How to Book a Film (Part 1)

How to Book a Film (Part 1)

We live in an age when the technology exists to easily show a movie on a big screen.

However, it’s not that easy, because you usually have to license a film from a distribution company in order to book it at your theater.

Booking films can be tricky.

You might have noticed in the past month that we’ve had to postpone some of the films we’ve booked at Indywood. For example, this week we had to replace It Follows with Spring (It Fallows has been postponed to July).

These change-ups in scheduling are almost always my fault. No one taught me how to be a film booker, and I’m sure it’s obvious that I’m learning as I go along—learning through trial and error. So many errors . . . Hayley, my sister/partner, has often opined in good humor that one of the challenges of entrepreneurship is that you fail constantly and you’re failure is always public.

But I’ve learned a lot from a year of public failure!

In hopes of making the road a little less rough for other aspiring film bookers, here’s a basic breakdown of how to book a film.

1.) Contacting distributors:

When you’re considering a film to book, the first step is to identify the distributor of the film.

I started out by signing up for IMDb Pro. As a “pro” member, the website will tell you the distributor of the film in this column on the right:

Usually there is a phone number for the distribution company, and sometimes, rarely, an email address.

The phone number or email address they provide is often a dead end. It took me quite a lot of googling to locate contact info for most distributors.

Make a call (or send an email) I’ve found that phone calls are faster than email for making contact with people. So make a phone call.

Hopefully when you call you’ll be able to talk to a human being. Say that you’re a film booker and you want to license a film. Ask for the “Theatrical Licensing” department.

Once you’ve made contact with the theatrical licensing team, they’ll give you a quote for a licensing fee for the film you’re interested in.

2.) Licensing Fees

Licensing fees are typically structured like this: You pay a “guarantee” up front versus a percentage of the tickets sales—meaning you pay them which ever amount is greater.

The average licensing fee is $250 vs 35%. That means you pay them $250 up front and then if 35% of your ticket sales was $255, you would owe the distributor $5.

However, each distributor structures their fees differently. Some of them don’t require you to pay the guarantee up front, and some of them don’t require a guarantee at all and just take the percentage (that’s always nice).

ALWAYS HAGGLE! Distributors are used to being haggled with, so don’t be shy about asking for a deal.

After you’ve paid the licensing fee, you can screen the film as many times as you want.

3.) Media Format:

The distributor will ask you what media format you’d like to screen.

The industry standard media format for theatrical cinemas is called Digital Cinema Package (DCP). Distribution companies prefer that you screen DCP, because it is the highest quality.

However, a DCP projection set-up costs a minimum of $100,000.

At Indywood, we’re not able to afford DCP, so we screen off of Bluray.

Unfortunately, screening Blurays limits the films that we are able to bring (which I discuss more below under “Types of Films”).

Tell the distributor which format you want (probably Bluray), and they’ll send you a disc.

4.) Shipping Discs and Posters

Many distributors have their media delivered by a company called Technicolor.

Technicolor will send you the Bluray disc in a big case with a return shipping label.

Discs usually arrive a couple days before your opening night. It is crucial that someone is at your theater when disc arrives, because they always require a signature!

You can also usually order posters from Technicolor. Here’s their number: 1 (800) 99-FILMS.

If Technicolor doesn’t have the poster you need, you’ll have to ask the distribution company.

The day after the end of the run, Technicolor will send UPS or Fedex to pick up the disc from you.

If the distribution company doesn’t have a relationship with Technicolor, you’ll have to do all the shipping yourself.

6.) Reporting the Numbers

You must report your grosses from ticket sales to the distribution company every night for every screening that you do (these numbers enable the distributor to calculate the percentage that you owe them).

An easy way to do this is to report your numbers to a company called Rentrack, who will then report the numbers to the distributor for you.

At the end of the run of the film, you’ll have to submit a Box Office Report (BOR) to the distributor in the form of an excel doc. Here's a template for a BOR.

7.) Paying Up

After you’ve submitted your BOR, the distributor will calculate their percentage cut of your sales, and they’ll send you an invoice.

In my experience, most distribution companies are antiquated in their ability to receive payments. Most of them don’t use PayPal, and some of them require you to send a physical check (what decade are we in? The 1990s?).

Once you’ve paid the distributor their cut of your ticket sales, you’re all done! You are now a professional film booker.