How to start a film club: 8 steps to creating a kick-ass movie group

We all prefer watching movies in good company. Me? I’d even take downright bad company just so I have someone to elbow midway through The Usual Suspects when Verbal Kint’s responses seem just a little too on the nose.

But what if you don’t have a housemate willing to sit through your movie marathons and endless rants about X-Men movie universe continuity? Easy. Start a film club.

There are many pleasures to be had by watching movies in a group. When you think about it, it’s kind of like being on a particularly active subReddit… but in person, and with fewer raging tempers. You get to engage in one of the best leisure activities ever (watching a movie) and then dissect the film to hell afterward.

Not only does a film club offer that same opportunity to others in the community, but it also enhances your movie-watching experience, and brings about an enormous sense of wellbeing after you turn your milkman onto the brilliance of giallo horror.

Ready to change your life and rock a kick-ass film club? Let’s go, grunts!

1. Why start a film club?

The driving motivation behind your film club could be utterly different from the next guy.

Fundamentally? It revolves around bringing folks together to see a flick together at the same time. But there’s more to it than that.

Think about it: while you might be down at the multiplex every Friday night, catching all the latest releases, not everyone has those same resources. Starting a club offers people the chance to watch films in a group, without breaking the bank,

And then there are preferences.

If you’re a fan of indie films or foreign cinema, depending on where you live, those types of movies might not be available at a nearby theater. You can make that happen! It’s all about catering to what your group likes.

Film clubs are a way to unite communities, bring together friends, initiate new leisure activity in town, and kickstart people’s love of cinema. They are a way to sharpen up your critical thinking skills too: it helps to have a clear head and a well-thought-out argument when you’re about to launch into an assault on why Citizen Kane is super over-rated (good luck with that.)

There are millions of reasons why it’s a good idea to start a film club. The most important part? You start.

2. Who is the club for?

“And then I said, ‘I didn’t get mother! either'”

This is a big one.

For example,  if a teenager wants to start a film club in high school then they would need to speak to someone in charge. Contact a teacher, preferably a film studies one, and figure out if it’s possible. They might need to shuffle schedules and bring teacher an apple. As the old maxim goes: if there’s a will, there’s a way.

There’s also the matters of group size, time and place for high school societies. CollegeVine’s guide goes into detail on how a film club can help you get into your chosen university.

Your desired audience will shape and determine many other factors.

If you’re looking to start a film club in your local community then ask yourself this: who would I like to hang out with during my precious free time when I could be at home guzzling jelly beans and bingeing Black Mirror in my sweats?

Of course, you don’t have to change those habits. You can start a film club that takes place in your own home or have a one-off movie night. Remember when considering your audience, you might want to think bigger than your own circle of friends and your own interests.

With a public group, you don’t control who might turn up. That to me is what’s most appealing about a club; you may end up making friends with people you wouldn’t have expected. But if you’re wanting to hold the group at your house, that may stir up issues when a riotous crowd surges into your living room after last orders.

Auckland Central Library decided to start a film club for the homeless. Isn’t that a cool idea? That type of thinking goes outside of your own comforts – damnit, why aren’t we watching Predator?! – and reiterates that a real, genuine sense of community means everyone.

3. Where will your club meet?

film club, old movie theater

It might be super vintage and lend your screening a feeling of genuine terror, but don’t kid yourself: it’s also super decrepit and at least one person will catch MRSA before the film is over.

Where your film club meets is a big question that hinges on one thing: access. Make sure that the place is easy to get to for your intended group.

Sure, that abandoned factory on the other side of town would be amazing to have your screening of Grave Encounters, but is it easy for your members to get there?

Are there mountains of rubble blocking the entrance?

Is that mound of rubble guarded by a horde of rats?

Community centres, sports halls, local business centers, schools, and libraries are but a handful of places you can approach. You might have to pay a fee to rent a space, but you could cover that with a suggested entry donation for members.

Failing that you can put the word out that your club is seeking a free, or affordable, space. You’d be pleasantly surprised at how generous folks can be if it betters the community at large.

Then again, you might prefer to start a different type of film club. One that meets up at the movie theater to see movies then hobbles to the pub afterward to nitpick them.

While that might alienate people on account of being too spendy, there are options:

4. Do you need to get a permit?

“Look, this graph says that we should probably get a permit.”

The last thing you’re going to want halfway through a particularly tense viewing of The Third Man (and let’s face it, they’re all tense) is for the police to burst through the door and shut the whole thing down.

Alright, well that probably wouldn’t happen.

Violating copyright law and performance rights acts is less of a “guns blazing” affront to the law, but make no mistake: it’s still breaking the law.

Did you know it’s against the law to rent a movie and then screen it in public?

See, in order to be able to show movies in public the film in question needs to be:

  • In the public domain or
  • Have public performance rights

The public domain refers to movies that are out of copyright and therefore eligible for people to use as they wish. Public performance refers to a special license purchased so a film can be shown to the public.

Be smart from the beginning and find out what you need to legally screen films for your group.

Jacker Hack
If you speak with your local library about using their space, there’s a strong chance that they already hold a public performance license for their own programming.

5. Where will you get your equipment?

That old projector of your grandma’s might look cool – but does it do more than light up a smoky room?

When figuring out your location it’s a good idea to contemplate how you’re planning to screen the movie.

Do you own a projector?

If not, can you rent one?

Do you own a decent screen?

If not, do you have a bed sheet that you won’t miss?

As well as a projector and screen, you’ll also need a media device to load up the movie. It could be your phone, a laptop, a Blu-ray or DVD player.

Many places rent these items, but it’s likely that if you’ve got a decent home entertainment setup, you can transport some of that to your film club.

That being said, I’d strongly recommend testing your set-up in advance. Even if everything “worked just fine at home!” retest once you’re at your location. Sometimes cables and leads decide they don’t feel like behaving and make you look like a buffoon in front of a room of strangers.

Don’t forget seats.

Setting up at a community centre or library will make this step a lot easier as they’ve usually already got plenty you can use – but do make sure you ask in advance when booking the room.

If you’re seeking out unusual locations – i.e. the abandoned factory route – then you may need to ensure people’s comfort by providing seats and pillows for them to scream bloody murder into and cower behind.

6. How will you choose which movies to watch?

Once you’ve squared away licensing and equipment details, it’s time to consider the most important part of your film club.

What are you going to watch?

Depending on where you’re holding the club will affect what movies you screen. As I mentioned above, if your group meets at a public library then you may have already won the licensing issue. If said library has a public performance license, then the matter of which movies you can legally show is decided.

A majority of libraries also offer DVDs that you can borrow. Brilliant!

Failing that, you can also go the route of free movies.

Films in the public domain do not fall under copyright law. You can download, screen, edit and distribute them however you like. Don’t be fooled into thinking that, oh they’re free so they’re obviously the cinematic equivalent of a dumpster fire. There are loads of public domain movies that are classics.

Night of the Living Dead became public domain purely by accident after George A. Romero forgot to place a copyright statement on the opening title.

Check out Openflix for a directory of public domain movies.

7. What’s your plan for spreading the word?

“Oooh – a film group!”

Once you’ve got things in motion you need to let people in the area know that your film club exists.

Word of mouth is a tried-and-tested way of spreading information, yet you still need to get people involved right from the start.

Start a blog and include all the information potential attendees would like to know.

You could have a page featuring all of the basic information for the club (what it’s about, where your HQ is, how you can be contacted) and then individual pages to branch out and offer details.

Will you be having theme nights?

Is there a charge for entry?

Do you have to dress up?

Once that’s established, create a mailing list to keep your members updated via a newsletter.

If that all sounds daunting, or you’re too swamped arranging the other details, ask around and see if anyone you know can help with designing a simple one-page website. Failing that, see if a friend can help set-up a Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest account for your club.

With those established, you could choose to run a contest for the club’s first meeting to get people all geared up. Or start the club in October and kick things off with a crazy horror movie screening!

Find out which other groups in your area are popular, through the web, Facebook, or in person, then approach their president and ask if they’d mind mentioning your film club via their social media channels.

8. Who’s going to be in charge of actually, you know, running the club?

This final one’s likely the most important component of the club. Well, after picking an absolutely killer name, that is.

Running any sort of organisation requires a commitment. Figure out who’s responsible for all of the day-to-day duties of the group. If you meet once a month, there’s still lots to arrange. And if your location changes from month to month? That’s another ongoing task.

On that note, licensing issues may change depending on where you are.

Then there are safety and access issues to take into account. Does your location offer sufficient space for wheelchair users?

There are a fair few things to consider. Those options will vary depending on what type of club you’re running, who the audience is, where you’re holding meetings, and so on.

One way to make sure that you’re not chugging wine by the bucketload and rapidly losing your hair is to share those duties.

The Magic Lantern Filmclub in Sheffield UK started life in 2010, and has three co-founders. They all chip in to ensure everything gets done without anyone losing their mind. They began small and have since branched out, helping other clubs get started, applying for grants for equipment and spreading the good word of cinema.

Wrapping up

There are many reasons why you might want to start a film club.

You’re after a new social activity with friends.

You’d like to get more involved in the local community.

There’s a cute girl who you just *know* is a massive movie nerd and this would give you the chance to get to know her better. Hey, I’m not judging.

But how do you actually create one?

Figure out why you want to do it in the first place. Your vision will be largely determined by this.

Next work on figuring out your audience. Who will the group will be aimed at?

That will largely factor into the next step: location! Once you’ve figured out where the group will meet you can work out the legalities, such as licensing.

Equipment is also a major, MAJOR part of running a film club. If you’ve not got a projector or screen, or even a great collection of movies, you’re in a bit of a pickle.

Finally, you’ll need to spread the word and figure out the day-to-day running of the club.

There are many rewards to running a film club. It enhances your movie-watching experience, sure, but best of all, it has the possibility to introduce other people to the absolute magic of cinema. And you get to share in that.

Come on, that sounds pretty awesome, right?

So what are you waiting for?

Start your film club.

Images: People laughing: Freepik, People: Freepik, Lonely Movie by Forsaken Fotos licensed under CC BY 2.0, Business people: Freepik, Studying indoors: Freepik Cinema stuff and movie projector: Freepik

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About Author

Gem is a freelance entertainment journalist, a professional blogger, and social media nerd, who is uber-obsessed with the Alien franchise. She can also be found drumming, baking and being a librarian when not geeking out.

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