Film Programmer

Sales & Distribution
Mid-level

Programmers select the films to be shown in festivals, cinemas and on TV.

What does a programmer do?

Programmers select the films to be shown in festivals, cinemas and on TV.

Film festivals, like Cannes, are where film professionals see unreleased films and network with their peers in the film world. They also function as markets where sales agents, distributors and cinema programmers go to do deals over the rights of movies they are interested in buying.

Festival programmers select the films that will make their festival buzz. Diversity is key. They create a balance of tone and form and aim to start a conversation with the audience or to draw attention to lesser-known films.

Cinema programmers are concerned with picking the best films for their theatre. They choose a mix of films that most appeal to their regular audience as well as attracting new business. This will include the best time to show them too. All of this is with the aim of maximising box office income.

TV programmers have a similar role to cinema programmers. They choose which shows to broadcast and when to show them. The schedule has to reflect the way that TV audiences change throughout the day, week, and even year.

Programmers can’t just pick the films or TV programmes they like the best. An understanding of the audience is essential so they often carry out audience research. They use box office data, focus groups and surveys for this. For some cinemas, information derived from loyalty schemes (which allows them to track individual customer behaviour) is also important.

What’s a programmer good at?

  • Knowledge of film: have a passionate interest and extensive knowledge of film and extensive knowledge of it, enjoy watching a wide range of content (even the bad stuff) and understand various film formats (digital cinema prints, 35mm, IMAX)
  • Audience awareness: know audiences, be able to research audiences to understand how they watch films or TV dramas
  • Judgement: spot films or TV dramas that will be popular, be able to create a balanced programme appropriate to the venue or TV channel
  • Negotiation: communicate with distributors, other programmers and local or regional organisations to achieve an effective programme, get the best deal, understand contractual obligations
  • Finance: manage a budget, know what funding sources are available

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