How Do I Show Movies?
July 19, 2006 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Is there anyway to get commercial exhibition rights for scheduled public performances for movie prints you own? Of course, there's...

On my long list of Things To Do When I Win The Lottery is to buy a classic movie theatre building, and turn it back into a theatre... showing The Canon of classic comedies and other films; things like Airplane, Blazing Saddles, Dr Strangelove, Jaws, GWTW, and of course, the obligatory Saturday Night Rocky Horror performance.

Problem is, a) I don't expect the film distribution apparatus to *have* prints of that stuff lying around, in large part, and 2) it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to roundtrip a copy of Kentucky Fried Movie 12 times a year.

So I expect I'll have to buy the prints on the collector circuit, from places like Big Reel.

Given that, there seems to be no obvious mechanism for paying the studios the money they would normally get from billing you for renting the print. (I've looked into the people who license, like, airplanes and libraries -- because I want to advertise specific movie titles, they can't help me; they don't have those rights to relicense.)

1) Does anyone know whom I *would* talk to at either the studios or distribution companies to see if something like this is feasible?

2) Would you come see the movies? :-)

3) What movies have I forgotten about?
posted by baylink to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Actually did this with RHPS a long time ago (our and the theatre's last show) - we used the laserdic version to splice Once in a While back into the VHS tape we played.
We used a ver large VHS projector to get it all on the screen. Worked out fun :-)

We contacted 20th Century directly to aquire the rights to show it, and were told pretty much that there was no way to that - they only work in large scale, i.e. a working theatre that intends to show a print for several weeks.
In the end, the theatre owner and us decided it was worth the risk to do the one-off show without permission, as the theatre already had the rights to show Rocky via film.

I know - no help sorry bout that.
posted by niteHawk at 1:51 PM on July 19, 2006

I think you'd be surprised at a few things about your plan -

1. There's a lot of prints out there - usually just one of each film, and sometimes they're in total crap condition, but among the prints my theater ran during my tenure as a projectionist there - Eyes without a Face, Harold and Maude, Ghostbusters, etc. The available list of prints is by no means comprehensive, but there's a lot of options. I think our theater was paying $300-$500 for the print rental.

2. You've got to be in the perfect area for these to be successful. Some places have great late-night-movie crowds, some have none. I don't know whether you want to show these at normal hours or at night, but you've got to have the right people.

That said, I totally want to do the same thing. There's 2 old theaters near me, and I'm dying to get some investment capital.
posted by god hates math at 2:16 PM on July 19, 2006

This is out of my league, but you might try shagging down Tim League of the Alamo Drafthouse for tips. He and his crew dig up all kinds of obscure stuff, often for only one showing. I saw one movie there where they announced they had tracked down the only extant print, in New Zealand.
posted by adamrice at 2:51 PM on July 19, 2006

I can't offer any personal knowledge, but the mefi user bjork24 recently opened up a rephouse-ish theatre called "Moxie Cinema". They have a great blog that covers a lot of interesting behind the scenes stuff. You might try emailing them, and you'll probably also be interested in their Ask MeFi question history.
posted by fishfucker at 4:30 PM on July 19, 2006

Best answer: Baylink: there are several ways to acquire exhibition rights for rep films. If you own a print, or even the DVD for that matter, you can go through Swank, Criterion, or Kino to obtain an exhibition license. The problem with this avenue is that the three aforementioned licensing houses will only book your films through a non-theatrical license, which means you can't advertise what movie(s) you're showing in the newspaper, on the radio, or through the television rays. You have to rely solely on fliers, newsletters, word-of-mouth, etc..

You can also contact the original theatrical distributor (search through the company credits on IMDB) to see if they still hold the license. If they do, they'll probably cut you a deal... usually it's $250 vs. 40-50% of the ticket price. That's the route we usually take when we show rep movies, which is about once a month. However, showing rep movies poses it's own set of unique problems:

1. If it's a movie that everyone likes, what can you offer to make people come see it at your theater if they already own the DVD?

2. To lure people in you usually need to keep rep tickets low (as in $5.00 or less), which makes the idea of profit laughable in these scenarioes. If the distributor takes 50% of your ticket price, you're making $2.50 per head, which means you're going to need at least 100 people to break even. Of course, that isn't taking into consideration the $60 you had to pay in shipping - but if you "own" a print, then you won't need to worry about that.

3. You can't keep showing rep pieces over and over again without running the risk of having the films lose their audience appeal. For instance, we're doing POINT BREAK this month and RAISING ARIZONA in August - 2 showings each (Friday and Saturday late night). We can usually sell out both shows by keeping it exclusive, but you're going to quickly burn through your potential audience if you show them much more than that.

So, if you think you can handle all those issues, and have enough money left to pay yourself, your staff, your utilities, your ridiculously high theater insurance, and have a little left over for yourself... then welcome to the game.

But, you'll only be doing this if you win the lottery, right? In that case, can you float me a loan?
posted by bjork24 at 6:09 PM on July 19, 2006 [5 favorites]

Also worth noting: 90% of the existing 35mm rep prints look like complete and utter shit. I'm a huge stickler for presenation quality, which means I have bite my lip through the entire show. I tracked down an original theatrical print for HAROLD AND MAUDE and it was awful. No one seemed to mind, but I couldn't sit through it. Even THE BIG LEBOWSKI was scratched all to hell - and that came directly from the lofty Alamo Drafthouse. When we showed NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, part of the original film was missing because it had burned up back in the 70s. Just something to keep in mind.
posted by bjork24 at 6:12 PM on July 19, 2006

Response by poster: I knew you'd show up sooner or later, after I followed fishfucker's suggestion and looked at your questions.

I wasn't aware that the quality of prints in that market was *that* bad, actually.

Hell, with the proper projector, I'd be happy to project from DVD, though I'd much rather be on 35.

I'm not planning to try and make a living solely on the door: I know better than that. Full kitchen, decent food, wifi cafe outside the screening room, possibly an art gallery for local artists; yeah, I get that development will be an issue.

And as for frequency and burnout, I don't plan to show any given film more than once a month. Depending on what I can do library-wise, maybe every two months.

And no, I wouldn't plan to start something like this without at least $100K in operating expense money in the bank; preferably $250K.

I'm crazy, but I'm not stupid.

How are things going for you up there, incidentally?
posted by baylink at 10:06 AM on July 20, 2006

Response by poster: PS:why quotes on "own".

Is there debate as to whether people selling prints in the collector market can provide clear title thereto?
posted by baylink at 1:10 PM on July 20, 2006

You can never really own a film that's copyrighted. You own the celluloid, the rest belongs to the studio.

In the case of public exhibition, that is.
posted by bjork24 at 2:54 PM on July 21, 2006

Response by poster: Thr first-sale doctrine disagrees with you, bjork.

Well, ok; it's a matter of semantics.

I don't have the right to exploit that copyrighted film commercial, but I could legally watch it, or show it at a party with my friend, for example.


Not skirting the law.

And as long as *I have no reason to believe the person I'm buying it from stole it from someone", I should have clear title to the physical object as well. So I could report it stolen, for example, and get it back.

Unless I've vastly misunderstood everything I've read about IP law in the last 20 years.

I know Hollywood would like for those things not to be true, but they are, as far as I know.
posted by baylink at 8:23 PM on July 24, 2006

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