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TOPIC: Screening Room viability

Screening Room viability 05 Aug 2012 15:07 #38974

  • bgbalmes
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I've been perusing the forums here for days. I have read every thread I can find on sub-run theaters, boutique theaters, etc, and still have some questions.

My husband and I are exploring opening a for-profit arts center in our small central/western Maryland town (6000 and growing with a large development just outside the city limits). The building we're looking at is an old church (built 1907, 15,000 sq. ft total) located in the heart of the downtown area, within shouting distance of the commuter rail station that connects our growing area to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. The town is VERY focused on bolstering the downtown business district and bringing arts and entertainment to the residents, so we look to get some major support from the Main Street org and city hall. Currently the only regular A&E venue is a large coffeehouse/cafe that packs in a standing-room-only crowd 3 nights a week for folk/traditional music. The nearest movie theaters are a Carmike multiplex and an old (dirty and dilapidated) sub-run in the small city about 15 miles away. The nearest Arts Center is in the same small city, but is a large main-stage non-profit with a well-established mostly-local customer base and we feel there is room to grow in that market regionally.

Our idea is that the town could support a second-stage "Center for the Arts" and small "screening room"-style movie theater in this location. Ideally, we'd be able to show "films" (digitally of course) and popular movies to boost profits and get people in the door. We are not interested in running this business as just a full-time theater, though if we could make it work would be fine with doing 7-day-a-week showings in our smaller venue.

There is a basement space currently being used as a church fellowship hall that we feel could be ideal for a small screening room set-up, with comfortable couches and easy chairs and interspersed side tables. We estimate approx $5 per ticket in the evenings and $3 during the day, plus concessions of course (traditional popcorn/soda/water/candy plus some healthy snack options). I don't expect to be able to get first-runs, and anyway we won't be able to afford the massive digital projection system it appears we'd have to have to get first-run permissions. I doubt our area would support an arthouse or fully independent film selection, at least not exclusively, but we would like to incorporate classics and select independents into our annual lineup.

The questions: What sort of AV system do we need to purchase for this size space (not sure of the dimensions yet, but it would likely not fit more than 80 people packed in) in order to get permissions from distributors as a for-profit? Would it even be possible to legally arrange a permissions structure from Swank or Criterion as a for-profit? We're new to the movie business (though not theater or music) and so are fine with getting a booker, but would we even be able to get a booker for such a small-scale operation (and would it be financially worthwhile for us to do so)?
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Screening Room viability 08 Aug 2012 23:06 #38980

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First off, you are severely limiting yourself by considering an attempt at cinema without a plan for mainstream digital cinema projection equipment.

That said; we're in a real state of transition right now. With the criteriae you present, I think you should take this project to two people... a booker and a cinema equipment supplier.

The booker will be able to tell you what your realistic options are for movie titles, given the limitations you're placing on your idea. You will be able to book some content, but I think you'll be surprised at how limited you'll be.

The cinema supply company will be able to properly size a projector for your proposed space, then offer a quote for whatever other pieces of equipment and installation you might need. Unfortunately, the days of being able to enter the mainstream theatrical exhibition field as a hobby, sideline or afterthought are pretty much over. Many, many people did so in the past by buying equipment that was very expensive when new, but after 20 or 30 years of service, was much less expensive though still reliable. With digital taking the field over, you can now buy $15,000 worth of 35mm projector from Ebay for about $900, and you're probably spending too much at that.

Everything you'll get from here will be conjecture, albeit well-meant. We all have an opinion on most everything, but in the end, you'll be talking to the above-meantioned people anyway. Might as well start with them.
Last Edit: 08 Aug 2012 23:16 by rodeojack.
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Screening Room viability 09 Aug 2012 00:10 #38982

  • Mike
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....sounds like a dvd house so all you need is a good video (not a Digital) projector, simple sound system, and a DVD/Blue Ray player. You do not probably need a booker. Single screen. Normally I'd say "make sure to get a booker" but this is barely a movie theatre. Call Swank , Criterion, and Music Box and ask them how to proceed. I think it should be fairly simple.
Michael Hurley
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Screening Room viability 09 Aug 2012 00:53 #38983

  • Bob Nash
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Swank or Criterion should be booking non theatrical only
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Screening Room viability 09 Aug 2012 02:03 #38984

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Bob Nash wrote:
Swank or Criterion should be booking non theatrical only

That's what I'd heard about them. Not sure how they could be an option here. She did say they were "for profit".
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Screening Room viability 09 Aug 2012 18:14 #38991

  • Bob Nash
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I suspect there are more than a few indie or art house theaters that fudge the rules and use Swank or Criterion. If any legit operator sees this happening (frequently movies not available for theatrical distribution are a dead give-a-way) the major studios should be called. They will shut down the operator.
Bob
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Screening Room viability 09 Aug 2012 20:32 #38992

  • bgbalmes
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Thanks for responding, everyone.

After some more research and discussion, we're now moving totally towards the repertory/classics side for the cinema aspect of our operation. I agree that we won't try to fudge the copyright restrictions -- both because we don't want to get in legal hot water and because I have a background in copyright law and feel very strongly about playing by the rules (even if the rules aren't the best).

Does anyone know what the rules are on equipment if we're for-profit but only show classics? Is it possible to get legitimate licensing for older movies on DVD/Blu-ray? Would we have to buy the DVDs from the distributors, or can we get after-purchase licensing?
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Screening Room viability 09 Aug 2012 20:38 #38993

  • Bob Nash
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The same film bookers and studio reps who book first run film can get a theater a legit booking for DVD's and Blu Rays. Not all films are available (Disney comes to mind) and sometimes the video distributor is not the theatrical distributor.
Good luck.
Bob
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Screening Room viability 09 Aug 2012 20:49 #38994

  • BusyBee
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I would encourage you to use a booker to get yourself established. Then once you have relationships established with the studios and you know all the rules, begin booking on your own. I don't think it would be too difficult to make an arrangement like this with a booker. Mike or Slap might have some advice that way.
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