Screening your filmAs you prepare for the theatrical release of your film, don’t forget about alternative screening options. These options can raise additional revenue if you charge screening fees or admission. If you choose to screen your film in alternative settings without charging admission, then you will raise awareness and increase interest in your film. Before you determine your strategy, you need to decide which is a bigger goal for you – revenue or maximum exposure. This article reviews some of the steps you should consider as you plan for alternative film screenings.

Where Else Can I Screen My Film?

The simple answer to this question is that you can screen your film absolutely anywhere. Often the goal of alternative screening locations is to transform the film-watching process into a communal experience. If you have a space in which you are capable of playing a movie (and with today’s technology, this limits you only insofar as your imagination limits you), then you can use it for a screening.

Some specific suggestions for alternative screenings include: museums, libraries, college auditoriums or classrooms, community centers, union halls, bookstores, churches, galleries, gymnasiums, clubs or bars, parking lots, rooftops, living rooms, public parks, summer camps, sports fields, summer camps, farms, barns, and grocery stores. This list of suggestions is clearly not complete, but it does provide a few non-traditional ideas that can spur your creativity as you seek to find a screening location.

How Do I Arrange an Alternative Screening for My Film?

The easiest way to go about this is to hire someone to book your film for you, just as you would do for a conventional release of your film. There are two different ways you can hire someone to help you, depending on your budget, the size of your alternative screening strategy, and your willingness/ability to do your own legwork.

If you want someone to take care of everything for you, then you will hire a full time booker. In this case, you should expect to pay your booker either a monthly fee, a percentage of your film’s revenue, or a combination of the two. The amount and/or percentage that you end up paying your booker will depend on the amount of time and work needed for booking your film, the expected return on the film, and even the level of interest your booker has in the film itself. Take some time to negotiate this price when you are in the hiring process.

If you are willing to do most of the legwork yourself but feel that you need guidance in this new terrain, then you can hire a booker just as a consultant. This is a far cheaper option than hiring someone to do all the bookings for you. In this case, you should expect to pay a base fee that will cover the booker’s screening of your film and a few hours of consultation. After this, you will likely be billed hourly for additional consults.

If you decide to forego consultation entirely and embark upon the do-it-yourself route, then keep the following ideas in mind as you forge your way through the booking process:

  • Decide what the end goal for your film is. – Are you more concerned with the revenue that your film brings in, or do you care more about reaching the maximum possible number of people with your film’s message? Figuring this out in advance of the booking process will help to streamline later decisions.
  • Consider the timing of your screening. – Does your film’s message match up with any special days of the year (for example, Earth Day, African American Awareness Week, Women’s History Month, etc.)? Schools and other organizations often look for programming during these particular times of the year. Plan accordingly and contact these organizations a month or two in advance.
  • Research your audience. – Your film, no matter what its subject, has a particular target audience. Who is that audience? As you look for venues to screen your film, try to find ones that embody the goals or characteristics of your film’s target audience. These will be far more likely to be interested, if not personally invested, in your film’s message.
  • Utilize your website. – Include a button on your website, prominently displayed, that will lead interested people to information about why they should screen your film. This button should be labeled simply and directly; for example, “Want to Host a Screening?” In addition to leading people to information, this button should also lead them to an online form (or one that can be downloaded and emailed). The goal here is to streamline the process and make it easy for interested parties to reach you and set up a screening. Providing such a button on your website will also increase your professional appearance, an important reputation builder in the eyes of established organizations, such as universities.
  • Utilize Online Networks – Three possible grassroots networks that may be able to help you book your film are OpenIndie (indiescreenings.net), Good Screenings (www.goodscreenings.org), and Brave New Theaters (bravenewtheaters.com). You might also want to look into attending one of the conventions put on by the National Association of College Activities (naca.org).
  • Don’t forget personal outreach. – One of the most valuable components of an alternative screening is the personal connection between yourself and your audience. While you should use emails, LISTSERVs, and social media websites, it is equally important that you take the time to talk to your audience personally. Encourage viewers of your film to contact you with any questions or concerns, and respond to their emails and phone calls as quickly as possible. Consider making appearances at your film screenings to introduce your film or to stay after for question-and-answer sessions.

Don’t Forget your Follow-up!

Booking an alternative screening of your film is a great start, but don’t forget that there are numerous ways to supplement your screening and your film’s relationship with its audience.

  • Merchandising – One relatively simple strategy is to sell DVDs of your film or other merchandise at the screening. Don’t forget to explain that a DVD purchase does not automatically grant screening rights. Some of your screening attendees may not be aware of this.
  • Collect emails – Do this at every screening without fail. This gives you an automatic list of people who already have interest in your film’s message. You can use this list to offer information about future screenings, or to thank your audience members for attending your film while providing them with your website address.
  • Look for more screening opportunities – Ask your screening’s presenter whether he or she knows anyone else that would be interested in a screening of your film.
  • Turn your audience into advertisers – Ask your audience members to support your film by talking about it with their friends or on their social media websites. Let them carry the energy of the screening with them.
  • Remind your audience about the film’s website – Your website, in addition to containing all pertinent screening information (i.e., film endorsements, pricing tiers, and the aforementioned online form), should include your personal email and phone number in case any audience members have follow-up questions.