How do cinemas choose which new films to show audiences?

15 Nov 2017

6 mins
Slate Day
Slate Day

Who chooses the films we see in cinemas, and how do they decide what to put on? We sent our reporters Joe (19) and Ceyda (19) to find out at Distributor Slate Day 2017, a film industry event where independent cinemas and chains across the UK meet with film distributors to discover what's in store for audiences over the coming months.


After attending Distributor Slate Day 2017, I've gained a new insight into a whole world of cinema post production that I never even knew existed. No one ever really thinks, who on earth decides where and how we see these films on the big screen? Is there a magic fairy that just decides, the whole world is going to appreciate this film? What is it that determines the mainstream from the independent? Well the answer is, there are a huge amount of people (exhibitors) that get to watch and learn about hundreds of up and coming films either in production or post, before deciding if they want to show it in their chain of cinemas. A whole other bunch of people, the distributors, get to compile and present a presentation of their production companies films, before presenting to the delegates in one hectic, trailer filled day.

After sitting down for a total of 8 hours, hearing pitches, watching the differences in trailers and presentations, and the way the distributors conduct themselves, I learned that there's certainly a difference in presentation style between the more confident larger companies; Walt Disney Studios, Lionsgate UK Ltd, and so on, as opposed to the more independent cinema that may be new or not have as much content to present. I imagine it must be a rewarding job, like a film maker who creates a film from their vision and their art, Slate Day is all about appreciating and marketing the films that people have to see.

In a way, the job holds the most power. A film may be incredible, but if it isn't shown well in that 10 minute time slot, no one's going to get to see it. It was definitely a challenge to sit and listen to people speak for such a long time, but also incredible to get to see in front of you, all the accumulated work of the past few years. I really enjoyed the experience as a whole, and now have a massive list of foreign as well as British films to look forward to next year!


An event saturated with an incomprehensible quantity of trailers, marketing pitches and promotional material, Distributor Slate Day 2017 involves the marketers of the UK's biggest film distributors presenting their ‘slates' of upcoming theatrical releases to a room filled with anyone who is anyone in the world of programming and exhibition, and also me.

Attending the event, which took place at Picturehouse's flagship cinema just off Piccadilly Circus was an eye opening experience, revealing the inner workings of the elusive, yet vitally important process of film distribution. Moreover, getting an early look at some of the upcoming offerings from a host of my favourite distributors was hugely exciting. From world cinema giants Curzon Artificial Eye to the the BFI's remasterings of some of the greatest masterpieces of the 20th century right through to American studio giants such as Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Studios there is plenty to be excited about in the coming year in film.

However, In spite of the mouthwatering array of movies flaunted across the day, the most striking element was still the sheer volume of material presented to the audience. After hours upon hours of presentations I was left with a new respect for the occupation of programming. As well as my newfound recognition for the arduous vocation that these brave men and women have chosen, this mass of information also indicated just how tricky it is for projects to stand out from the crowd in such a dense market and the merit of a vibrant personality and a sense of humour when pitching to a crowd of suit clad decision-makers.

Distributor Slate Day 2017 is organised by Film Hub LondonFilm Hub South EastBFI Film Audience Network and in partnership with Picturehouse Cinemas.

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