Thursday, May 31, 2012

Film Selection

After my last post,  Adam asked if I might explain the film selection process in more depth, so here goes...  This is my process, and is probably different to the way other film programmers go about it, so don't take this as being the only way.

The films that play in cinemas are supplied by film distributors.  These are the people who hold the rights to the titles and decide where each film will play and on what terms.  Many of the major distributors are affiliated with a studio (Fox, Paramount, Sony) and will handle the films produced by that studio.  I do deal with the majors, but because mine is a niche cinema, I tend to deal more often and more successfully with smaller distributors.

The distributor makes an offer of a title and outlines the terms.  Terms include what percentage of the box office takings the cinema pays to the distributor in exchange for the right to screen the film.  For a big blockbuster title, this can be 55% or more in the first week.  The percentage goes down the more weeks you play a film.  A big part of my job involves negotiating the terms.

The terms will also include the number of sessions per day the film is expected to be given, and the length of the run.  It's always a challenge when you're sent terms that include a 4 week run of 2+2 (2 daytime sessions, 2 evening) because basically you're committing to dedicating one screen entirely to one film for 4 weeks.  This is particularly hard if the film does not perform well in its opening weeks because you really don't want a film that's making no money taking up screen space when there are other titles getting minimal sessions that could be making more.

As to how I actually choose the films, well, I watch them.  Not every single film I program of course - I wouldn't have time to eat - but the majority of them.  Some I watch in the cinema on film, others I watch on my computer on DVD.  I watch them to see if they are enjoyable.  I watch them to see if there is some specific market or interest group that could be targeted.  I watch to see if there will be an audience for it.

I have very diverse taste, personally, but I know I am more drawn to dark, complex human stories, so I have to temper my own reaction to films that are outside my own taste.  Generally, I know if I loathe a film, it will do well; if I love it, it probably has an audience of 3.  But I recognize that, and will program the films I hate, and might turn down a film I love (although I really hate doing that).

Often I see films that would work in my cinema, but I can't get the distributor to give it to me.  There is a lot of competition, and for smaller titles, playing 7 cinemas in the local area just means no one makes any money.  

I hope that answers your question, Adam.  Is there anything else you'd like to know?  Anything anyone wants to know?


  1. If flattered that you dedicated a whole post to answer my question. I had no concept of how this process worked. Very interesting! You must watch a ton of movies!

    1. Not as many as I should.... I tend to run out of time for it. But usually 2 or 3 a week.

  2. Wow! I had no idea you had to do all that. It sounds like you have to be a math whiz to figure out percentages and stuff. My brain hurts just thinking about it...