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Film rights, licensing & info
I want to screen a film. What licences do I need?
If you’re a non-theatrical exhibitor (e.g. not a cinema) you’ll need to consider two types of licensing: film copyright licensing and, if you’re charging for tickets, premises licensing as well. Click here for more details.
For details of the licences required by theatrical exhibitors, see this page in our How to start a cinema guide (scroll down to ‘Licences’).
What's the difference between theatrical and non-theatrical exhibition?
Generally, theatrical exhibition refers to film screenings which are:
- Held in a cinema theatre
- Advertised to the public
- Shown from a professional, high-resolution format, e.g. DCP (Digital Cinema Package) or 35mm print
Non-theatrical exhibition refers to film screenings which:
- Are held in non-traditional cinema environments (e.g. village hall, school, business, care home, community centre, church, pop-up)
- May not be ticketed or publicly advertised
- May not be open to the general public
- Are likely to be shown from a non-professional cinema format such as Blu-ray or DVD
For further information on non-theatrical exhibition, see Screening films in community cinemas guide.
How do I book a film?
To screen any film to members of the public (whether theatrically or non-theatrically, see previous FAQ) you need to seek the permission of its UK copyright holder. In effect, this usually means booking your screening with the film’s distributor.
For contact details for UK distributors, click here. Non-theatrical exhibitors screening from Blu-ray or DVD can find more in-depth information in our What licences do I need? section on licensing options available via Filmbankmedia and similar providers.
If you’re starting a new cinema, bear in mind that most theatrical distributors will require you to open an account with them, and may require a deposit. You’ll need to register with distributors at least 3-4 months in advance of opening so they can process your application in time.
Want the ICO to book films for your cinema? By paying a subsidised fee, you can enlist our Cinema Programming service.
I have a copy of a film on DVD, can I show it in my venue?
Potentially! But buying a DVD only means you have home entertainment rights, not the right to screen it in public. You may be able to screen from your own copy of the disc, but must always have a contract with the film’s distributor to screen the title publicly, so will need to contact them to book it in first.
How do I find out the distributor for a particular film?
If it’s an upcoming film or a recent release, it’s likely to be listed on the Film Distributor’s Association (FDA) website’s UK Film Release Schedule alongside the name of its theatrical distributor.
If it’s an older film, it may not be listed there but if it has ever been distributed in the UK, will likely have received a classification from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). If so it should be listed on the BBFC’s website with details of its original distributor.
If you’re looking to book older titles (classics or repertory), it’s always worth directly checking BFI Distribution’s online database and Park Circus’s searchable website, as both distributors are good sources of back catalogue films. The BFI National Archive is also a fantastic resource, and even in cases where the BFI no longer holds rights on specific titles, they may still be able to offer prints and/or advise where rights have moved.
If you’re specifically looking for films on DVD or Blu-ray, check Filmbankmedia’s website, as they offer disc bookings on behalf of the majority of UK theatrical distributors.
For contact details for UK distributors, click here.
Occasionally, films have been distributed in the UK but not classified. These are likely to be cultural titles or those which came into temporary distribution, and may not still be available.
The ICO offers a free email enquiry service for film societies and non-theatrical exhibitors. If you’re seeking rights for a particular film, email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re 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. If you’re interested in this service please email email@example.com.
How do I find out when a film is being released?
The easiest way is to go to the Film Distributor’s Association (FDA) website’s UK Film Release Schedule which lists films slated for release in the coming months (and those released in months prior). The schedule is frequently updated and it’s not uncommon for release dates to change. Release dates are also listed in individual film records on the BBFC’s website.
Can I screen films in the public domain without licensing?
The short answer is yes, but it can be difficult to isolate which films are truly out of copyright and in the public domain. Unfortunately there isn’t a central database of these details as the list of films and rightsholders is constantly in flux, with rights on individual titles or entire catalogues expiring or passing hands from one company to another.
It isn’t the case that any film past the date of copyright expiration (currently, over 50 years of age) is freely available to screen – a vast number of old films are still in active distribution via repertory distributors such as the BFI, Park Circus and others.
So it’s a case of investigating rights per film, but if you exhaust all avenues on a particular title over 50 years of age and can’t find an active rightsholder, could consider screening without licensing – the risk being that a rightsholder does exist and seeing your screening advertised, contacts you to apply a fee.
You can find a background to UK copyright duration here.
I want to open an independent cinema. How do I get started?
Read our How to start a cinema section; an indispensable, in-depth guide with information on finding suitable premises, equipment, licenses, how to source films and much more.
If you have further questions after reading the guide, a member of the ICO team will be happy to help. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with details of your venue and your specific questions in the first instance.
I need more detailed, bespoke advice...
You may also be interested in our Training courses, as part of which we occasionally offer hour-long One-to-one sessions with ICO or external experts, during which you can gain advice on a specific topic relating to your venue.
Finally, make sure you check out our Advice & Support section – which covers topics from audience development to cinema marketing to accessibility, and more – and our blog, where we frequently post pieces on best practice in all aspects of cinema.
What is event cinema and how can I screen it in my venue?
Over the last few years, event cinema screenings have grown exponentially in cinemas. Event cinema (sometimes referred to as ‘alternative content’) can be a confusing term but usually refers to music concerts, theatre or dance productions, high profile sports matches, ‘in conversations’, films with a live accompanying Q&A or performance event, even art exhibitions – basically anything with the status of a special ‘event’.
Content may be screened live (via satellite feed) or pre-recorded (via DCP) and tends to sit outside a cinema’s main day-to-day film programme. Generally, ticket prices are considerably higher than for film screenings – reflecting the greater costs involved in producing, marketing and screening this material.
You can book event cinema releases with an ever growing number of content providers. Some, like NT Live are also content producers; others offer a curated catalogue from a variety of sources.
Here are some of the main UK providers currently:
- Arts Alliance (now bookable via Park Circus) – content includes Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre productions, music concerts, art exhibitions
- Met Opera – Metropolitan Opera productions from New York
- More2Screen – pop/classical music concerts including Royal Opera House productions; V&A and British Museum art exhibitions; theatre and ballet
- NT Live – National Theatre productions from London
- Trafalgar Releasing – music concerts including some Met Opera productions, Bolshoi Ballet, ‘in conversation’ events
How do I get my feature film into distribution?
Read our guide.
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 crucially, which without our intervention would not be screened in UK cinemas. Visit the ICO Films section to see titles we have distributed. We expect the producer to supply all screening materials (including a DCP, screeners, hi-resolution stills, posters etc.) and to clear all content rights, including music. 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, please email a brief synopsis of your film and who you think your audience is to email@example.com.
How do I get my short film seen on screen?
The best way to get short films on screen is to submit them for consideration for short film festivals. There are hundreds of shorts festivals held in the UK and internationally each year. You may find the British Council’s Festivals Directory or Festival Focus’s database useful in isolating festivals to target and it’s well worth searching for more specific lists online – for example, here’s a BFI list of film festivals which specialise in or run strands of shorts made by young filmmakers.
Getting short films into cinemas is harder, but if there’s a reason why you think your short would work for a particular cinema (e.g. if it has a local relevance), it’s worth contacting their programming team to pitch it and offering your ideas for a context in which to screen it. Our UK independent cinemas map may be helpful. There are also short film distributors, including Shorts International and Future Shorts, who accept submissions of short films for consideration for their programmes.
Jobs and careers
How do I apply to work at the ICO?
I want to work in film exhibition. Where do I start?
Read our Working in film exhibition guide, which covers the types of roles available in independent and commercial film exhibition, as well as in film distribution.
Visit our Jobs section, where we post jobs from across the sector; from programming to film education, from cinema marketing to box office staff.
Think about volunteering at a local cinema or film festival to gain experience and make contacts – isolate nearby independent exhibitors via our Cinemas in the UK & Ireland map.
Last but not least, in the last few years we have initiated and run the groundbreaking Film Exhibition & Distribution (FEDS) training scheme which seeks specifically to redress imbalances in demographic representation in the film industry. If you’re a new entrant to the industry and a UK resident, you may be eligible. Read more.
I want to develop my film industry career. How can you help?
All of the ICO’s training courses are designed to enhance your professional development as well as equip you to better support your venue. Our flagship training course, Cultural Cinema Exhibition – a practical, comprehensive one-stop shop for film professionals offering insight into a range of areas including programming, curation, artists’ moving image, film education, marketing and audience development – has become a recognised industry standard, with alumni from the course going on to acquire jobs in some of the key film exhibition and distribution companies in the UK and internationally.
In the past few years we have run schemes specifically around personal career development, including Women’s Leadership and Elevate – the first, designed to help women realise their potential for leadership within the sector and the second, to give people in middle management positions the skills and confidence needed to attain senior management roles.
We run courses around the UK and internationally and wherever possible, secure funding to keep fees low and subsidise travel and accommodation.
Our training course offer is always changing. To stay informed, sign up to our training mailing list or review upcoming courses here.