Every filmmaker, from the mightiest studio executive to the humblest of students with a camcorder all have one thing in common: to have a full audience when they premiere their film. The scale varies, of course: the student might be hoping to fill their living room while the studio executive is hoping to fill hundreds of theatres around the world, but the desire is the same.
As Blue Damen Pictures prepares to premiere our new short film "Recalculating" on March 2nd we are encountering a new problem: what if we run out of seats?
Before you start wondering if we are being like Charlie Brown worrying about having a big enough box for all his Valentines there are a few factors at play here that you should know about. If you're a filmmaker maybe this will help you out when you find yourself in the same situation and if you are an audience member consider this an inside track on how to get into cool sold-out screenings of emerging films.
A full house is, of course, is a nice problem to have. It is certainly nicer than the problem of having no one show up to the screening: every filmmaker's nightmare. At the same time it is an exquisite torture to have to worry about turning away eager film-goers at the door because no one wants to alienate a potential audience member.
There are three main ways that a movie ends up on the big screen:
- It is Distributed to theatres. This is where filmmakers hope to make money.
- It is Screened at a film festival. This is where filmmakers hope to get distribution.
- It is Four-Walled at the filmmakers expense. This is where the filmmaker just hope people will come to see it.
We at Blue Damen Pictures will sometimes Four-Wall our film in order to share a completed film with the cast, crew, backers, and community that helped us make the film happen. Four-Walling is basically renting a theatre. Some filmmakers will Four-Wall a film for a few weeks in order for the film to qualify for awards like the Academy Awards but there are a lot of rules about this that we won't get into here. The bottom line is that it is expensive and it usually comes out of the filmmaker or production company's pocket so seats are limited by how big of a theatre the filmmaker can afford and how long they can afford it for.
So say that you have a film that you want to four wall and you can afford a 100 seat theatre. The first people you want to invite to your film are all the people who worked on it- and if you have ever worked on a film then you know you feel like you've jolly well earned a free ticket. It is HARD WORK. So you put together a list of people who will receive comp tickets and plan to sell the rest.
This is where planning a movie premiere becomes like planning a wedding: you have to invite all the relatives, but you don't know how many of them are going to show up. You want a full house but you don't know how many seats you can sell. For the premiere of our last film "Dark Before Dawn" we didn't think this would be an issue until we had people waiting in line to buy tickets with no more tickets still for sale and still had comped tickets unclaimed. It worked out in the end, but it was a nail-biter.
So if you're a filmmaker planning on Four-Walling your film and you have a long list of comp tickets to be distributed: get your supporters to RSVP for their seats. If they are planning on coming their tickets will be assured and if not then you have a much more accurate count of seats that you can fill.
If you're an audience member and you have to purchase your ticket, don't worry: no one is getting rich off of you. Filmmakers sometimes insist that you buy your ticket in advance if you want to guarantee a seat, not because they think they are just that awesome and that everyone is going to be trampling down the door to their film, but because they want to know how long to keep promoting in order to fill the theatre.