BBC Films

Screenings & Cinema

filmmaking guide

Screenings & Cinema

Along with submitting your film to festivals, you may wish to organise your own screening or submit your film to other kinds of exhibitors.

Screenings can be split up into two categories: theatrical and non-theatrical. The British Film Institute (BFI) provides the following definitions for these terms:

Theatrical: Screening a film to a public, paying audience. Non-Theatrical: Screening a film to a closed membership group (such as a film society or an educational group) without charging an admission fee on the door.

These terms are somewhat ambiguous though as they can sometimes be used to mean the following:

Theatrical: Screening a film in a cinema. Non-Theatrical: Screening a film to an audience in a space/venue that is not in a cinema, e.g. at a music festival, on a car park wall, in a VJ set, on a boat / plane etc. Non-theatrical screenings generally come after the film has completed its film festival touring, as rights licensees do not ask for exclusivity or premiere status.

Either way, before screening any films (whether your own or other people's) to an audience you need to make sure that you have acquired all the rights to do so by clearing them with the copyright holders/distributors.

Rights & Clearances

If you would like to screen your film at a commercial screening where the audience have paid for admission (e.g. as part of a short film showcase or before a feature film), you should make sure you have obtained all the underlying rights in the film (including rights to the screenplay, the soundtrack and the film itself) so that you may grant clearance to the screener or cinema operator. Otherwise, the screener (or you on his behalf) will have to obtain clearance from all the other right holders.

You should check any agreements you have signed with actors and/or funders for the film. You may be required to give a percentage of the revenue from ticket sales to the actors or funders when commercially screening the film. It is also worth double-checking whether any funding agreements you have for the film restrict the manner in which you can show the film to the public or oblige you to mention the funder on any advertisement for a screening of the film. It is essential that you honour the obligations in any funding agreement as these will usually have been included precisely because the funder wants you to follow them in return for the capital they have given you. They are likely to take action against you if you disregard the terms of your contract with them.

See our Legal Guide: Rights & Clearances Checklist for more legal advice on this topic.


The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is an independent, non-governmental organisation responsible for classifying the ratings of films and videos in the UK. If you plan to release your film theatrically or on DVD, you will need to get your film certificated by BBFC, so that it has an official rating (U, PG, 12, 15, 18, Restricted). Technically, for films to show in cinemas they do not have to be submitted for classification to the BBFC, but in reality Local Council's will usually only show films once they have been rated by the BBFC. It is important to remember that, ultimately, the statutory powers on film stay with the Local Council so they can ignore or overrule a BBFC rating – even though this happens very little in reality. Films are rated on the basis of how much content of a certain nature they include (such as nudity, violence, sex, bad language or drug use). The BBFC will give each film a rating on the basis of age, indicating whether the film is unsuitable for children under certain ages. Educational / artistic releases can occasionally be exempt from classification (E) if they do not have wide public distribution. The process takes about 6 weeks and there is a sliding scale of fees according to the films' duration.

Cast & Crew/Industry Screenings

The first thing you will want to do when you have finished your film, is to organise a cast and crew screening of the finished film. This does not technically count as a public screening, and therefore will not affect its ‘premiere' status in future festival selections.

Try talking to the programming manager of your local cinema. Independent cinemas will often do their best to try and programme in pieces by local filmmakers. The Picturehouse group of independent cinemas across the UK, rents out cinemas for private screenings, as do Curzon Cinemas. There are also many screening rooms and private members clubs, particularly in London, which can be rented. Many have adjoining bars, where you can hold your celebratory drinks afterwards. Venues in London include: The Rex, the ICA, Roxy Bar and Screen, Soho House, The Rio Cinema and Rich Mix.

A full list of potential screening venues can also be found at or (try searching for 'cinemas' or 'preview theatres').

In addition, you may well want to organise separate screenings for press, industry, funders and distributors before the film is released. This should be held somewhere that regularly attracts production companies and broadcasters. If there are no preview theatres then go for the local cinema option again. Feature films with a distributor often use a film PR agency or in-house marketeer to ensure the right kind of attendance at these screenings. See our Related Links: Exhibition and Distribution - Features for some of the bigger UK feature film exhibitors/cinemas.

Film Nights/Touring

A plethora of short film nights and regular film clubs have sprung up all over the UK in the last 5 years. Short film events are popping up in bars, pubs, galleries, cafes, festivals throughout the country so there are lots of ways to get your film seen.

Futureshorts is one of the most prolific short film monthlies, which tours around the UK and abroad to many major cities. They also represent some of the films they select for distribution.

Animate! is a Channel 4-funded production scheme, which tours its films regularly throughout the UK and Europe.

The London Short Film Festival (aka Halloween) is one of the originals – they have been organising film festivals and touring events for the last ten years and are still going strong. A selection of festival highlights can be watched on Film Network.

onedotzero has an annual UK tour that starts after the London events, taking in all the major cities and university towns. You can watch a selection of onedotzero films on Film Network.

For links to regional and national short film exhibitors see our Related Links: Exhibition and Distribution - Shorts

For information on what assets to provide when sending your film out to exhibitors, see our Filmmaking Guide: Press & Publicity Materials

For advice on when to submit your film to screening organisations, see our Filmmaking Guide: Marketing Your Short

Organising a Short Film Screening

Whether you're a filmmaker wanting to get your film seen more widely by showing it with other shorts or an individual/organisation interested in screening short films in your local area, here's some advice to help you get started in organising your own screening:

Copyright and sourcing films: A good way of sourcing films for your screening is to watch shorts at festivals (see our Related Links: Festivals) or online (see our Related Links: Recommended Watching). You could also try posting a call for submissions on the bulletin boards of filmmaking communities (see our Related Links: Filmmaking Organisations and Communities). With any screening you organise, we'd advise you to obtain permission from the filmmakers/copyright holders to show their films. Many up-and-coming filmmakers will be happy for you to show their films free of charge or for a small fee (in exchange for publicity), especially if you're holding a free event.

In the case where films have distributors, you'll need to contact the distributor to negotiate showing the film. If distributors agree they will generally request proper crediting (such as a title card before the film) and, in the case of theatrical screenings, they may ask for payment. We have listed the major UK short film distributors in our Related Links: Exhibition and Distribution - Shorts.

With music videos (for signed bands), you'll need to contact the record labels to get their permission. Smaller, independent record labels will often agree as it is good promotion for their bands.

With funded films, the rights may be retained by the funding body. With films made under the UK Film Council Digital Shorts scheme, the screen agencies often retain some or all of the rights, so you may need to contact them to get permission. All the UK Screen Agencies are listed in our Related Links: Funding - UK Screen Agencies.

Sourcing films from Film Network: If there are any shorts on Film Network that you would like to show in your screening, you would need to contact the filmmakers/copyright holders directly to get permission and a DVD screener, as we don't have the rights to loan films out ourselves. For data protection reasons we can't send out mass emails to our filmmakers so the best approach is for you to either drop the filmmaker a message on the site (if the filmmaker has created a profile) or contact the Film Network team and we will pass your email onto them. The films that we have chosen through our submissions process are less likely to have rights issues attached. To check whether a film on our site has a distributor, record label or funder attached, see the right-hand column of the film page.

Finding a venue in your local area: Getting shorts shown at cinemas can be tough unless you've already established a reputation for yourself as an exhibitor but some local or independent cinemas might take an interest so it's worth approaching them on the off chance. If you're just starting out though you're probably best off approaching local bars, cafés, galleries etc as they're more likely to respond positively. You could research and target venues in your area that have held similar events or who have suitable facilities (e.g. screens, back rooms etc.). Be careful when selecting a venue as you'll need to ensure that the sound quality and space is suitable for your event – if the screen is situated in a cordoned off area of the bar the audience may struggle to hear the films above the noise of the regular drinkers! If you're charging for entry you'll need to be more vigilant about the rights that you acquire from the copyright holders and they may ask for a percentage of the profits.

See the cast & crew/industry screenings section above for information about finding a suitable venue and links to cinemas that show shorts.

Your local screen agency may also be able to offer advice as well as information on filmmakers in your local area. All the UK Screen Agencies are listed in our Related Links: Funding - UK Screen Agencies.

Getting an audience: So you've got the films and venue lined up, all you need now is your audience. Ways to get an audience could include: posting notices on the bulletin boards of filmmaking communities (see Related Links: Filmmaking Organisations and Communities); advertising in your local newspapers; putting posters and postcards in local shops and cafes/bars; advertising via your local screen agency (see Related Links: Funding); creating a website and advertising on social networking communities such as MySpace or Facebook; advertising in your local cinema.

Other Resources

The BFI provide a helpful guide to organising a screening - (Please note - the focus of this article is more about screening established features but there is useful information here if you're planning on screening your own short/low-budget feature film.)

Lux, the national agency that exhibits and distributes artists' moving image work, has produced a handy distribution guide with a section on cinema exhibition and screenings. Lux Distribution Guide: Cinema Exhibition

In this guide there is also a section on gallery exhibition that may be of interest to experimental filmmakers: Lux Distribution Guide: Galleries

Related Guides

For legal advice on promoting your film, see our Legal Guide: Publicising Your Short

To find out more about showing your film at festivals, see our Filmmaking Guide: Festivals & Awards

For more information on how to market your short, see our Filmmaking Guide: Marketing Your Short

For more information on what assets you'll need to publicise your short see our Filmmaking Guide: Press & Publicity Materials

For links to national and regional exhibitors see our Related Links: Exhibition and Distribution - Features

For links to feature film exhibitors see our Related Links: Exhibition and Distribution - Shorts

To check what rights and clearances you'll need to show your film in public, see our Legal Guide: Rights & Clearances Checklist

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