Q. How do I apply for a job at the ICO?

All the vacancies at the ICO are advertised on our website. You may also want to consider applying to be an ICO intern. Interns work for a minimum commitment of 2 days a week for 3 months, with all lunch and travel expenses paid. Intern vacancies are also posted on the jobs page of our website. We do not accept unsolicited CVs.

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Q. How do I book a film?

The two most important factors to take into consideration are whether you want to show the film theatrically (loosely speaking in a publically advertised ticketed cinema theatre) or non-theatrically (in a non-traditional cinema environment such as a village hall or pop-up cinema event) and what format (35mm, DCP, Blu-ray or DVD) you want to show the film on.  Theatrical exhibition consists of screenings that are advertised to members of the public and where money is exchanged specifically for a ticket for the film, such as in cinemas.  These are largely screened from ‘professional’ rather than ‘domestic’ screening formats such as 35mm or 2k DCPs (Digital Cinema Packages) where the resolution of the image is far higher than that of a DVD or Blu-ray and intended for projection in large auditoriums.

Non-theatrical exhibition consists of a range of screenings including those held in film societies, community groups and other closed screenings where the films are shown to members and are not advertised generally to the public.  The majority of these are shown on DVD or Blu-ray although there are exceptions which can use 35mm or DCP generally for large outdoor screenings or screenings in large public buildings such as concert halls.

All films available in the UK will have a distributor.  For information on distributors for theatrical exhibition go to the Distributors directory. For information on distributors for non-theatrical exhibition go to the Contacts for booking on DVD page.

Most distributors will expect you to open an account with them which may require the payment of a bond which will be returned once you have satisfied them of your credit rating.  If you are starting a new venture you need to register your account with distributors at least 3-4 months in advance in order that they can process your application.

By paying a subsidised fee, you can enlist the services of the ICO to book films for you, see the information about our Programming advice and bookings service.

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Q. How do I book a film on DVD?

If you wish to screen a film on DVD or Blu-ray to a public audience (paying or not) you need permission from the film's UK distributor or international rights holder.  The two largest distributors of DVDs/Blu-rays for public screenings in the UK are Filmbankmedia for more mainstream films or the BFI for independent and world cinema.

For DVD/Blu-ray non-theatrical licenses obtained through Filmbankmedia there are two options.  The first option available from Filmbankmedia is the STSL (Single Title Screening License) which applies to the screening of a single film event which may be commercial (i.e. tickets are sold to the public) or non-commercial (where the audience is not charged for admission). This license allows for the screening to be advertised to the public. This license is commonly used for a range of activities such as film societies, open air screenings, pop-up cinema screenings, one off public screenings in spaces such as village halls etc.  The license must be secured with Filmbankmedia – and only applies to films which are listed in the Filmbankmedia catalogue.  This license does not cover screenings of films which are not in the Filmbankmedia catalogue which must still be cleared with whomever the rights holder for the specific film being screened.

The second is the PVSL (Public Video Screening License) aimed at premises where films screenings will happen on a regular basis but are not the primary purpose of the organisation, such as schools, colleges, youth centres, pubs and bars, care homes and hospitals as well as community groups.  This license is an annual license allowing holders to screen any title in the Filmbankmedia catalogue and source their own screening copy (DVD/Blu-ray) without having to clear the rights for each film on a title by title basis.  The license does not cover screenings which are ticketed on an individual title-by-title basis and does not allow public access or advertising. This license does not cover screenings of films which are not in the Filmbankmedia catalogue which must still be cleared with whomever the rights holder for the specific film being screened.  Additionally this license does not cover outdoor screenings.

All other films not included in the Filmbankmedia catalogue do need licensing.  You always need to be able to prove that you have attempted to trace and contact the rights holder for any film you show or you will be liable for prosecution should you screen it publically.  With rare exception you should never screen a film without having a license agreement with the rights holder in place prior to the screening.

If the film you are looking for is not represented by either Filmbankmedia or the BFI then you should contact the ICO by email at enquiries@independentcinemaoffice.org.uk and we will do our best to tell you where to go to obtain rights and a screening copy.  It is useful to have a back-up title which you know is available as often older titles which are available to buy or rent on DVD are frustratingly not available for public screenings due to licensing complications.

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Q. If a film is available to buy in the shops can I show it at my venue?

You must always have a contract with the film's distributor to show a film so you always need to get in touch with them first. Rights for a film are either ‘video’ or ‘theatrical’. Sometimes a film distributor will only have video rights and once released will be available to buy in shops but they are unable to take bookings for the film in cinemas. Sometimes they may have both video and theatrical rights in which case you should be able to book the film with the distributor.

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Q. How do I find out who the distributor is for a film?

Go to the BBFC website www.bbfc.co.uk and search for the title. If it has ever been distributed in the UK it will have a classification and the listing will contain information about the original distributor. Contact details for UK distributors are available from the Distributors directory. There are rare examples of films which have been distributed but are not classified. These are likely to be cultural titles or those which came into temporary distribution. In this case, they are unlikely to still be available.

If you’re looking to book older or classic titles, you could try searching the BFI Distribution database and Park Circus’ website, as both are a good source of back-catalogue films. The BFI Archive is also a fantastic resource, and even where the BFI no longer hold rights on specific titles, they may still be able to offer prints and be able to advise where rights have moved. If you’re specifically looking to book films on DVD or Blu-ray, search Filmbankmedia’s online catalogue, as they offer bookings on disc of films from the majority of the main UK theatrical distributors.

The ICO operates a free email enquiry service for film societies and non-theatrical exhibitors. If you have a query regarding the distributor of a film you can email us at enquiries@independentcinemaoffice.org.uk. If you are a cinema or a festival and have a substantial amount of titles for which you are seeking distribution information, the ICO can offer a research service for a fee. For details, please contact us.

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Q. How do I find out when a film is being released?

The easiest way is to go to the FDA (Film Distributors' Association) website www.launchingfilms.com and go to the distribution calendar for the next few months. If the film is not listed you can find out its distributor by checking on the BBFC website (the British Board of Film Classification) under ‘search’ and contacting them directly.

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Q. I am thinking about opening an independent cinema, how do I get started?

We've put together an indispensable guide to sustainable cinema development visit the How to start a cinema section. It has information on finding suitable premises, equipment, licenses, how to source films and much more. Once you've had a look through the guide if you have further questions, a member of the ICO team will be happy to help, please telephone 0207 636 7120 or email info@independentcinemaoffice.org.uk

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Q. How do I get funding for capital projects?

At present, there are only a few capital funds in the public sector which can be used towards the building of a cinema, or for the purchase of equipment, furniture or other capital assets.

Since the mid 1990s, capital funding for the arts and film has chiefly originated from three sources - the National Lottery, a variety of European Union funds, and local authorities. Many major cinema projects have been completed with funding from one or a combination of all three sources alongside other partnership monies.

A proportion of the money from each national lottery ticket is designated to good causes, including the arts. Lottery funds for the arts are distributed primarily by the Arts Council. For film projects, responsibility for distributing these funds has been delegated to the BFI, which in turn passes on some funding to Creative England and Film London. The funding is offered through specifically designated and time-limited funding programmes.

European Union funding programmes are made available in 6-year terms. The current programmes were launched in 2007 and run until 2013. The main area of the EU programme is the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). To better understand access to these funds, it's worth visiting the EU programme website to see how these are applied, and at a more advanced stage, it's essential to work with your Regional Development Agency and Local Authority, both of which will have wider strategic plans as part of these EU programmes.

Indeed most funding programmes will require that you position your capital project within a wider strategic context as well as provide a robust development and business plan around your capital project, whatever its scale. This is best demonstrated by working with a wide range of partners and funders, preferably local, regional and national organisations. If you are looking for capital funding for a cinema project, the first ports of call should be your local authority and your Regional Development Agency, both of which will be able to provide advice and information on any funding more widely available.

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Q. How do I get my feature film distributed?

If you wish to have your film distributed in the UK, your first step is to identify which distribution companies active here are distributing a similar sort of film to yours. You can do that easily through interrogating the BBFC website, the FDA UK film release schedule or via magazines such as Sight & Sound which list the UK distributor of every film they review.

Ask yourself, are you aiming for a commercial mainstream audience, or a specialist cinephile one? Is your film a genre film or a documentary? Having thought about your audience, find out which companies have recently distributed films aimed at a similar audience to the one you hope to reach. Send them an email or letter containing a brief synopsis of your film and ask them if they will consider watching it. Most will do so. Sending your film to every distributor, regardless of how appropriate they may be, is a waste of everyone's time. We get offered inappropriate titles every week and it simply comes across as amateur.

For a comprehensive list of UK distributors see our Distributors directory.

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Q. How do I get the ICO to distribute my film?

The ICO undertakes limited theatrical (i.e. cinema only) distribution of two or three films each year. We look for international work which we believe is unique and innovative both in terms of form and content, and which, without our intervention, would not be screened in UK cinemas. If you wish to see what films the ICO has distributed please visit the ICO Films page. We expect the producer to supply all screening materials (a print or video copy, screeners, images, poster etc.). The producer is responsible for clearing all content such as music and clip rights etc. We return an agreed proportion of any box-office earned to the producer. If you believe the ICO is the right distributor for your film then please email us a brief synopsis of your film and who you think your audience is.

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Q. How do I go digital?

By mid 2013 approximately 90% of the UK’s cinema screens have the capacity to project using DCI compliant Digital Cinema technology.  On the supply side, at the same date, virtually every theatrical release in the UK is being made available in Digital Cinema format, with majority of these available to cinemas only as Digital Cinema files.  So as of mid 2013, there is an urgent imperative for cinemas to equip all of their screens with Digital Cinema projection equipment in order simply to maintain a steady supply of films.

The move from 35mm to Digital Cinema projection essentially involves substituting the 35mm projector system with a Digital Cinema projector and server.  Going digital involves two related steps.  Cinemas need firstly to raise funds to purchase the new equipment.  Then cinemas need to find a supplier that will specify and supply equipment appropriate to the physical space and programme needs of the cinema.

Cinema operators have taken many different routes to finding the funds for Digital Cinema.  There were some 200 cinemas that were successful participants in the UK Film Council’s Digital Screen Network.  Other cinemas anticipated the need to make the transition to Digital Cinema some years ago and so built up their own financial reserves to cover the cost.  Others still have undertaken highly focused Digital Cinema fundraising campaigns with the specific aim of raising sufficient funds to cover the cost of the equipment. Many of these campaigns have unlocked funding sources that the cinema had previously never accessed. And finally, a large number of cinemas in the UK have entered into partnership agreements that use the Virtual Print Fee to cover a large proportion of the capital costs of Digital Cinema equipment.

How much is needed?  The cost of equipment has come down substantially since the early adoption of Digital Cinema in the UK around 2005, when the projector and server cost around £75k.  In 2013, with a wide array of projector and server models in the market, the projector and server cost range is £25-55k and will vary according to the cinema space, screen size and programme needs.

In addition, all cinemas need to make a number of other considerations about retaining or upgrading of their existing equipment (Sound system, screen) and a number of additional options offered by Digital Cinema such as 3D and the range of alternative content required.

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Q. What is the VPF?

Cinemas looking to acquire Digital Cinema projection equipment have been commonly faced with two options; they can buy the equipment outright from their own funds; or they can enter into a three-way agreement with firstly a company that will supply the equipment, and secondly a group of distributors that will contribute to the capital cost of the equipment each time the cinema books one of their films. This financial contribution from the distributors is called the VPF (Virtual Print Fee) and is an agreed amount for each 7-day film booking. The three way-agreement is a VPF contract. These contracts typically run over a 10 year period, at the end of which it is anticipated that the VPFs accumulated over the term will have paid for the equipment plus interest.

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Q. What is alternative content and how can I show it in my venue?

Alternative Content can be a confusingly vague term.  Essentially it means anything that falls outside the regular feature films, archive material, documentaries and shorts shown by a cinema on standard formats including DVD, Blu-Ray, 35mm and DCP.  Alternative Content can include music concerts, sports events, theatre and dance productions.  New York’s MET Opera is considered the originator of the concept.  Alternative Content is often presented live but may be pre-recorded.  It is usually shown as an ‘event’ i.e. a special one off screening lying outside the main day to day programme of a venue. It is generally made available in two ways - either as a pre-recorded DCP or as a live satellite feed. Generally the ticket prices are considerably greater than for a standard screening.  This often reflects the higher costs involved in both producing, marketing and screening this material.  Satellite screenings in particular are expensive to produce as, on top of the costs of putting on the performance in the host venue, a production crew has to film and mix/edit the show as it is happening and then link up to the satellite, buying space (commonly referred to as bandwith) on the satellite which is also used for many other purposes such as telecommunications.

It may be of interest to note that venues who balk at the cost of installing DCI compliant digital cinema (known often as 2k Digital - or simply ‘digital’) which is the industry standard for digital projection in regular cinemas, have increasingly discovered they can show Alternative Content satellite broadcasts by taking a feed directly from their satellite dish and putting it through a lower spec projector.  Using this method they don’t have to have the full DCI kit including server units and expensive high-end projectors.  While the image quality may be reduced by lesser projectors, if the venue is not too large the results can be satisfactory and most audiences couldn’t tell the difference in quality unless watching the same broadcast side by side on two sets of equipment.

There are an ever growing number of providers of this content, and these can loosely be thought of as akin to traditional film distributors.  Generally these are companies which specialize in event recording and broadcast and frequently hold rights across several countries.

Major players in providing Alternative Content include:

  • Arts Alliance who present among other events, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre productions and music concerts such as opera and rock concerts such as Pearl Jam and Coldplay.
  • More2Screen who present The Royal Opera House and music concerts such as The Rolling Stones, Morrissey and ballets including Cinderella and even The British Museum with its Pompeii Live event.

Increasingly major arts brands such as the Met in New York and The UK’s National Theatre (NT Live) have chosen to directly supply their own Alternative Content for cinemas around the world.

The Event Cinema Association has a listings website, www.livecinemaevents.com, which provides details of upcoming releases.

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"Broadening horizons and seeing the world differently is - or ought to be - in the remit of film. Which makes ICO culturally significant and to be applauded."

The 2010 Guardian Film Power 100

Independent Cinema Office

3rd Floor, Kenilworth House, 79-80 Margaret Street, London W1W 8TA
T: 020 7636 7120 F: 020 7636 7121 E: info@independentcinemaoffice.org.uk

Registered in England and Wales. Company 5369193.
ICO is a registered charity No. 1109053