Conrunner Logo

Screen Test

What Makes For a Good Film Programme

Jonathan Cowie

Beyond the Bar...

For some strange reason, no doubt exemplifying the perverse nature of the multiverse, some fans still cling to the notion that "There is absolutely no relationship between how good a convention is and its programme." This unfortunately is a falsehood for it is unreasonable to expect all those at a convention will be in a "party" mood all the time or that all con-goers attend purely for the social life. (Personally my social life has little to do with conventions and though there is an overlap I myself do not attend just for the conversation or the alcohol). Given this then a good solid programme has to be one of the pillars upon which a sucessful convention stands.

Having decided to lay on a full varied programme then the concept of films must surely soon cross the convention committee's mind. Here the committee can relax having chosen its films for it knows that during the two hours that feature is being screened an item of pre-determined quality is being presented and little, except the technical, can go wrong.

Films. Who is interested?

Films are not only of interest to die-hard media (TV) fans but also to many others including (surprisingly) film buffs who are a fan breed in themselves. Not all films have two dimensional plots and their followers should not be classsed as second rate fans to those of a literary bent.

Films are desired by many con-goers for several sound reasons. First, time and/or money can preclude the viewing of many releases in cinemas and so cons provide an excellent opportunity to catch up on "recent" films (that have only just come out on amateur release and are four to five years old).

Secondly, films at cons give the fan a chance to see again old favourites that he/she would like to see again but can't because they aren't being screened or, though they would like to see them again, are not prepared to pay 3 - 4 to do so. Finally, films shown at a con can be enjoyed in a unique way, for at a con the fan is with, broadly speaking, like-minded sentients. Further, only at a con can one relax, spread out and sit with a pint in one's hand.

The films to programme

This is really common sense. Ideally a broad cross-section of the SF film genre should be aimed at from the subtle to the farcical. However, given the above rationales for those wishing to see films at cons it is important to have due regard for them. Check what films have just come out on amateur release and even if you think that they will have been seen by the majority you will be surprised. Just because you saw the trailers for the film on TV, adverts in the press and underground, it does not mean to say that the film has been widely viewed. And even if it has then the only reason was because of its popularity.... either way consider getting them. Just one thing though - check last Eastercon's films in case the picture in question has already had a large fannish exposure in the past year.

Finally, to get this cross-section of films do use a catalogue. This may seem obvious, but it does help and you would be surprised at the number of convention committees that don't - and does it show! Apart from the fact that a film catalogue will give you the latest amateur releases, and the necessary details such as director, producer etc for the programme book, the catalogue will also give you a synopsis of the plot. This is handy for the uninitiated. The second item required to obtain an interesting cross-section of films is of course to have a film enthusiast on the committee. Again this may seem obvious, but when I say film enthusiast I do not necessarily mean someone who knows the first words in Star Wars. Rather someone who might know the real reason why Silent Runnning was called Silent Runnning or who was first offered the part of James Bond.

When to screen

It does help to repeat films at least twice each. This way at least one programme stream clash can be negated and also those that cannot attend the con from absolute beginning to absolute end can get a crack at all the films on offer. To this end there are two sets of programme times in which each film should be shown once.

Set A) - The first and last halfday of the convention

- Room party time - 11pm to 2am

Set B) - 10am to 11pm (The main programme clash period).

After these times ie after 2a.m. there is no point in programming repeats, rather, have those present choose.

Streaming the film programme

With regard to Eastercons then, unless you're Albacon, you will probably be having a film programme as in "just a film programme" or "a programme stream composed just of films". Personally, I have just one strong opinion on Eastercons that stream this way, and that is that the presentation is boring and unimaginative. It leads to large blocks of fans sitting in one room watching film after film after film.... (yawn). There is a video room for this kind of con-goer who enjoys the visual media so much that he/she is not concerned with the quality of the image presented, rather, the quantity. Films, as demonstrated by the Scottish Eastercons can quite successfully be used to break up and add variety to the main programme streams. Indeed one could argue that film-only steams tend to limit the extension of the main programme which is why cons like Skycon or more recently Channelcon had little on after 10pm.

There is though one justifiable reason for having a "film only" stream and that is if the convention venue has purpose built cinema facilities. Should this be the case then maybe some of the films could be programmed to be shown more than twice. This is all the more neccessary as most of the hotel cinemas do not hold a particularly large audience.

Do's & Don'ts.



The above represents a personal view born out of having to suffer bad film programmes. Fundamental mistakes are still made, at all levels. E.g. at Yorcon I missed the start of the convention premiere of a film (about 20% of it) because it was shown way before its programmed time and was not repeated. As a convention attendee I have laid down the above guidelines which, as a conrunner, I know are not unreasonable.

I look forward to some discussion.

P.S. Patrick McGoohan was first offered the role of James Bond but turned it down. Unlike most other actors that find themselves in such positions it was not the size of the initial fee that concerned him, he did not want his wife to see him kissing other women on the big screen.


This page updated on 09 July 1999