Ideas for making a movie theater stand out
October 9, 2007 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Unique and interesting ideas for an independent movie theater.

So, I'm a part time projectionist at an independent theater that's not doing too well. The main problem, as I see it, is making the place stand out. The Big Chain Mall theater has the mainstream covered. And the local Art house has the more independent stuff covered. Right now we show mostly mainstream stuff. I've brought up some ideas to my boss, most of which gotten shot down:

a) second run theater (show movies a few months after they're out of the regular theaters)-- my boss seems to think that the Big Chain Mall theater would starve us out by keeping their movies until they're available on DVD. Also as DVD's come out more and more quickly this becomes less feasible.

b) booze -- apparently illegal to bring booze into a movie theater in New York State. Also would send the insurance way up even if we only allowed it in the lobby.

c) couches instead of seats -- he seems more open to this idea, but would dramatically lessen the number of patrons per theater.

d) Pizza (real oven baked pizza, not microwave crap) -- not a bad idea, but then where do you put the oven?

We've had some success with ethnic movies (Bollywood movies have done very well with the local Indian community but that's usually a once a week phenomenon, not something that can sustain a theater all week). We also have a University right next to the theater, but haven't done very well at tapping into that audience.

So, I'm coming to you MeFi. What are some unique and interesting movie theaters you've seen? What would you do to make your theater stand out from the crowd?
posted by brevator to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The only place I will go see a movie these days is at one of our local Speakeasy's.
posted by iamabot at 2:30 PM on October 9, 2007

The little theater I grew up near played midnight movies on the weekends (sometimes weekdays) of cult classics...everything from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure to Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion. they also nabbed things like Spike and Mike's animation festival when it came around.

Maybe you could talk with the university and make an arrangement with the film department for studnet film screenings, do it at a discount maybe?

Also, never understimate the power of a real, really good, espresso bar.
posted by missmle at 2:31 PM on October 9, 2007

Oh god, with a university next door there are thousands of things you can do. Do you already give student discounts? It hardly even matters how much.

One thing you need to remember about college students is that most of them can't drink. They're still going to, but not in bars. That does not, however, mean they don't like to go out.

Have events on weeknights showing cult classics- Rocky Horror Picture Show, Mystery Science Theater, a Harry Potter or Star Wars marathon... Show Snakes on a Plane two or three times in a row and deck the place out with plastic snakes and dress everyone up like a flight attendant (I have no idea if this is legal). You can try advertising this stuff on campus with a few simple flyers, or even get a picture ad in the local independent newspaper.

Just think about it like you're throwing a college party.
posted by borkingchikapa at 2:32 PM on October 9, 2007

For the university crowd:

- cult classics, at midnight, with B-list stars of those movies brought in for Q & A
- steep discounts for a current ID card (50%? 75%?)
- working with the film department to see what their needs are and if you can cooperate in some areas, like exhibiting a student film festival
- hosting live events/shows in the theaters
posted by mdonley at 2:32 PM on October 9, 2007

Check out some of the programming ideas Alamo Drafthouse uses (click on Signature Events). They attract a lot of people because they serve food (and booze) at the seats, but they have these crazy events--like showing all three LOTR movies back to back, or bring your own video night, or sing-alongs, or showing TV shows on the big screen, etc.
posted by mattbucher at 2:36 PM on October 9, 2007

If the Art Theater hasn't taken it already, you could run retrospectives and/or older films. This could be a good way of getting to the University crowd, especially if you play cult classics.

In the same vein, midnight movies could also be a great way of differentiating yourself from the Art Theater and the Mainstream Theater. When I was in Santa Cruz, the Del Mar Theater there did midnight movies every Saturday night, and was generally able to pull a decent-to-sell out crowd from the University set.

Unfortunately, this suffers from the same problem as the ethnic movies in that you can't have sustain a theater exclusively on it.
posted by Weebot at 2:39 PM on October 9, 2007

I've been saying for years that I would happily pay more for movie tickets to an adults only theater (and extra for tickets on an adults only airline as well, but that's another story altogether).
posted by JaredSeth at 2:41 PM on October 9, 2007

Other people have alluded to a similar idea, but I think it would work really well to have theme nights.
Thinking of myself, it would be rare that I would ever go to the effort of seeing any given horror movie, say. But if every night was a theme night, it would let your audience know what to expect, and make it feel a bit special. And you could have some fun with the themes:
"Movies You Can Sing Along To" (Rocky Horror, Monty Python stuff, etc)
"Terrible Performances by Rock Stars" (David Bowie's been in a stinker or two, as has Meatloaf, etc., etc)
"The Worst Sci-Fi Movies in History"
"The Crappiest Special Effects in Monster Movies Ever"
"Movies Featuring Teens Having Sex and Being Killed Because of It" you could establish a kinda ironic/humorous reputation via the movies you show, the funny name you give them, and the funny connections your'e able to make between the 2 (or 3) movies you feature that night. It might take a few weeks for people to get it, but they eventually will.
And then, you could occasionally go the extra mile, by decorating the lobby, offering snacks that relate to the theme, etc. (I'm sure it would be too much work to do something special every time, but even if you did it now and again, it would help with the word-of-mouth).
posted by Ziggurat at 2:41 PM on October 9, 2007

on preview, other people had the exact *same* idea...but my answer is,'s longer!
posted by Ziggurat at 2:45 PM on October 9, 2007

Response by poster: Well, we just did a midnight run of Old School and no one came. Perhaps it's not old or cult enough, but it's a funny movie and definitely something you'd expect college kids to like, but no luck.
posted by brevator at 2:51 PM on October 9, 2007

I think for the midnight runs to work, they need to be weekly, planned and promoted well ahead and they need to be a guaranteed good time. My local theater's midnight series is very well-attended, in part because they have games and prizes. There was a raffle at The Big Lebowski, the first prize for which was a rug, and the second prize for which was Donny... or a big Folger's can of somethin'. I encourage you to look at their page and crib like mad.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:55 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I was in college I lived a few blocks away from a theater that had a Saturday night program called "Asian Media Access" and we went religiously. They did a few different series (Cinema With Passion, Contemporary Chinese Cinema, Japanese, Korean, etc) and they were all excellent and well-attended.

As far as "Art House," it's almost impossible for one theater to have that all covered. If you look at movie listings for New York, there are tons of art house theaters and they barely ever show the same things. IFC, Sunshine, Film Forum and Angelika are all walking distance apart and manage to not cannabilize each other. Same goes for Chicago (Music Box, Gene Siskel, etc..)

Between modern indie films and classics, you should have plenty to show and it should go over great with a university next door, this should go over quite well. Maybe even try talking to film instructors or students at the school and see if they want to help out. I'm sure they'd jump at the chance.
posted by atomly at 3:17 PM on October 9, 2007

Is there any large ethnic or national group you could cater to?

An independent theater near my parents used to show Hindi-language films on Tuesdays, old classics on Wednesdays, and a mix of independent and second-run cheap films the rest of the week, plus cult classics on Friday and Saturday nights.

I know a theater in Washington state that has been pretty successful with free showings of sporting events on a big screen, too. Licensing laws prevent them from charging to show the big game, but they make a good amount of money on concessions - including pizza, etc.

As to where you put the pizza oven - behind the counter, duh.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:20 PM on October 9, 2007

"Movie buffet." Let people pay an admission fee to walk in and see as many movies as they like for the day. A long roster of 2nd-run movies, cult classics, and/or indie films will appeal to the people who'd like to see three or four movies but realistically will only pony up the cash for one and wait for the rest to come out on Netflix.

Have an usher come 'round with popcorn, sodas, hot-dogs, etc. for sale between movies while the others clean shop around the people who are staying for the next feature.
posted by MaxK at 3:25 PM on October 9, 2007

The other problem with picking Old School for your prototype is that most college kids right now have that in their pile of DVDs/downloaded on their computer. They'll crowd around the one kid's cinema display before they go to your theater because:

1) they can drink in the room.
2) costs them nothing.
3) they can shout along with the movie and no one will yell at them. They can yell "We're going streaking!" and punch their roommate, etc. ad infinitum without worrying about pissing other moviegoers off (not that many people care anymore anyway).

I usually go to the theater 1-2 times a month. I'm no longer phased by paying $10 for a ticket, but I definitely try to go either during the day when kids are at school or late late at night to avoid the talkers.

I think some of the earlier ideas of themed food, better discounts, midnight shows, and cult classics are the way to go. Show original movies, prequels, etc. when the big theater is showing first-runs. If someone wants to go see Die Hard 8.75, chances are they liked one or more of the originals, and they'd pay $5 to see the first, or the fourth, or the seventh, etc. the day before (or even hours before if you're right next door to the big theater).
posted by Mr. Banana Grabber at 3:29 PM on October 9, 2007

I second the advice about collaborating with the university's student filmmakers. I made short films in college (as a hobby, not as a major) and the movie theater on campus screened a couple, but I can assure you that if a "real" theater had agreed to screen them, I would have done most of the advertising for them. Consider that any group of filmmakers/frat/comedy group/etc. is going to want a great turnout too, so they will do a lot of legwork in getting people to show up.
posted by Mr. Banana Grabber at 3:32 PM on October 9, 2007

"What would you do to make your theater stand out from the crowd?"

1. Hire a union projectionist with some damn standards.
2. Actually maintain the projection surface properly.
3. Throw out anyone who spoke/took a call/decided their phone's bright-ass backlit LCD was more interesting during the presentation, on the first infraction.

Doing these three things would actually make going to a moviehouse worth the $10. Hell, I'd pay $15 a head plus concessions to get into a theater that did asshat control. Otherwise like everyone else, I'll continue to download the thing and watch it at home a week or two in advance of the theatrical release.

Having said that, the next best thing is to follow the Speakeasy model as best as possible.
posted by majick at 3:54 PM on October 9, 2007

mattbucher mentioned Alamo Drafthouse upthread. Seriously. Visit Austin, go to the Alamo, and take copious notes.

Alamo has several locations. One is a few minutes away from a conventional octoplex. Shows will be sold out an hour in advance at Alamo (thanks to their online ticketing), but the same movie will be screening to a half-empty room at the conventional theater. If I have a choice to see a movie at Alamo or not-Alamo, I pick the Alamo every time.

Aside from the pretty good food/beer/wine, aside from the off-site events, aside from the wacky theme nights, aside from crazy shit like Foleyvision (for which they've had movies translated on their own dime)/Master Pancake Theater/Movieoke, there's simply the sense that the Alamo is run by people who love movies and want to share that love, as opposed to conventional theaters, where the sense is that they are trying to milk you for every dime they can. Example: At many conventional theaters, they show 20 minutes of ads before the trailers start. At the Alamo, they show 20 minutes of bizarre vintage trailers that are vaguely related to the feature in some way. Food at the Alamo isn't exactly cheap, but compared to $20 for a box of Raisinets, it's a bargain.
posted by adamrice at 3:57 PM on October 9, 2007

Do film karaoke. I can't find a link but it was big in NYC a couple years back. Show a cheesy flick (Valley of the Dolls, both 1 and 2, are terrific), turn off the sound intermittently, and let members of the audience take turns supplying the dialog with a microphone. I also recall people doing porno karaoke to hilarious effect.

For what it's worth, I'd go to a theater that focused on JUST horror movies every single night.
posted by Lieber Frau at 4:01 PM on October 9, 2007

I've heard of theaters advertising certain showings as being specifically for parents with babies. The lights are dimmed, but not turned off, and the sound is turned down some so the babies won't get startled. If it's something G, PG or even PG-13 that their older kids won't be freaked out by, parents love having a chance to show up knowing that if their baby starts crying that's fully understood and expected. It's a chance to get out of the house.

If we had a local theater that did that on a night we could make it, my wife and I would have seen a whole lot more movies this past year. If you get a reputation for Tuesday Baby Nights or something, I suspect it could really take off.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:15 PM on October 9, 2007

Response by poster:
1. Hire a union projectionist with some damn standards.

Are you implying that I have no standards?

For the record my boss is the best projectionist I've ever met and knows his shit inside and out. We'd have an amazing projection and sound system if the money was there.
posted by brevator at 4:15 PM on October 9, 2007

The theatre at my old Uni has a great setup. They show second run movies on the weekends, midweek foreign and art films, midnight cult features [I saw midnight showings of The creature from the black lagoon in 3D, Clerks, and Star Trek I] and occasionally the much loved uber-nerd multiple features. They also have an excellent concession that serves the best coffee on campus, baked goods, cheap popcorn, and slush puppies.

[my knowledge is 7 years out of date, so I can no longer vouch for the quality of the coffee...]

The prices were way lower than the average movie theatre and I remember the weekday matinees were something like $2.00 for students. I highly recommend a multi-tiered system, try offfering cheap memberships that translate to good discounts for regular moviegoers.

A good repertory cinema is something people will come across town for, cinecenta has [had?] stacks of their guide in coffee shops across town. It must have been cheap to print, it was [is?] a single large sheet of newsprint folded in quarters, printed with the full months calendar and general theatre info. I still see the calendars on people's fridges whenever I go back home.
posted by rhinny at 4:18 PM on October 9, 2007

Is there a Greek system in the nearby college? As much as I hate to say it, inviting different frats/sororities to pick the midnight movie of the month gets the buzz going that you need. (College marketing speaks directly to sororities. Turns out they're always the best connected and they're good at getting people in.)

You showed OLD SCHOOL. How did you tell people you were showing OLD SCHOOL? If people aren't in the habit of midnight movies there, why the heck go. Set a schedule and stick to it. First Friday of the month at midnight - show cult horror. Second -- 80s classic. Third -- Delta's choice (or whatever). Fourth - Camp Classic (Sound of Music singalong, etc.) Cater to niche crowds and set up themes and rituals for that crowd.

I've always wanted to do theme food with a movie. Why there aren't Baby Ruth bars when they show Goonies, I'll never know.

I hate the art theaters in this town. Hate them with a passion. Hate the sound systems. The seats. The small screen. And yet I'm there constantly. They have a "buy in advance" discount card so it takes the sting out of going to see a film on a whim and they get the stuff that no one else does. The big fancy art theater seems to play the Merchant-Ivory, weepy and crowd pleasy art films. Me, I'll head down to the ghetto to see THE KING OF KONG with an interview with the director, etc.

People are creatures of habit. You have to have the combination of an interesting offering and an interesting way of telling them about it. When you're showing not first-run or delayed release stuff, you have to work harder to create a time element. Why they have to go now and there, as opposed to wait for video, rent it or see it alone.
posted by Gucky at 4:28 PM on October 9, 2007

A new theatre in my hometown does awesome things such as late night movies on Friday and Saturday nights. All through October they are scary movies. In other months they've shown Young Frankenstein, Meatballs, and million different awesome movies that everyone should see before they die. They do something on Sunday mornings called Movies and Mimosas. I know you can't do booze, but maybe fresh squeezed juice and bagels? They show older movies on those days (my gf and I treated ourselves to an awesome Bette Davis flick), but I guess you can show anything.
posted by sneakin at 5:24 PM on October 9, 2007

You can get involved in the 48 Hour Film Project. One of our local independent theaters had multiple screenings of the films, and each show sold out. People want to see their films on the big screen.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 6:29 PM on October 9, 2007

My local theater is doing all these things, plus

- upgraded the projection/light/sound system so that the stage can be used as a stage

- free admission to big sporting events projected on the screen (the owner makes a killing food and beer - it's a great alternative for people who can't make it to a sports bar) I think he's been especially successful with events that sports bars don't go for, but have a lot of rec leagues, like rugby

- pre-sells to large groups at a discount (this could be great to offer to any college group as a fundraiser - they buy packs from you at a discount, they resell at a slight discount from the average price)

- has preview screenings (I'm not sure what deal he cuts, but he had Knocked Up two weeks early, and it was PACKED)

- allows smoking in a well-ventilated area (yes, I wish he didn't, but a lot of people like it)

- kids/family events like magic shows, etc

- Midnight shows F/Sa - weird theme nights, freak shows, comedians

- comedy tours/improv. He does a lot of smaller groups/tours that are willing to do their own street work and promo - he gets a cut of tickets & foods, the performers get a place to play

- partnering with other small businesses - he has a regular wine night sponsored by a small seller, who then gives discounts when you come to buy wine there. You can't do booze, but there's got to be other places you can partner with.

- rents the space during the day for meetings

- shows the previous movies when a big sequel comes out, sometimes marathon style

- gives space to small teeny-weeny films and festivals with cult followings - the feminist film festival, for instance

- hosts benefits and fundraisers of films, especially first runs. He had a great benefit for LGBT youth - an advance screening of Hairspray, with prize for best drag

Finally, he promotes his fanny off, especially on the internet. He bought a failing business, invested in better foods and movies, raised the ticket prices $1.50, and went to every damn street fair, community festival, food day, email list, and newspaper he could get his hands on.

Then, he stays in touch with little guys that can't get space anywhere else, who do their own promo to their own cult audiences.

Plus - he's just a nice guy. Karma counts for something.
posted by beezy at 6:30 PM on October 9, 2007

On occasion, it can be fun (and crowd-drawing, for certain people =D) to show movie-musicals as singalongs, (i.e. with singalong subtitles), like Grease or even more recent (*cough* better) movies.
posted by Zephyrial at 6:37 PM on October 9, 2007

Midnight movies have been very successful at a few indie movie houses I've lived near.

I used to have friend of a friend who managed an indie movie house, though, and one day he found a huge cache of movie trailers, some decades old. He spliced all the trailers together and organized a gathering for friends called "20 Years of Trailers" and showed them all back to back.

It was pretty damn awesome. Everything from the original promos for cheesy Jonh Hughes 80s movies and forgotten classics to Titanic to Terminator to Drop Dead Fred. I think they were even grouped by topic or genre or something so it all flowed very well.

It wasn't a public showing, but it was one of the greatest times I've ever had at the movies.
posted by Brittanie at 7:08 PM on October 9, 2007

Does the mall chain theater show TV commercials before movies? I can't stand paying $10 to watch ads for shampoo, cell phones and the National Guard. The most offensive is the MPAA anti-piracy ad ("You wouldn't steal a handbag....") because if I just paid $10 for a movie ticket, clearly I am not the one pirating their movie!

Can you cultivate a reputation for respecting your customers and offering a much better experience than the chain theater? There are few theaters that make me feel good about handing them my money. I choose those theaters whenever possible.
posted by reeddavid at 7:18 PM on October 9, 2007

"Are you implying that I have no standards?"


But statistically speaking, the chance that a given person is an outstanding (or even competent) projectionist is low. I'll take you at your word that you are -- the fact that you even have some sense of pride in the job is a fair indicator -- but do keep in mind that a vast majority of houses have nobody on staff who knows projection at all. The machinery is operated by grease-fingered minimum wage kids.

"For the record my boss is the best projectionist I've ever met and knows his shit inside and out."

That's a unique and marketable product right there. Sell the the living hell out of it. Care in projection automatically sets any house head and shoulders above the mall-a-plexes and can impress upon the audience why they're sitting in the seat instead of snuggling on the couch with the remote pointed at a misconfigured and uncalibrated television.

Oh yeah, and let's not forget:

4. Real butter, for the love of god, REAL BUTTER.
posted by majick at 7:24 PM on October 9, 2007

I'm a member of my school's film society, and how we get people is pretty much the following:

-cheap tickets (this means student discount for you)
-show movies anywhere from 2nd run movies back to classics; this past weekend, we showed The Court Jester, and we start off every fall semester with Casablanca.

Also, find out if there's a local RHPS group interested in doing a stage show. I'd also poke feelers into the university about this and see if there's any people interested in starting a university-based one at your theater -- if it's a school-sponsored club/group, they get money from the school and you get money for people coming to see it.

I'd also suggest showing movies that either have been popular for a few years or gained popularity after their initial release.
posted by mismatched at 7:26 PM on October 9, 2007

You could also ask bjork24 or sourwookie, as noted in this thread from 2005.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:22 PM on October 9, 2007

Well, we just did a midnight run of Old School and no one came.

Work with student groups and clubs, and let them figure out what the students want to see, and make a big party out of it. You try to guess what the students want to see, you'll almost always fail.

You might want to consider that you're either packing the theater or you're not; if you're not sold out ever, then couches and things (or at least pulling out every other row so that everyone has legroom) will likely increase your audience -- just not to the original capacity of the room.

Speaking of comfort, what's the atmosphere like? With the good stuff on DVD and the new stuff at the multiplex, the only thing that will get a crowd out (other than fringe and art, which it sounds like the art place and your potential midnight shows will have covered) is the desire to be in the space.

So yes, your sound should be good, and your picture should be good, and your food should be good -- but is it a dank place to be? Does it smell odd? Is it depressing? Do you play excellent music before the shows start? Do you play wacky old drive-in movie clips before the show? In short, if you weren't playing a movie, would anyone come?

Make it a welcoming place, have a welcoming attitude, and start advertising your crap movies (like Old School) in a newspaper circular and on a web site, where you play up the ironic entertainment value. Make it a good place for people to make fun of the movies they're watching, and if you actually get hold of a good film once in a while, say so on page one: "Hey, who let this one get in the booth?"
posted by davejay at 10:16 PM on October 9, 2007

Oh, and are the seats uncomfortable? Everyone -- and I mean EVERYONE -- I know won't go to a movie with crappy seats no matter what's playing.

Finally: you can always do reserved seating, like the Arclight does; if you're not packing the house, it'll be like an in-joke, and if you suddenly start packing the house and have to get a decent reservation system set up...well, that's a nice problem to have, isn't it?
posted by davejay at 10:18 PM on October 9, 2007

I love a good arthouse theater, but my favorite theater ever was a more well-rounded place that shows a variety of independent and foreign stuff as well as the artier/cultier end of the mainstream spectrum (think Wes Anderson, et cetera). And, though I know you're supposed to make your killing on concessions, I was behind a patron once who made a show of chugging his soda before going into the theater. The clerk said, "Take it easy! We don't have a food policy or anything like that." After that, I was always happy to support the concession stand there (bonus: vegan baked goods!).

When I was in college the nearest theater was a single-screen place that showed one or two independents at a time plus a midnight showing of a classic or cult film on weekend nights. I don't know what demographic you're targeting, but I never would have seen Old School. Showings of anything from Breakfast at Tiffany's to Tarantino films were reliably packed at midnight, though. It was an all-around great theater, but my favorite thing: tickets were eight bucks and they gave two-dollar bills as change. I was really bummed when they raised the ticket price to $8.50 — until the first time I paid and my change included a shiny fifty-cent piece.

The arthouse theater down the hill had free refills on popcorn.

Don't underestimate the lure of 80s movies on today's youth.
posted by rafter at 2:46 AM on October 10, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses guys.
posted by brevator at 3:59 AM on October 10, 2007

Is there room for an arcade? or even just a small handful of the best vintage cabinets?
posted by Jacen at 8:19 AM on October 10, 2007

You've got a lot of great ideas already, but one thing that reliably sucked in the university crowd when I was in was promoting a series of movies as "film festivals". And you've got to promote them. Flier everywhere, a website that's always always up-to-date.

A Bogart Film Festival. A Propaganda Film Festival. A Martial Arts Film Festival, etc. Even if you've seen these movies before, they get a glitzy new sheen if they're part of the festival schedule.

Also consider pandering to families on Sunday afternoons, but not showing any family stuff during the week. Kids love watching the same movies over and over, so you don't have to worry so much about whether people have it on DVD— parents want their kids to have the theater experience. And keeping them away for the rest of the week makes everyone else happy.

And as noted above, a clean, comfortable atmosphere is essential. Especially since you've been showing mainstream fare, people expect comfy new seats like at any multiplex, whereas they're more forgiving if a theater is more artsy and down-on-its luck.

Make sure you monitor the temperature inside the theater at all times. I've come out of indie theaters many times stiff and frozen from the AC.
posted by tempest in a teapot at 10:46 AM on October 10, 2007

Argh. The Internet ate my post. (sigh)

Anyway, I'm in some sense associated with a virulently independent cinema in the UK (linky).

It's a loose co-op, entirely run by (unpaid) volunteers, and seems to be quite successful despite the local megaplexes. The key, I'd say, is that a large community has built up around the place, helped by the volunteer nature of the staff allowing interested cinema-goers to move behind the counter and help get their own ideas onboard. A constant turnover of people passing through, with some hanging around long-term, keeps ideas fresh. Plus volunteers can use the facilities when they're not otherwise in use, which had made it a bit of a breeding ground for local artists, musicians and film-makers.

The programme is pretty varied (for example) and includes a lot of the ideas other people have posted above. There are quite a few semi-regular nights for various local communities/demographics that tend to be organised by volunteer staff who have an interest/involvement in those areas, so they often have links to draw people in. (Such things as skaters, local historians, goth, Indymedia, erotica, bad Turkish films, etc.)

One thing that nobody above has suggested, which works pretty well, is a regular "open cinema" night. Anyone can bring a film (of up to 20minutes, without prior arrangement) that then gets shown on the big(ish) screen. The average quality is better than you might expect, and features very little youtubian dross. (There's a website for that night here)

It helps, of course, that we have an attached bar (with sofas,) urban garden and lounge, and that we let people take drinks into the cinema. When we do themed nights we often have a DJ in the bar (at a sensible volume level) which keeps people hanging around and chatting afterwards. We also use the walls of the place as an exhibition space for local artists, which livens things up and brings more people in.

Best of luck!
posted by Luddite at 1:49 PM on October 10, 2007

An independent theatre where I used to live in St.Louis showed 3D porn sometimes. It was pretty awesome and sold out way ahead of thime. You could also do the Rocky Horror thing with live performers, offer costume contests ect. I also second the student film festival.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 4:43 PM on October 10, 2007

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