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
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
http://www.sonyclassics.com (very very large)
http://www.angelikafilm.com/ (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.
Enter: THE BUYER.
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
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.
http://www.spectrum7.com/ 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
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.