Cinema Santurce
May 17, 2010 12:54 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to make an awesome indie movie theater.

I've been given the opportunity and space (for free) to make a small art house movie theater. The space is a small 1800's chapel that has been completely gutted and renovated. The windows are completely shut and the back wall is perfect for a screen
It's total size is 1,914.25 sqft it's 33’-6” wide and 58’-41/2” deep. What type of projector and screen should I get? I have never had or worked in a movie theater, I just threw the idea out there to the owner and they said go for it. I don't have that much capital so cheap and good quality is best. I'm thinking of decorating it in a shabby chic kind of way. Someone suggested to get a DVD projector.

Any advice is welcomed.

posted by octomato to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you can find some way to serve beer. . . .
posted by grobstein at 1:01 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a lot of work for just one person. Is there a community film club in your area? Perhaps you could establish it as some sort of nonprofit and get a board to help you with fundraising and decisions and such.
posted by Think_Long at 1:03 PM on May 17, 2010

bjork24 owns an indie movie theater - rummage through his oldest AskMes for some movie theater questions. Another Mefite does as well but at the moment I can't remember who.....
posted by iconomy at 1:09 PM on May 17, 2010

MeFi's own bjork24 got a movie theatre going with help from AskMe. You might want to check out some of his old questions
posted by ODiV at 1:10 PM on May 17, 2010

Sell cocktails and invite a fancy foodie truck to park out front.
posted by cestmoi15 at 1:11 PM on May 17, 2010

as has been mentioned - a liquor license.
posted by nadawi at 1:12 PM on May 17, 2010

Is this going to be, like, a business? Cause I'd suggest different ideas perhaps depending on that.
posted by dubitable at 1:13 PM on May 17, 2010

Best answer: Offer unique bottled/canned drinks like Jones Soda, which you can keep in a little bar fridge. Alternatively, offer italian sodas - flavored syrup shots with soda water. If you get licensed, offer themed drink specials to go with the movie.

A little popcorn machine won't be too expensive or difficult to run, and you can just serve it in regular lunch bags, perhaps stamped with the theatre logo (a rubber stamp is pretty cheap to have made). Getting some old-fashioned candy to sell would also be nice.

What are your current options for seating? I like the idea of donated couches - makes for easy cuddling and goes great for shabby chic ;) Alternately, does the chapel still have the pews? If so, they're hard wood - start up a collection of pillows for butt cushioning, if you end up having hard seats (Our art theatre in my town had a bin of these in the lobby since the seats were old and the padding had completely deteriorated.)

See if you can put the lighting on a dimmer switch.
posted by lizbunny at 1:16 PM on May 17, 2010

Better snacks than just popcorn. Though I do love movie theater popcorn.

You might contact the people in Key West at Tropic Cinema. They ran the indie theater out of the San Carlos building on Duval for years, and now they have their own space.
posted by bilabial at 1:17 PM on May 17, 2010

Response by poster: dubitable- I do hope to make a profit eventually, but now i'm seeing it as a long term investment/project.
posted by octomato at 1:23 PM on May 17, 2010

Create a community. I went to the Silent Movie Theater in LA and loved that communal aspect of it. People dressed up and clapped during the film, there was a small talk before the screening (and drinks in the middle).
posted by Omon Ra at 1:25 PM on May 17, 2010 and are good places to start researching your projector setup.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 1:27 PM on May 17, 2010

Brewers' Yeast for the popcorn.
posted by mmmbacon at 1:30 PM on May 17, 2010

Study the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin.
posted by umbú at 1:40 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you want this to be a place that's serious about movies (this is what "art house" suggests to me), or just a place people come to hang out when they happen to be in the mood for a flick (more of a brew-n-view kind of thing)? If you want it to be less of a general entertainment venue and more of a place where people who care about movies congregate, you will probably want to consider showing things on actual film rather than just on DVDs.

The equipment and film distribution parts of this will be completely different depending on whether you want to project DVDs or actual film. (MeMail me if you want advice about actual film stuff).

Also, you will want to look into rights issues. Even public screenings of DVDs that don't charge admission need to pay rights fees. Swank Motion Pictures is a major rights-holder for non-theatrical exhibition of American films, for a start.
posted by bubukaba at 1:52 PM on May 17, 2010

Portland, OR has great indie movie theaters. Check out any of the pub theaters there, like the Laurelhurst Theater and The Living Room Theaters. I'm also a big fan of the Standford theatre in Palo Alto, CA. They only play classic movies. Oakland, CA used to be home to The Parkway Speakeasy Theater and they played 2nd run films, along with some great indie flicks. I used to love sitting on the couches there with a pint of beer and some pizza! Too bad they closed a couple of years ago...
posted by anoirmarie at 1:59 PM on May 17, 2010

Get a liquor license, serve high-end snacks, decorate with old-fashioned motif (get old movie posters loaned from movie buffs), have a cult night once a month, e.g., a theater near my parents' shows Rocky Horror Picture Show one Saturday a month at midnight that everyone comes to in drag.

I always liked this theater when I lived in the Charleston area:
posted by Outis at 2:00 PM on May 17, 2010

Real Butter for the popcorn is a nice addition!
posted by vespabelle at 2:17 PM on May 17, 2010

Offering (non-alcoholic) drinks that aren't the usual Coke is a good idea. My favorite indie movie theater does this. They also have coffee.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:18 PM on May 17, 2010

Best answer: omonra alread posted my initial thought - developing a community, like the Silent Movie Theatre and even the New Beverly in Los Angeles has is critical. Create a Facebook page ASAP to start building up hype, and possibly looking for help.

Through a community, you not only find out what films people want to see and viral promotion, but also potential contacts to draw in local celebrities who may be able to do q&as, or possibly to program their own night or mini-fest.

On concessions, liquor tends to make places extra cool and a draw, so if you can afford the liquor license and insurance and anticipate plenty of business, it may be worth it. If you have the space, a seperate bar or coffee shop on premises would be awesome and give people a place to hang out (and spend money).

Look for local projector rental houses and test a few different machines out on different nights. Use this rental nights to test out the market or for special events before your grand opening. You'll also be able to use this opportunity to have a tech guy come out and give you his thoughts on best screen and projector options.

Unless you're showing new releases, there's little reason to invest in a film projector at this point

If you want to spend money smartly invest instead in a solid sound system... an element most indie houses really skimp on and could set yours apart.

Programming wise, scan the aforementioned New Beverly, Alamo Drafthouse, and Silent Theatre sites. What works in one city, or even neighborhood, won't work in another, but it seems like a combination of mainstream, classics, foreign, and cult films keeps things interesting.

But if you really wanna be cool, have monthly Saturday midnight screenings of "The Room."
posted by Unsomnambulist at 2:19 PM on May 17, 2010

This is the post for me, I've been thinking about this for a while ...
  1. Nobody under 18 is allowed in.
  2. Every showing has at least one usher in, and if you disrupt the film, you're out.
  3. If the schedule says the film starts at 9:00pm the film starts at 9:00pm.
  4. If you arrive after the assigned time, you are not allowed in.
  5. Seats are assigned when you buy your ticket.
  6. The concessions stand sells popcorn (both salted and sweet) and hotdogs and nachos, but anyone who actually orders a hotdog or nachos is asked to leave.
  7. There is a toilet somewhere in the room, off to a side, with red lighting so that if someone has to use it doesn't ruin my "night vision".

posted by alby at 2:31 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with Unsomnambulist in bringing in local celebs to introduce the films. I used to help program a film event in NYC and having great guests usually help pack seats. We had some really exceptional speakers too like Thelma Schoonmacher, Joel Grey, Lou Reed. You'll find that everybody loves talking about their favorite movies and many of them, including celebrities, will often do it for free.
posted by cazoo at 3:01 PM on May 17, 2010

Best answer: Try googling "backyard theater" for tons of resources and forums. For example, you can make your own inexpensive but respectable screen. For my backyard theater I use a laptop and LDC projector that's mounted overhead. For sound I suggest hitting pawn shops for a decent home audio amp and some speakers. I plug mine right into the headphone jack on the laptop and it sounds great even though it's outdoors.

Considering the size of your theater, this kind of rig might be a good and cheap way to start up. I'm thinking just under $1,000.

Good luck, this sounds like fun!
posted by snsranch at 3:28 PM on May 17, 2010

Don't forget to tap the market for people who need to rent a large hall. Easy money in the day time when you're not using your space anyway.
posted by wwartorff at 3:40 PM on May 17, 2010

I think your key mission here is to create a unique cultural/whatever identity for your theater. The kind of people who want to see a non-mainstream theater will want to have a non-mainstream experience. The best indie theaters I've been to have a vivid ambiance created by staff, lighting, buildings, interesting food/drinks. Make your place the kind of thing people meet other people at, or plan a night on, for the sake of visiting your venue as much as for seeing an indie film.
posted by dervish at 4:13 PM on May 17, 2010

Is it too far out there to put shielding in the walls to block cell/pager signals? As long as you're not actively jamming I think it's legal (I'm no lawyer and definitely not one based in your community).

You might want to have a sign to let people who are on call know ahead of time.
posted by ODiV at 4:22 PM on May 17, 2010

My favorite theater is Wilton town hall theater in NH. They have real butter in their popcorn and real lemonade. Great movies you can't see other in the burbs. I drive an hour to get there.

If they played old cartoons and serials and newsreels before I would go more often.

I don't know what they local community is like but can you partner with a school and have kids have their news (my cat got spayed/i lost my tooth kind of thing), local birthdays, local kids band has a video.

I would like to watch those things before a film.
posted by beccaj at 4:44 PM on May 17, 2010

I've been working for non-profit cinemas for a while now, and I have to say its an uphill battle. There are so many different factors, where is it? What kind of movies are you going to screen?

A lot of people aren't going to pay to see someone project a dvd, so that is something to consider. You need to create a reason for people to come to your cinema and not stay home and watch television.
posted by mattsweaters at 6:11 PM on May 17, 2010

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