How to organise, run and host a successful film premiere: Top 21 Tips

BAFTA premiereI have made many films, including four feature films and one Oscar shortlisted film (pic right, from the 1998 premiere of my feature film Urban Ghost Story)

Every one of them has had an ‘event’ premiere. I highly recommend you do the same for your film too.

A few weeks back I held the premiere for 50 Kisses. It was an extraordinary evening that everyone present will forever remember. We also ran it as the first night of our limited theatrical release, securing a HUGE screen average for the week and BREAKING EVEN on the release. Blog on that HERE.

So I suggest you say goodbye to Sunday morning cast and crew screenings for free, and say hello to a red carpet, black tie EVENT that begins your journey into exhibition like you really mean it.

Major movies run cast and crew screenings regularly on Sunday mornings, reserving the red carpet premiere for high profile cast, executives, celebrities and journalists. I get why this happens on a Harry Potter movie, but we don’t have $100m budgets for our films – so why treat your cast and crew like second class citizens by ‘celebrating’ all their hard work by inviting them to a poor mans excuse for a premiere and cheap screening?

You and your team have bust your guts making your film, often for years, so celebrate your achievement in style!

Because… a movie premiere is a rite of passage.

And it should be acknowledged as such. Just like a wedding, birth, Bar Mitzvah and death would be. It’s a marker in your life that needs to be recognised.

It is an opportunity for you, your cast, your crew, your friends, your investors, your contributors and your followers to pause and acknowledge the extraordinary achievement that you have completed.

I cannot stress enough the importance of this ‘rite of passage’.

Second, I believe you should run this premiere as a commercial event. Or at least, an event that does not lose money.

You should charge money for tickets. Even for cast and crew. Of course if you behaved like an asshole during production, none of your cast and crew will come. But if you led from the front, with courage and with integrity, most people will want to be a part of the premiere experience.

Yes I know this is controversial, and I get there will be exceptions to this strategy, BUT I also feel the argument that the film industry ALWAYS has free screenings for the cast and crew is a ridiculous argument, especially today. We are part of a new wave where we are daily re-inventing the industry. Why not re-invent the approach to a premiere? Bottom line, like every aspect of your low budget film, you want to be working to paying off debt and reducing costs and NOT pouring more money in the sink hole.

Ultimately it’s about giving people a world class evening, one that they will enjoy and remember forever, and one that the smart people will use as PR on their websites, blogs, social media etc.

  • cfb409d2a17311e3a4791265b540b690_81. Don’t set a date too early
    Most films need a recut. So when you think you have finished your edit, go away for a while and come back to it – you will find it’s a little too baggy and some work still needs to be done. So it follows that you only set the date for your premiere when you are certain your film is complete. At this point you may want to speak with a distributor, a film booker or even directly to a cinema manager about booking a date for your premiere. The advantage you have is that if you do your job properly now, you should be able to fill any screen, which is great for any commercial cinema to hear. Of course, they won’t believe you can do this as they will have had many filmmakers promise full theatres and deliver very little in the past – so commit to REALLY delivering a full theatre and a memorable evening for everyone. The lead in time is usually at least three months, more on that later.
  • 06a7aee4a17411e3aaf30e0373b3d96d_82. Where to run? Four Wall or Split Revenue?
    There is no reason why you could not rent a venue and sell tickets – that deal is nice and easy. But by doing that, your box offices stats won’t appear in the official weekly figures. For ‘50 Kisses’ we chose to do a revenue split of box office with the Genesis Cinema who hosted the premiere. The advantage here was they had a number of screens and we started out in the smallest. As more tickets were sold, so we moved up until we were in the biggest screen (500 seats). This process takes good relations with the cinema staff and constant updates.
  • fa561a1a8f1f11e39bd0129dfc2dce15_83. Run the premiere as the first day of your theatrical release
    The Premiere is the first night of your theatrical release, boosting those all important weekend numbers. Looking at 50 Kisses, our one screening out performed a number of other films that week, including the British iFeatures ‘8 Minutes Idle’ (I have not seen) which took £2,412 from four sites during a full week. In comparison, ‘50 Kisses’ took
    £9,453 from one screening alone. ‘8 Minutes Idle’ also had at least a £40k P&A spend (£20k raised on Kickstarter and £20k match funds promised, though I cannot be sure the match funding ever appeared).  Yes I get that 50 Kisses had a much larger group of engaged filmmakers, actors and writers which did give us an edge in the comparison game. Remember, you don’t get 100% of the box office takings – 20% comes off the top for VAT, then the exhibitor takes their split (usually between 75% to 50% in their favour), then distributor takes a split and the balance goes to paying off costs… after all that, you get your split. Here’s how we did it in detail for 50 Kisses… CLICK HERE
  • festiuval4. DON’T Premiere at a Film Festival
    Continuing to use ‘8 Minutes Idle’ as an example… from what I can see they had a ‘preview’ at the Bath Film Festival. Given the film was made in Bristol, I suspect most cast and crew will have gone to that screening and was pitched as an un-official premiere. While it’s awesome that someone else takes care of all the logistics and runs the event for you, even platforming your film, my experience of festivals is patchy at best. Some are awesome, some lacklustre and some shameful. I have no doubt that the Bath preview was a splendid event. I am also pretty sure that, along with 99% of other festivals, they took 100% of the box office. I don’t know that this happened for a fact, but what I do know is that the VAST MAJORITY of festivals will keep all box office. I really do hope that Bath did share some of the box office with the filmmakers.
  • da4d3f5a8f1f11e395e91267d61f66bb_85. Set The Date And Announce
    So once you are sure you film is complete, that you can get all your ducks in a row (posters, DCP, BBFC etc) you can set a date. I would argue three months is a minimum, although we had just six weeks for 50 Kisses (We were locked into the Valentines theme so needed to fix a date sooner than I would have liked). The exhibitor (cinema) will pretty much insist on this anyway. Once you have your date, get marketing to your email group and through social media channels. 
  • great night out6. An AMAZING night out
    Promise, market and DELIVER an amazing evening. While of course we inevitably focus on the film itself, all the other stuff, the red carpet, the drinks after, the celebrities…
    all create an evening worth attending. Make it more than just ‘the film’ and ensure all your marketing messages are consistent and professional. Consider most people will happily spend £20 – £50 on a good night out. We charged £20 for the 50 Kisses premiere and for friends, family and people just interested, it represented an AMAZING night out. Movie premieres are not as common as nightclubs, curry houses and pubs. Don’t underestimate this as a major draw to non industry folk who half know you or one of your friends… as long as it looks like an AMAZING night out. And please, please, please deliver on your promise.
  • 205d970a94cb11e3b14b125873dad801_87. Ticketing and email capture
    One important choice is ticketing – you use the exhibitor system or you use your own. The upside of using theirs is that they deal with everything, they have an existing site that will have some passing traffic too which might lead to more sales. Plus their system will be hard wired into the weekly box office stats – which you want. On the downside, as a customer, you can get lost in complex ticketing sites (which may deter some buyers) and you may not get access to the email list of everyone who bought a ticket, which you REALLY want. Anyone who attends your premiere is highly likely to consider crowdfunding your next film for instance. You need to be able to connect with them. The cinema MAY share the emails of people who bought tickets if you ask nicely.
  • budget8. Budget / Costs / Recoupment
    Running a film premiere and release is not cheap. First, you might be working with a distributor, and if you are, I would argue VERY strongly that you have the right take the full share of box office from the premiere. Here is why. Run this event well and you should be able to cover the costs of DCP mastering of your film, BBFC classification and poster design and printing. Maybe even more. If you agree to pay for all those elements, that’s a BIG chunk of change that the distributor does not need to stump up and subsequently recoup. It means you are MUCH closer to the distributor breaking even than if you let them deal with everything. At the 50 Kisses premiere, we took nearly £10k and you can see how that broke down HERE.
  • 76db47f8a16e11e39c6812ce5dbdd1cb_89. Thursday or Friday Night event
    So here’s the deal. Fridays are busy nights and it will be hard to get a venue to commit to giving you a screen, largely as they have deals in place with major Hollywood players that guarantee them the big screens. On the flipside, it’s rare that a film will sell out on a Thursday night, with the exception of ‘previews’ of ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Twilight’, ‘James Bond’ etc. By moving to a Thursday, you are more likely to secure a bigger and better screen, not to mention the opportunity to take over the foyer and reception of a venue. Of course, some small theatres may well embrace Friday nights for you, speak to them and get a feel for their commitments to the bigger films. Thursday night also means you get to shout all about the event on Friday, the official ‘release’ date of your film.
  • 6970bdf08ffd11e3a13f12befe090f9c_810. Marketing Elements
    In the run up, you will need to supply the usual marketing stuff like stills from the film, a press pack, and other useful information. Once you have it, hit the phones and get calling journalists, newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, magazines (assuming its not too late for their lead in). Do not underestimate the value of old school press. We live in an age where social media is revered as the way forward, and many of us forget the traditional channels that have existed for decades. Ironically, these channels are also hungry for good stories, so call you local radio station and newspaper and pitch the premiere to them. The press page for 50 Kisses is HERE.
  • FB11. Social Media Run Up
    By now your social media presence should be quite mature right? You have been updating Facebook and Tweeting since the inception of your film haven’t you? If you haven’t, social media will be hard work now. Get onto your preferred social media channels now, and start to train that muscle, build a presence and update it routinely. And remember to always link directly to pages where people can actually buy a ticket.
  • 042d5e8497e211e3873c0e9928917b41_812. Black Tie
    So I have had more than one fight about this over the years. People around you will tell you that people do not want to get dressed up, they will be convinced that the audience will want to come dressed in smart casual at best. Well it’s your premiere and if that matches your expectations, sure go with it. Personally, I want a black tie event. And out of the premieres I have organised, it has always worked. I never stop people attending even if they are in jeans and a T shirt, but I would always set the stage for something extraordinary.
  • 1839955c933f11e390c0125d7a642baf_813. Red Carpet
    It’s not expensive to organise a red carpet for your guests, you can buy one online for £100. Make sure you tape it down with red gaffer tape. I also like to put some lights in the foyer so as people arrive, they are greeted with bright lights… It makes it feel more like a movie premiere. People LOVE to have their photo taken on the red carpet too, often doing this themselves and sharing on social media. We also organised a short section of ‘step and repeat’ for sponsors logos – in our case that was the London Screenwriters Festival, the organisation that ran 50 Kisses. The photos taken here get shared widely and get company logos into every nook and cranny.
  • da2a84d694da11e3a7950e1d51678712_814. Photographers
    Get professional photographers for the evening. We had a team of photographers, some shooting the red carpet ‘step and repeat’, others documenting the event informally. We promised a photo on the red carpet as part of the experience, so this was VERY busy in the run up to the screening. I cannot stress how essential photographs are, and how important it is to get an experienced pro to do this for you.
  • wam-bam-club15. Zing!
    What extra zing can you offer? We had a loop of 50 Kisses short films playing in the bar, WamBam burlesque performers and a pre screening drinks party for an hour in the bar (the venue will make money on concessions and drinks so they have an interest in a packed house). These extras created real excitement and buzz. We also plastered posters everywhere using spray mount. You should be free to meet and greet the audience as they arrive, so surround yourself with focused PA’s who can keep people moving and deal with any last minute problems that arise. Now is the time to look and behave ‘presidentially’. We also had up tempo music and a sizzle screen with 50 Kisses logo playing on the cinema screen for when people were milling in (played of BluRay). This also created in theatre buzz. Make sure you hand over all elements to the projectionist early, and do a full dressed rehearsal.
  • 7ea0faf896f311e389c212fdd4c50046_816. Celebrities
    Can you get any celebs to attend? This adds a further dimension of Zing, and is also further affirmation that this is a real movie as celebs are attending! Of course if you can get a celeb to attend, you might need to give them comp tickets. We didn’t do this for 50 Kisses, but in other instances we might have done so.
  • reviewer17. Journalists
    This will be the ‘softest’ screening you will ever have for your film, so it makes sense to get journalists in to let them experience the atmosphere. This may be difficult as most established journos and reviewers will want to see the film at an SFD screening in the run up to the release of the film (organised by distributors) but it doesn’t hurt to invite them. You will need to comp journalists and reviewers.
  • Premiere Stage18. Your speech
    OK so you need to introduce your film. There is no dodging this. And you shouldn’t, this is your time to shine. As I said at the start, this event is also a rite of passage, and during the introduction to the film, you will really ‘get’ what you have achieved. The audience will ‘get’ that you ‘get it’ too, and that is HUGE. So prepare to get emotional on stage, and if you do, let it all out… it’s part of the event and it’s wonderful. Remember to thank the important people too. Write your thank you speech a few weeks before the premiere as you will keep updating it with people you need thank, but for one reason or another, you had previously forgotten. Keep you speech short, but not too short. You can be tad indulgent here, but only a tad. Five or ten mins max is fine. Check with the venue that they have microphones too. Remember to give all the glory away to your team. It’s they who made the film great – the actors, the crew, the financier, the office team. Get them all to stand and give them a cheer and round of applause.
  • 45db1cd6997711e3989e1244f4c5d15f_819. Switch On your Phone!
    That’s right, encourage your audience to take photos on their phone, even shoot video during the screening, so they can share it on social media. This is oxygen to your PR. Encourage people to cheer when actors who are present appear on screen the first time. Of course if your film is downbeat or ‘heavy’, this atmosphere might feel weird, but in most instances, I think the excitement of the event trumps the shrine like atmosphere most filmmakers would demand from a screening and audience.
  • post-screening-speech20. Post Screening Call to Action
    As the film ends, you might get a standing ovation – you can seed this by getting key crew members to stand. We all love it anyway, it just takes a few to stand up to get things rolling. As the end credits complete, get back on stage, thank everyone again, lay out what’s next (drinks ect) but also give a SPECIFIC call to action – ‘like our Facebook page’, ‘rate us on IMDb’, ‘tell all your friends to go see this film this weekend as we will be gone next weekend…’
    Then hit the bar and shake as many hands as possible, again backing up your key call to action in person.
  • photo-stream21. Share The Pictures Immediately
    Overnight, get your photographer to send you the pictures, ideally edited, graded and converted to emailable JPGs. Then get them up onto a channel such as Flickr (I use Flickr and DropBox) in hi res and share the links. Also upload to Facebook albums and get sharing. Most people who are active on Social Media will now share these images and RAVE about the experience and hopefully the film – ideally baked up with your call to action… ‘One weekend to see the film at this venue…’ Check out our photos HERE.

OK…

While I appreciate that not everyone will be comfortable asking people to buy premiere tickets, I have learned over many years that the secret to success and survival is by making tough choices at every stage.

Big and grand gestures in the moment feel awesome, but the following day, if the bank balance is in the red, all the love will quickly dissipate and the bailing out begins.

By running a premiere in this way, we will all begin the exhibition, exploitation and distribution of our films from a position of strength and not a negative bank balance. That is REALLY cool.

Above all, remember that when someone says ‘I should have a ticket for free’, they are just talking about a DIFFERENT industry, not the low to no budget film industry we are working in.

Make the distinction. Either you pay for it (think £2k to £5k) or the costs are split among everyone attending. In my experience, most people are happy once they ‘get’ that it’s either £20 for them of £5k for you.

Good luck and see you at YOUR premiere! 

And I want to just thank and acknowledge distributor David Wilkinson whose help in getting 50 Kisses to the big screen was instrumental. He remains a pillar of the British indie film scene.

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones
My movies www.LivingSpiritGroup.com
My Facebook www.Facebook.com/ChrisJonesFilmmaker
My Twitter @LivingSpiritPix


Filmmaker (LivingSpiritGroup.com), screenwriter, author of the Guerilla Filmmakers Handbooks (GuerillaFilm.com), founder of Create50.com, CEO of The London Screenwriters’ Festival (LondonSWF.com) and certified firewalk instructor.

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