Skip to main content

Our top community cinema tips: Cine North

Rachel McWatt from touring cinema Cine North shares her tips and ideas about how to set up and run a community cinema.

  • An audience watching a screening of The Duchess
    Cine North host a special screening of The Duchess at Beningbrough Hall.

Based in Bradford, Cine North is North Yorkshire’s leading touring cinema. The Cine North team travel all over the region working with communities to screen a huge range of films, from popular blockbusters to arthouse titles and short films, in venues like town halls, stately homes and even a water mill.

  • Rachel McWatt sits beside a sign advertising an upcoming screening


    Having helped hundreds of communities all over Yorkshire screen films to local audiences, Cine North’s Rachel McWatt shares her top tips for community cinema organisers.

Can I start a community cinema even if I don’t have any screening equipment?

Yes – lots of community cinemas use borrowed equipment. There are touring cinemas similar to Cine North all over the UK that can lend equipment, and offer different levels of support in other ways too. Organisations such as Cinema For All may also be able to loan equipment or put you in touch with nearby film clubs or societies that could help.

Working with touring cinemas can be a great way to run screenings in your community; the touring group can arrive with all equipment plus the film itself and can even fully manage the event for you if required.

Should I work with other community cinemas near me?

Absolutely – the community cinema movement really benefits from collaboration and different groups supporting each other! Buddy up rather than compete – share and support, cross promote and learn from each other’s successes. Being aware of what is going around you can be really important and will also have a big impact on the success of your film choices. See if you can work with touring cinemas and arts festivals happening in your area, too.

How often should our cinema screen films?

Most community cinemas show films every four weeks or thereabouts. Sticking to a regular monthly night, such as the first Thursday of each month, can really help your local audience to remember and look forward to your next screening. If you’re using a shared community space that has a year round programme of activity, make sure you book your regular slots as far in advance as possible.

Do you have any tips about how to publicise our screenings?

Digital media offers a powerful and cost-effective marketing tool, and we really encourage all our cinema organisers to use the internet and social media.

In smaller or more isolated communities, we’ve found that more traditional forms of promotion can be very effective too, so don’t underestimate the power of a poster or a stack of flyers in your library, doctor’s surgery, church, hairdresser, pub, school, post office and local noticeboard. If you have enough volunteers, distribute flyers locally through letterboxes, and don’t forget to put up posters at your venue itself too.

Make sure your posters and flyers include key information such as:

• Venue name and address

• Film title and its BFFC certification

• Screening date and start time

• Ticket price and how to get tickets, including the contact details of one of your team

• An eye-catching picture and your logo

The ideal time to distribute publicity materials is three to four weeks before your event.

What are the best ways to sell tickets?

When you’re getting started, the easiest way to guarantee an audience is for each member of your cinema team to agree to sell a certain number of tickets. For example, if three team members sell 10 tickets each, then you have a guaranteed audience of 30 people.

Ideally, you should have one person who coordinates all the ticket sales and it should be this person’s contact details that appear on your publicity. Offer as many ways for people to buy tickets as possible, such as:

• Purchasing tickets from local outlets

• Reserving tickets over the phone and then collected and paid for on arrival at the    event

• Paying in advance by sending a cheque to the contact person

• Buying tickets from the home of the contact person

• On the door, subject to availability

Many of the cinemas that we work with sell few tickets in advance but do incredibly well with on-the-door sales, so don’t be afraid to take a risk. That said, it inevitably takes time for word of mouth to spread about a new cinema, so give it a chance to build momentum.

How should I work with local outlets to sell tickets?

Selling tickets through your local shop, post office, pub or hairdressers can be a great way to spread the word while increasing sales.

Provide the outlet with copies of your publicity materials and some tickets, and ask them to record how many tickets they sell and at what price. Include your phone number for them to contact you if they need help or more tickets, and any other instructions they may need - for example, who qualifies for concessionary tickets. On the day of the screening or the day before, visit your outlets to collect any unsold tickets together with their list of tickets sold and the money they have made.

How should we charge for tickets?

Most community cinemas that we work with charge around £5 for a full-priced ticket and £3 for a concessions ticket. To get an idea of what people might be willing or expect to pay, take a look at what your other local activity groups charge for admission.

You could also set up a membership scheme, allowing your audience to pay for their entire season’s attendance in advance. This will also help you with budgeting.

At your screening, set up a box office area with a table, chair and cash box with a float near the entrance to your venue, together with a willing volunteer to take money and check tickets on the door. It’s useful to have pre-booked tickets ready for collection in individual envelopes labelled with the audience member’s name and the total amount of money owed.

What’s the best way to set up our venue’s seating?

A ‘theatre style’ layout – rows facing the screen with a wide central aisle – will probably be most appropriate for your seating arrangements. Rows can be curved, if that helps with sightlines. Be sure to leave plenty of space between the rows of seats so that people can get in and out easily.

Bear in mind too that some audience members may have limited mobility. If your venue has wheelchair access, it’s a good idea to leave some space at the end of one of the rows near the entrance for wheelchair users.

Since people are going to be sat down for long periods, make sure your seating is as comfortable as possible. Invite people to bring cushions if you can’t provide them, or picnic chairs and blankets for outdoor screenings.

Is there anything we should do during the screening itself?

The most important thing is ensuring that your space is very quiet so that your audience can have the most enjoyable experience possible. This means no whistling tea urns or tap dancing classes in the next room!

And before the screening starts, it’s always a good idea to remind everyone to switch off their mobile phones.

How can we work with other organisations in our community?

Tapping into local interest groups can be a great way to engage with their members and harness their interest. How about working with Scout or Guide groups to work on a programme that appeals to younger audiences, or speaking to your local book groups to decide on some literary adaptations to screen?

How can we make our screenings special?

Our audiences and cinema organisers are always telling us about how one of the key differences between a traditional cinema and a community cinema is the social aspect. Tap into this (and bring in some more funds in the process) by selling drinks, snacks or even a meal depending on your capacity during the hour before starting the film. If you’d like to serve alcohol but your venue isn’t licensed, you can arrange a Temporary Event Notice (TEN) (if your venue is in England or Wales) or an Occasional Licence (if your venue is in Northern Ireland or Scotland).

If you’re screening a family film, soft drinks, crisps, sweets and popcorn will go down well. If your film has a particular theme then you may want to have a fully themed evening to add to the atmosphere - decorate your space, serve special food or drinks or ask people to turn up in themed costumes and award a prize for the best. Don’t forget to take pictures – your local paper might cover it and get your film nights some additional exposure.

Can I work with a touring cinema even if our local community cinema is already up and running?

We do our best to support cinema organisers wherever there is motivation to establish or enhance a community cinema programme. If you’re in Yorkshire or Cumbria, please contact us. If you’re elsewhere in the UK, there’s sure to be a touring cinema near you that you can work with to help develop your community cinema in many different ways.