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Q: Film distributors for an independent film theater ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Film distributors for an independent film theater
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Movies and Film
Asked by: bjork24-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 09 Mar 2004 07:24 PST
Expires: 08 Apr 2004 08:24 PDT
Question ID: 314872
My wife and I are currently researching the possibility of opening a
small, independent film theater in our town. We've done the majority
of the research ourselves, but keep coming up empty-handed when it
comes to film distributors... or who/whom we should contact to get the
films. My question has several parts, so I'll try to make it as
succinct as possible.

1. The majority of our films will be newer independent films (i.e.
"Fog of War", "Touching the Void", "Triplettes of Bellville", "Girl w/
the Pearl Earring", etc..).  So, do we contact each film's respective
production company, or is their one entity that acts like a booking

2. We'd also like to show older films, from classics to films that are
only a year or so old (i.e. "Citizen Kane", "Casablanca", "Waiting for
Guffman", "Donnie Darko", "Fargo", etc.). Again, who would we contact
for these?

3. Is there a book or directory that compiles all of the distribution
contacts that we'd need?

4. Finally, what, on average, is the percentage that film distributors
require in reimbursment for showing their films? 50%? 75%? Does it
depend on the age of the film?  Would older ones require less?

Thank you for taking the time to read our question. Your advice will
be greatly appreciated.
Subject: Re: Film distributors for an independent film theater
Answered By: scribe-ga on 10 Mar 2004 10:19 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello again, Bjork,

First, let?s take the most general question of how to lease films for
exhibition. It would appear that going directly to the distributors is
NOT the way to go. For one thing, there are so MANY distributors of
foreign, independent and classic films. And these distributors are not
supermarkets: you won?t find  any duplication from one to the other in
their offerings. That?s because a distributor of a new foreign or
independent film will have exclusive rights to distribute the film in
this country. (Often, the producer of the film will also be the
distributor or distribute it through a subsidiary.)  Therefore,
leasing six different films that interest you would involve
negotiating--not just ordering, but agreeing on terms?with six
different distributors. (An exception might be a truly large
producer/distributor like Sony Classics, which at any given time will
be likely to have several releases that you might want to screen in
your theater).

The following are three lists of companies that distribute the sort of
films you want to exhibit. As you can see, the lists are long.

And, here is my personal selection of a few distributors and their
websites, in order to suggest to you the wide gamut of companies
involved in this business: from quite small to very large, from quite
specialized--like  the first one (documentaries) to the fourth one
(classics)?to those that offer a bit of everything, like the second
one listed. Some may have only one film in release, another may have a
dozen.  (very very large)  (small but growing and also an exhibitor)

And, of course, our old friend:

You can see from the sheer number and variety of distributors that the
world in which you will be operating is a fairly complex one.

Consider the fact, too, that your theater will be ?combing? the world
for interesting films. World cinema is more diversified than ever
before, with more countries producing films than ever before (the
current release Osama was produced and filmed in Afghanistan, and with
hundreds of independent films being produced each year in the United
States alone. The trade press will keep you informed, but what you
really need is someone who knows what?s coming, what?s interesting,
AND who can represent you and obtain films for you at favorable terms.

The following site gives a very cogent explanation of how the film
distribution system works in general, and the essential role that the
buyer plays in this system:

Here is how ?How Stuff Works? defines the role of the Buyer:
"Most theaters use buyers to represent them in negotiating with the
distribution companies. Large chains such as AMC Theatres or United
Artists employ buyers while small chains and independent theaters
contract with a buyer. The negotiating process is very political. The
buyers often will accept a movie that the theater is not very
interested in to make sure they get a film they really want.
Distributors try to balance the movies they lease to theaters in the
same local area to make sure all of the theaters will continue to work
with them. Sometimes a theater will get an exclusive or special
engagement to premiere a movie in its area. Once a buyer is interested
in a movie, the lease terms are discussed."

(These terms would include, of course, the percentage of your box
office from the film that must go back to the distributor.)

So our next question to be answered must be, ?Where do we find a
buyer?? I have found that the following site is a great place to find
not only buyers (also known as ?booking services?), but virtually
everything you need, including concession supplies:

The site contains a directory of over 60 booking services throughout the country:
My suggestion to you would be to contact those nearest you by email. I
am sure they would be happy to provide you with a complete explanation
of their services, and how they work with exhibitors such as
yourselves. (This is a supposition on my part, but a safe one I think:
These buyers must negotiate for a group of theaters, each of them
independently owned, in order to obtain a ?group rate.?)

Finally, I think that this  site will provide you with insight into
the business from an independent?s point of view, as well as some good
information about leasing ?classics.?
By the way, this article suggests to me that the leasing rates for
old, classic films may be fixed, unlike the to-be-negoiated rates for
new films.

May I make one other suggestion? Why not contact owners of independent
theaters such as the one you envision? I have my favorites. One is the
Spectrum8 in Albany, New York. This extremely successful independent
has grown to 8 screens.  The site includes a history of Spectrum,
which may be interesting (and encouraging!) to you.

I do not know if your theater will be in a major market, but my guess
is that it is more likely be in a smaller market, like Albany. So you
might find the Spectrum8 to be especially relevant. Good people own
the Spectrum8, and I feel pretty confident that they will respond to
your inquiry generously.

Another favorite of mine, in a much bigger market, is The Tivoli in
University City (St. Louis), Missouri.

You will note that The Tivoli is now part of a national chain of
independent theaters (contradiction in terms?). Landmark owns
theaters, like the one you plan, in 19 major population centers and in
Boulder, CO.

For a little friendly advice, I would choose Spectrum over Landmark. ;)

In closing, as a cinephile and a lover of the less mass-marketed
films, I wish you much success and happiness in your new venture.
Please let me know if there is any additional information I could
obtain for you.

Clarification of Answer by scribe-ga on 31 Mar 2004 13:38 PST
Hello Bjork,
Thanks very much for the "tip." The very best to you in your new venture!
bjork24-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Scribe, your answer was great!  Extremely helpful... in fact, I'm very
familiar with the Tivoli, b/c I live in St. Louis. The theater we're
planning on opening will be in a town that's roughly the same size as
Albany. It's experiencing a cultural rebirth in it's downtown
district, and is just dying for an independent theater.  Again, thank
you for all your help.  Very much appreciated!

Subject: Re: Film distributors for an independent film theater
From: scribe-ga on 09 Mar 2004 08:28 PST
Hello Bjork,
Before I attempt to answer your question comprehensively, I wanted to
convey some information to you.
I immediately thought of New Yorker Films, which I believe is one of
the premier distributors in the United States for foreign, independent
and classic films. I remember fondly the New Yorker theater on upper
Broadway in New York City. The theater is now gone, but the name lives
on with this film distribution company. Check them out.
Subject: Re: Film distributors for an independent film theater
From: bjork24-ga on 09 Mar 2004 18:26 PST
Thank you Scribe... that link was very helpful.
Subject: Re: Film distributors for an independent film theater
From: jenpete-ga on 26 Jun 2004 22:20 PDT
WOW! This was my first contact with Google Answers...and what a
shining example! VERY impressive response!

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