What does it take to turn a home into a theater that shows new releases?
May 8, 2012 7:29 PM   Subscribe

A hypothetical question: what would it take to turn a room into my house into a theater that shows new releases (and avoid loud audiences)?

The other day I was reading about people being angry at how loud audiences have been at showings of The Avengers. I've always joked about how I want to have my own personal movie theater where I could watch movies in relative peace and quiet.

This question is all about speculation, but supposing I had a house with a room large enough for a projector and seats and all that, why couldn't I have my own showings of newly released films? This is not at all my field of expertise so I have no idea about licensing, rights, and that sort of thing. But is it at all possible for a private citizen to have their own theater space that would show new films?
posted by gchucky to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A cheat would be to become a bona fide movie reviewer.

But really, I'm sure it all comes down to money. For movies that are distributed on film, that costs a TON of money, and in many cases, there are limited numbers of reels produced. So you are competing with smaller theaters, and those theaters can probably deliver a few hundred to a few thousand ticket sales in a weekend. Plus security for the film stock, I would wager.

On the other hand, I think we are getting close to the point where you would be able to view new releases on pay per view, so if you just wait a few years, you'll probably get your wish for way less money.
posted by gjc at 7:34 PM on May 8, 2012

While you'd obviously have to wait until the movies came out on video, it's actually extremely feasible to create a cinema-quality setup in your (large) house. Blu Ray on a nice-ish projector will look better than 95% of commercial theaters simply because it will be in perfect focus and you won't have to deal with getting stuck in the front row.

It would be illegal to charge money to watch the movies, of course.
posted by The Lamplighter at 7:43 PM on May 8, 2012

I'm not sure whether this ever went anywhere, but a company called Prima Cinema might offer what you're looking for (for a $20k initial setup fee plus $500 per movie, yikes).
posted by ripley_ at 7:43 PM on May 8, 2012

But is it at all possible for a private citizen to have their own theater space that would show new films?

If you can get the engagement agreement in place with the movie's distributors, and if you can afford the cost of leasing the film for the term of the engagement, and if you can square the whole business with your local municipality/county/state in terms of operating licenses, fire inspection, etc., then sure.

In other words, no.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:54 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

The basic gist of film distribution is that when a movie first opens the distributor takes the lion's share of the revenues. Then as the movie runs longer, the percentages shift and the theater starts to earn a higher percentage of the revenues. So there's basically no reason a distributor would want to strike a print for you to show at your casa where you'd be bringing in zero revenue.

Also, to counter what gjc suggested, the majority of reviewers, especially in large market cities, see the film in a theater filled with a recruited audience. Some long lead press (monthly magazines, for instance) and the very, very topmost critics may see it at a (presumably quieter) private screening.

(One of the biggest disasters I was ever involved with was almost 20 years ago when a big-studio comedy movie was screened for critics in L.A. and someone f'ed up and there was no recruit. So it was a theater that seats several hundred, with about ten critics. The silence was deafening and the reviews were terrible. Someone got fired.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:06 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

A cheat would be to become a bona fide movie reviewer.

A critics-only screening only means fewer really loud people, all of whom are typing at top speed on laptops, at something like 11:30 in the morning, followed by annoyingness from some PR drone. And, as BlahLaLa says, it's rare to have a critics-only screening anyway.

Maybe Roger Ebert or Manohla Dargis get a private screening, but it seems like a bit of a stretch to become a tippy-top movie critic in one's spare time just for the chance of seeing movies in silence.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:12 PM on May 8, 2012

Sure, join the Bel-Air Circuit.
It helps to be famous or rich.

If you're neither of those, wait till Hollywood figures out a DRM-laden system to put out new releases.

If you're impatient, then various nefarious sites on the internet usually have new releases day of.
Getting them onto a projector isn't that difficult.
posted by madajb at 8:12 PM on May 8, 2012

And the studios will just send you fresh new prints, because? You can show DVDs/downloads to your pals for free, without incurring the wrath of the MPAA/FBI, etc.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:13 PM on May 8, 2012

Well, any private citizen can start a business, though starting a movie theater is as difficult and complicated and risky as starting most kinds of business. But for your living room — assuming you don't mean to be hypothetically open to the public, the only part of this that's impossible to do legally is the "new releases" part.

First of all, though there are still theaters that show 35mm prints of new, mainstream releases, they are increasingly few (art house and high profile indies are a somewhat different story). I only know of one theater in Chicago, for example, that's still showing blockbuster type films on film. But by the end of next year most films will be distributed exclusively as DCPs. The encryption and restrictions on those things can be insane. While at-home 35mm screenings of new films were certainly a possibility for people with the right connections (not just on as elite a level as the Bel-Air Circuit, but also for anyone with the right friends at the right local theaters and with the right equipment at home), DCP changes the game and makes this kind of under-the-radar fun basically impossible.

If you get rid of the "new releases" provision, though, and you have some time and energy on your hands... check out some of these sweet set-ups!

I have a 35mm projector in my living room (courtesy of a techie roommate with a film collection), and it is the best. Wouldn't call it quiet, though...
posted by bubukaba at 8:55 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Our university has a film club that shows movies in a lecture theatre. They get all the new releases within a few weeks of release, and have a proper projector set-up and large screen (i.e. I'm pretty sure it's reels of film, not DVDs). They show about 10 movies a week during the semester. They have a few hundred members who each pay $100 a year and can then go to as many films as they like. That $100 per member must cover all their costs as they have no other income and do not make a profit. So I'm guessing it costs about $30,000 a year, most of which I suspect is paying license fees or whatever. On the other hand if you didn't want ALL the new releases, it wouldn't cost so much. And they show older films too, and I don't know what they pay for those.
posted by lollusc at 2:37 AM on May 9, 2012

Also, to counter what gjc suggested, the majority of reviewers, especially in large market cities, see the film in a theater filled with a recruited audience. Some long lead press (monthly magazines, for instance) and the very, very topmost critics may see it at a (presumably quieter) private screening.

I was under the impression that reviewers got DVDs of movies sent to them, to watch at their leisure. (Watermarked, of course) Perhaps this is old school, from a time before DVDs were easily duplicated.
posted by gjc at 4:27 AM on May 9, 2012

They sometimes do. Here in Seattle critics might get a critic-only screening (not necessarily in the same theater that will show the film), or they might get to sit with a recruited audience, or they might get a screener in some situations. It varies.
posted by litlnemo at 4:59 AM on May 9, 2012

There actually are theatres catering to a more mature (and quieter) audience. CineBistro, and some Regal Cinemas have adults only, small theaters with super-comfy seats, cocktails and upscale menu items.

Of course I agree, my house is the best place to watch a movie.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:00 AM on May 9, 2012

You can rent 35mm prints pretty easily on the second-run circuit. For instance via Swank Motion Pictures. It's ahead of DVD releases and behind first-run, maybe 6 weeks after the movie first hits theaters.
posted by smackfu at 6:30 AM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

A cheaper alternative might be to just buy out all the seats at a local cinema for one showing. Of course that may range from not easy to nearly impossible, depending on the film.
posted by attercoppe at 6:50 AM on May 9, 2012

Corporate theater rentals for outings are pretty common, so I think it is easier than you think. You're probably not going to get a night showing on opening weekend, though a matinee one on Friday is usually doable.
posted by smackfu at 6:56 AM on May 9, 2012

If his tweets are to be believed, Hugh Hefner shows first-run movies at the Playboy Mansion. So, given infinite funds, it appears to be possible.
posted by jbickers at 8:30 AM on May 9, 2012

having recently built a digital projector-based home theater in my basement, some observations:

1. reviewing films, as noted above, is not a likely solution, for all the accurate reasons cited above

2. most films are distributed and commercially projected digitally now, again, as noted above

3. i think the OP's thought experiment was mostly whether, all things being equal, it would be possible to get first-run films distributed to them at home for private screenings. The answer to this question is yes and no. If you are a billionaire plutocrat, it would probably be possible to arrange this. If you are not (and you are not), it is practically not doable, again, as noted above.

If, however, you are comfortable with pirating content, then, yes, you can accomplish this goal by closely following new-release torrents (as annually documented by Andy Baio).

4. Home theater setups are by no means restricted to $50,000 in cost. The basic requirements are a projector, screen, soundsystem, playback mechanism, and space, assuming a non-film setup. It is easily possible to obtain all of these items, new, for a total well under $2000.

The limiting factor for home theater is the relative brightness of the projected image. the brighter the projector and higher the albedo of the projection surface, the higher up the cost curve you get.

My setup had a total this-year out of pocket cost of under $500, having dumpstered the projector well over a decade ago, and using an in-hand standard definition DVD player and older amplifier. The most expensive elements were speakers and a subwoofer from Craigslist, about $60 (I bought two sets), an eight-foot projection screen ($100), an Apple TV and a legal jailbreaking software package ($130), special cables to enable a VGA or HDMI connection to the old, pre-DVI projector ($30), and some lighting and curtains to dress the projection screen (about $100 all told).

New HD projectors start at just over $200, although I would strongly suggest spending more. A rule of thumb is the more it costs, the brighter the beam, and the quieter the fan. Projectors can be LOUD, something theaters solve by locating the lightsource in a soundproof booth. It is possible to build an audio-isolation container for a projector in a home setup, but this dramatically increases the complexity of the project and I have chosen not to.

Finally, there was significant research time on AVSForum, which made my head hurt but which taught me a great deal. I would describe the experience as much like learning the basics of IP-based networking and with equally hard-to-isolate variable parameters. It is this complexity, borne of shifting and competing A/V data and display "standards" which is the single most daunting element of the project.

So, to summarize:

- Can you license your home as a private first run theater? Probably not.

- Can you build an affordable home theater? Yes.

- Can you illegally obtain first-run movies for private consumption? Yes.

- Is illegally obtaining first run movies for private consumption a good idea, or something I suggest you do? Emphatically no.
posted by mwhybark at 8:35 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition, it's not like pirated first-run movies are actually good quality, and certainly not anything that would use a good quality home theater.
posted by smackfu at 10:59 AM on May 9, 2012

FYI- Those $200 "HD" projectors aren't really HD. That just means they'll accept the signal and downconvert it to its native resolution.
posted by gjc at 6:26 PM on May 9, 2012

the distinction you are referring to is 1080p vs 1080i, I think.

Here's a 1080p unit @$300. Prices have fallen on both 1080p and 1080i in the 90 days since I last looked; I am not a big believer in worrying about the distinction.

quiet fans and brightness, though, that will cost you.
posted by mwhybark at 11:13 PM on May 9, 2012

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