular films.

SCREEN SPECIAL FILMS

Lots of community cinemas show short films before their main feature, which adds interest to your screening and gets your audience members talking afterwards. If they respond well, you could consider running a larger film festival, showcasing more unusual titles.

“We all love a great short film, and in fact some recent research showed that the number one thing people aged around 40 or above miss from the cinema experiences of their youth is a short before the main feature,” says Christopher Tidman of short film distributor Shorts International. “So, why not screen a great short film that complements your feature, or even curate a special short film event?”

Think about finding films from your local filmmaking community too. With a little research, you might discover the next Martin Scorsese honing their skills just a few streets away. Contact colleges, universities and film clubs to ask whether any filmmakers have work they’d be happy for your cinema to show. Also get in touch with the local course provider for BFI Film Academy and let them know you’d be happy to screen local films.

You could even run a competition for local shorts or young filmmakers, and premiere the winner at your cinema – a great way of attracting press attention, too.

INCLUDE AN ELEMENT OF FUN

  • Voting jars at Blue Door Cinema

Whatever kind of films you screen, think about how to offer your audience something fun. This might be anything from a creative welcome drink to an interactive quiz about key scenes in the film or a themed treasure hunt with clues hidden around your village or town. 

With a bit of imagination, you may need to spend little or nothing – host a fancy dress competition and give away family tickets to your next screening, for example.

“When we screened Dirty Dancing, everyone who brought along a watermelon got free popcorn. It was also a great way to promote our event on social media,” says Gerry Cottle of Rooftop Film Club. 

For less gregarious audiences, consider tying in some more grown up fun, such as a movie-themed meal before or after the screening in partnership with a local restaurant to give everyone a chance to socialise. 

You can make it fun for your audiences to give feedback on the film too, such as by asking them to score the film after the screening by putting a token in a numbered jar. These little interactive elements will really make your community feel a part of the cinema.

  • TOP 10 TIPS FOR RUNNING AN EVENT SCREENING

    Feeling inspired? Follow these tips for making your event a success.

    1.  Keep it simple – it’s better to start with a smaller event where everything’s just right, then build up to bigger events.

    2.  Take ideas to your audience first – find out what they’d like to take part in.

    3.  Check your licences are in place especially if you’re going to screen at an unusual venue or sell alcohol.

    4.  Promote your event – and ask your venue to promote it to their audiences too, such as on their Facebook page.

    5.  Collaborate – work with other local organisations to double your potential audience and support each other.

    6.  "Pay attention to the details – make your event different and memorable,” says Gerry Cottle, of Rooftop Film Club.

    7.  Set the tone – kick off your screening event with a short introduction and encourage everyone to enjoy themselves.

    8.  “Make your audience feel like VIPs for a night,” says Melissa Cogavin of Event Cinema Association. “It’s also a great way to drive audience loyalty and word-of- mouth recommendation."

    9.  Take photos – don’t forget to take lots of photos to use on your website and social media afterwards.

    10.  Make sure you have fun too! Share the responsibilities with your team and take time to enjoy the special cinema event you’ve arranged.