How to start a cinema

Thinking about starting a cinema?

Want to bring films to your local community?

How to start a cinema is a guide for anyone who is interested in starting a cinema or showing films in their village, town or city in the UK. You may not know what you need to know but this guide aims to cover it all. It goes through all of the aspects you need to consider from suitable buildings to technical considerations, to costs, programming, marketing, staffing and finding an audience. It also includes a number of case studies from very large venues to very small where you can hear personal experiences, tips and insights from people who have actually done it. It may sound complicated but this aims to be a comprehensive guide to everything you need to consider with a series of easy-to-use chapter headings and summaries for each section.

Chapter 1 - Strategic choices

This chapter looks at some of the fundamental choices you will have to make about your cinema before you start to raise funds or think about the programme.

Chapter 2 - Planning

The hard work begins. The proper planning of a cinema can take months, even years, and like any other business, involves a range of tried and tested planning tools explained here.

Chapter 3 - Understanding audiences

The key to making a cinema successful is having a strong feel for the range of audiences that it might attract: who are they, what do they want to see and how do you communicate with them?

VIDEO: watch our interviews on how to develop audiences and start an education programme.

Chapter 4 - Organisation and constitution

There are different organisational structures that a cinema can adopt according to its purpose. This chapter provides a run through of the most common models.

VIDEO: watch our interview on how the Saffron Screen cinema constituted their organisation.

Chapter 5 - Premises issues

Local cinemas come in all shapes and sizes, in converted old buildings, new purpose built designs or re-claimed former cinemas. This chapter explores the plethora of ownership, licensing and regulatory issues which relate to managing a venue.

Use our interactive questionnaire to find our which type of film licence is most appropriate for your activity.

Chapter 6 - Building design

For audiences, the style and design of a cinema can be as important as the programme in making a cinema visit an unforgettable experience. Cinema has very specific design requirements and getting these right is an essential part of developing a facility that audiences will enjoy.

Chapter 7 - Technical and equipment issues

There have been huge technological developments in the exhibition and projection of films in the UK over the last few years.  Most films are now projected digitally with the vast majority of film companies releasing only on digital format.  35mm film is an increasingly rare format although it has gained popularity in certain circles with younger audiences who view it with the same novelty value attributed to vinyl records.  This chapter sets out the expanded range of technical choices open to new cinema organisers, and how these relate to the programme.

Chapter 8 - Capitalisation

Planning a new cinema, whether a conversion or a new build, will usually involve capital funding, although there has been a rise in the number of self build community cinemas and temporary pop up cinemas recently.  What are the key elements of your capital funds, how do you set about raising the money and what is crowd funding?

VIDEO: watch our interviews on capital costing and raising money.

Chapter 9 – Economics of operation

Cinemas have operated along largely the same business lines for many decades, but these are starting to change as the industry adopts new ways of presenting films. This chapter looks at the key income streams and costs that need to be managed effectively to make the cinema viable.

VIDEO: watch our interview about the biggest challenges facing cinemas.

Chapter 10 – Operational matters

From understanding film classification, to running a successful marketing campaign, there are a host of basic operational matters that local cinemas have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

VIDEO: watch our interviews about staffing structures, film programming and marketing methods.

Case study

A case study of the cinema Saffron Screen in Saffron Walden.

VIDEO: watch our interviews about how long the operation took to complete and about working with volunteers.

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“Why cultural film is no longer a secret, independent cinema is thriving against the odds, says the ICO's Catharine Des Forges, and closer to home than Hollywood”

Read the full article on the Culture Professionals Blog, The Guardian

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