Running a Film Club: Helpful Tips and Pointers

By Scott Spears

Filmmaking is collaborative art and at all levels what makes that collaboration work is networking. At the local level, outside of cities with major film production, a film club (or if you prefer organization) is one way to bring the community together to help create relationships so you can build better crews and better films. There are many things a film club can do to help do this and there are pitfalls that can hurt or doom the group. In this article, I’ll explore some of the things I learned from running a film club, (MOFA) Mid Ohio Filmmaker’s Association in Columbus, Ohio, for several years.

I need to say that I did not start MOFA but those who did start it, did the right thing by writing up some decent bylaws. They were invaluable for running the organization, setting up expectations and resolving disputes. There are many resources online where you can find rules, procedures and parliamentary procedures to set the playing field. These bylaws should include the following:

  • A mission statement
  • Election of officers and a board of directors and their terms
  • Procedures for meetings
  • Paying dues
  • A code of conduct for officers and members

Everybody dislikes legalities but once they are established, they will help to avoid any bumps in the road.

What kind of film club are you running? Is it just networking and social activities? Or will it offer educational aspects like classes or seminars? Maybe it will run a local film contest or festival? These are just some of the options for the club.

Networking is the life blood of any local film community because unless you’re an animator who can do all kinds of wacky voices you’re going to need actors and crews. Offering a monthly meeting where people can rub elbows and talk about their skill sets will help grow local filmmaking. I recommend that you have people introduce themselves after you have some announcements and share their skills and pitch their projects. This always worked great to help build successful projects.

The social aspect of the club is a big factor in running a film organization. When I became president of MOFA, I tended to ignore the social part of the group, but it builds a sense of camaraderie which cannot be measured and should not be ignored. You can have cookouts and maybe hold an evening screening of local short films or a feature in a park.

I am huge supporter of education, having come from a long line of teachers, and I teach screenwriting and filmmaking at a local university, so I think a film club should offer classes, seminars, or just bringing in guest speakers who willing to share their knowledge.

Some offerings could be:

  • A class or guest speaker who talks about how to audition
  • A lighting class
  • Invite a local rental house to demonstrate a piece of gear
  • Have a person working in Hollywood with local ties skype in
  • Visit a local production facility

Everything in filmmaking costs money and I think you should charge something to the members, so they value what they are getting. People will tend not to value something they get totally for free. MOFA had a policy that anybody could attend the meetings for free but to get discounts at local rental houses and reduced rates for screening films at local theaters you had to be dues-paying members. Deciding what to charge is a balancing act. MOFA charged $24 per year. The money covered printing cost and paid for food at events. Other options for the money could be:

  • Prizes at film contest or screening
  • Travel for guest speakers
  • Offer grants for filmmakers

Picking a meeting place is important. It can set the tone for the meeting. If you’re budget challenged, you can go for libraries. MOFA started out meeting at bars but ended up meeting at non-profit movie theatre because it would allow folks of all ages to attend.

When I took over MOFA, I decided that I wanted to get people making movies, so I had MOFA start a Halloween-based, horror, timed movie making contest. It rallied the community spirit and created some healthy competition. We charged an entry fee which was cheaper for members, so it encouraged non-members to join.

Ok, if I just painted the good side, I’d be white washing the whole experience. There will be drama with people bickering and complaining about this and that. This article would turn into a novel if I detailed all the craziness I had to deal with running MOFA, so I’ll just say this. Lean on your officers, board and bylaws. Also, I recommend that you always wait at least 24 hours and after consulting your team before addressing the drama. In the heat of the moment, you can say things you regret and that do not reflect well upon the organization.

Helping bring the community together, educating up-and-coming filmmakers, and getting people making films was my greatest reward, and if you decide to either start or step up to run a local film club, be giving and thankful and encourage people to get on set.

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