How to Turn a Building into a Cinema

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post called “How to Start Your Own Cinema (For Under $15,000).”


I still absolutely stand by the sentiment that anyone—you!—can and should start your own cinema.


But the fact of the matter is, if you if you start a cinema, it will probably be a hit. Eventually you will want to grow.  


That’s where we’re at with Indywood. We started Indywood with DIY spirit. But now we want to become a “big girl business,” as Hayley, my sister/business partner would say.  After a year and a half operating a pop-up level cinema in a dilapidated building with a screen made of 2x4s, bed sheets and paint, we’re ready to upgrade.


Some of our followers—who have been sticking with us during our move—have been wondering what we’re up to these days. “So you funded the kickstarter, what are you up to now?” they ask.


The answer: It’s boring but important. We’ve been working on a long list of requirements that must be fulfilled in order for us to turn Indywood from a “pop-up” into a fully legitimate business.


For all of you wondering what we’re up to, and for all my readers interested in starting your own cinemas, here’s the brutal truth. This is what it takes to turn a building into a cinema.



First we have to make sure our building is an area of town that the city of New Orleans has deemed worthy of opening an entertainment assembly space. Fortunately we’ve already checked up on this, and we’re good to go. (The city is very encouraging of businesses on St. Claude.)


Occupancy and Liquor License

This is the hard stuff. In order to operate as a legitimate business (up till now we’ve been merely a “pop-up”), we have to get the City’s approval that our building is a legitimate space for the public to congregate. Applying for an Occupancy License is quite a process. On top of that, we’re asking for a liquor license as well, which requires even more documentation. Over the past week we’ve been wrangling the following documents:


Operating Agreement

As the Constitution is to the United States, an Operating Agreement is to a company. It outlines the structure of ownership and the skeletal operations of the company.



We have to prove that we are legitimately occupying our building and that we plan to stick around.


Department of Revenue Records

We have to show that our business is in good standing with our tax obligations. 


Background Check/Finger Prints

In order to obtain a liquor license, we have to prove we’re not criminals, and, by supplying fingerprints, that we don’t plan to engage in any criminal activity.


Handicap Accessibility

We need to make sure that our space is accessible to everyone who might want to come see a movie. 



The square footage of our building, and our intent to sell alcohol, determines how many toilets and sinks we need. We have to make sure we’re up to code. Fortunately, we are!



We’re still waiting for some knowledgeable input, but we’re probably going to need to install a sprinkler system. This will be massively expensive, but it will keep everybody safe in the event of a fire. So we’re making plans to make it happen.



Accidents happen. “Life is a liability”—so say the syndical businessmen. When your doors are open to the public, you open yourself up to all the many risks of human bodies moving through space-time. And we’ll have a bar, so make those drunken bodies. Obviously, we need insurance. 


Application…Hiring a Lawyer

The DIY spirit is pretty fun when you’re building a screen out of 2x4s . . . but it gets pretty soul sucking when you’re trying to apply for permits on your own. We’ve decided to hire a hotshot lawyer to help us navigate the labyrinths of City Hall.


Fire Marshal Inspection

Once we’ve met all the requirements for occupancy and the applications have been submitted, a fire marshal will make a visit to our building to make sure we’re worthy the businessperson’s golden ticket: an Occupancy License.


Health Inspection

But wait! We’re not quite done yet! Finally, we’ll need a health inspection to give us the go-ahead to sell popcorn and drinks.

That's it! (We Hope) 

So there you go. Those are our current projects.


It is my stalwart mission to encourage other people to start their own cinemas. I’m an unapologetic optimist—the tone of my posts reflects that. But to balance all my encouragement, I hope to also provide a practical road map of what it’s really like to open and operate a cinema.


I hope this post doesn’t scare any of you would-be cinema owners. Keep this in mind: These are the unavoidable, boring details that must be overcome in the name of cinema. These hoops through which we must jump provide a skeleton within which the glorious spirit of cinema can come to like.


We are soldiers of cinema. Long live the silver screen.


Post Script:  You might be wondering: “Gee, doesn’t this cost a lot of money?” Yes, yes it does. Do we have the money to make it happen? Well…we’re hustlers. But it’s a creative struggle. How are we making it happen? What are the elements of entrepreneurial hustle? I’ll discuss that in a post soon to come.