Regularly watching the news over the years, and getting my news from a variety of sources, I’ve noticed that the mainstream news media does a pretty bad job of covering certain issues. A story about Paris Hilton takes the lead over a story about the Afghanistan war or a piece on climate change. Some issues don’t get covered at all. But to address this problem at a local level, many communities have started to host public film screenings, screening educational documentaries that raise awareness of the issues that don’t get covered adequately in the mainstream news.
Documentaries provide a useful way of conveying information in a concise and entertaining format. It certainly beats trying to get a whole bunch of people to read a book on the same subject! I’ve tried with some of my friends, and it doesn’t work. This is something a group of friends and I started doing four years ago. Since then we’ve hosted about 25 screenings and gotten crowds anywhere from a hundred to four hundred people.
So, if you’d like to host a film screening of your own, here are a few tips on how to make sure it’s successful.
Note: This is Films For Action's abbreviated summary of our much more in-depth and updated guide, which you can find here.
What To Do
I. Plan the Event:
1. Determine who else among your friends or community would like to help out. Ideally you won’t be doing this alone, and will have a few other people to help out.
2. When assembling a team, solicit people who are good at the specific tasks your group will need to do.
a.You’ll want to have a good writer for writing the press release and program handout.
b.You’ll want to have a good graphic designer to design the flyer to help promote the event.
c.You’ll want to have a good public speaker to introduce the film and possibly host a discussion afterwards.
d.And you’ll want to have a few people who can help with general promotion outreach.
3. Pick a film that covers an issue that is important to you and your group. You'll want to be sure to contact the film-makers via their website to get permission to screen their film. In an email you can explain your particular situation and see what the Public Performance Rights (PPR) will cost. Sometimes they will waive the fee or dont' have one other than buying the DVD, but in most cases it will cost $100.
4. Choose the location that would be best suited to the occasion. A local library, an independent theater, a church, or other community spaces are all good options.
5. Once you’ve chosen a location, you’ll want to confirm a date and time with the venue manager.
6. When thinking about dates, think of possible tie-ins to make the event more news worthy. For example, doing a film on election fraud before this year’s elections, or doing a film about food when the farmers markets are starting up for the season.
7. Make sure you can acquire all of the equipment necessary for the screening, checking to see if the venue can provide this equipment or if you’ll need to get any of it yourself. A quick check list includes: the DVD of the film, a film projector, film screen or white wall, a DVD player, and stereo speakers.
8. Last, you’ll want to write up a program flyer to give people that attend the screening. The program flyer should include solutions or actions that people can take after the screening to help solve the problem addressed in the film.
II. Promote the Event:
1. Write a Press Release to send to local media outlets, including local newspapers and radio stations. Think of the best way to frame the issue that the film covers so that the media will want to cover the story. Send the press release out one month in advance of the screening.
2. Design a flyer one month in advance.
a. A strong central image can be key in grabbing people's attention.
b. Use large text so that the most important information is easily readable.
3. Include all of the main information about the event, including: film name, date and time, location and address, admission cost if any, the main sponsor and any co-sponsors, and a website URL for more information.
4. Once the flyer is designed, you will want to create about a hundred full-page flyers to put up around town. You can make Xerox copies of your flyers at a place like Kinko’s or CopyCo pretty cheaply. There are many businesses around town you can put your flyers up, and college campuses usually have many bulletin boards that work also.
5. You’ll also want to focus on a good deal of online promotion. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter & MySpace have excellent tools to help spread the word online, including blogs, bulletins, and event invites that will get your event out to many people. E-mail list serves are also great, if you know of any activist or community list-serves, send them the info for your event and see if they’ll include it in their announcements.
6. The important rule of thumb for all good promotion is “the rule of threes.” As busy as people are with so many things going on, it takes the public seeing your event info about three times for them to remember your event. If they see it in the newspaper, on a flyer, and on a website, they’re much more likely to remember and come to your event.
III. Hosting The Event:
1. On the day of the event, hand people the program handout you prepared as people show up.
2. Have someone in your group that is good at public speaking introduce your group and the film. Thank the audience for coming, and thank any sponsors that helped pay for expenses.
3. After the event, celebrate with everyone who helped out with the screening. Thank everyone who volunteered their time and energy. This builds group cohesion and will help build the team’s morale for doing future screenings.
So those are the basics of hosting a film screening. With any film screening, raising awareness is the name of the game. If you follow these basic tips, you will be sure to get a crowd of fifty to a couple hundred people at your event, making an important contribution to the knowledge of your community.