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Film Board’s budget struggles

Film Board is one of several beloved institutions that brings events and entertainment to Michigan Tech students. However, its beneficial influence does not receive the support one might expect. Film Board’s budget is paltry in comparison to its sister groups on campus such as WMTU, The Lode and the Memorial Union Board. All of these four are what’s known as special budgetary groups, or SBGs. Though both are funded by the Student Activity Fee, SBGs are funded differently than other registered student organizations. For example, WMTU, Michigan Tech’s radio station, had a budget this year of $37,700, the Lode was allocated $25,000 and the MUB Board received $64,000. SBGs work with more money because of their importance to the community as well as their large overhead. These two factors apply to Film Board as much as any other SBG. However, the group’s budget this year was only $6,500.

This is a fraction of what other SBGs receive and it’s difficult to find justification for this shortfall. It’s not because they’re flourishing on their own. Film Board does make money from tickets and concessions, but the reality is that most semesters they break even or witness a loss. Each weekend of showing movies costs the Board an estimated $2,000. This includes rights for the movie, shipping the file back and forth, compensation for the projectionists and purchasing the concessions that are sold during movies. Film Board shows a movie in Fisher 135 almost every weekend of the 15-week semester.

They have also been known to help other student organizations to show movies with a pertinent theme; the Nordic Ski Club watched two skiing-related movies on Fisher 135’s big screen with the help of Film Board last semester. In the spring of 2017, the Board also showed “Hidden Figures” in cooperation with SWE and other groups; tickets were free. The licensing for these movies are another expense for Film Board, and the group involved usually has to pay for them since Film Board doesn’t have the money to pay for special movies. According to Morgan Davis, Film Board’s current president, a larger budget would make the Board able to pay for the rights themselves, allowing student organizations to cooperate with Film Board for topical movies at no charge to them or to moviegoers.

Davis also says that with the increased freedom that comes with a larger budget, Film Board would be able to bring more varied, interesting and culturally relevant movies to campus. As of right now, Film Board chooses movies almost exclusively based on what will make the largest profit, or in many cases, the smallest loss. This has resulted in a near moratorium on some genres: there is an unofficial ban on horror movies, romantic comedies and “Oscar bait.” Noteworthy and entertaining movies that happen to fall into these categories are thereby barred from making it to Fisher 135 and the community. Movies that Davis and the Board would have liked to show include “The Favourite,” “The Hate U Give” and “Moonlight.” Movies like these “would have a really great message for campus,” she says. However, Film Board couldn’t take the risk of showing them. “We can’t afford to lose money on movies because we don’t have the budget,” Davis explains. The only viable movies are ones that Film Board will “break even or make money on.”

Film Board’s expenses include more than just licensing. They use expensive, sophisticated equipment and are occasionally faced with unforeseen circumstances. A broken projector led to $4,000 being requisitioned from the Undergraduate Student Government. “When things break, we get into the red very quickly,” says Davis about incidents like this. Film Board’s predicament is ongoing and well-known by its members, but there’s not much they can do about it. “Raising ticket prices would be bad for business,” says former Film Board president Wesley McGowan. The group has been around for 33 years but only received their SBG status in spring of 2016, which even then was “a lot of work” according to McGowan. Many feel that their continued service to Michigan Tech and the surrounding community merits a higher budget, which would in turn allow them to fulfill their full potential as an organization.

2 Responses

  1. MTU Film Board is great not only for the Husky community but the surrounding community as well. On several occasions it has provided my family and my friends with an opportunity to see a new film in a theater-like setting for a quarter of the cost of going to a movie theater.

    Ideas for Film Board: partner with another organization – Economics Club, Accounting Club, Finance Club – to see if there is a more efficient price to charge or to readdress the budget; more advertising in the community – for example, there are “list serves” at most of the public schools which are emails that go out to the parents. The principals are typically willing to pass on an email with a flyer attachment for community events. Film Board should consider this when showing popular kid films.

  2. I whole-heartedly agree that Film Board is worth a larger budget. When I attended Michigan Tech I watched a movie in Fisher 135 almost every weekend. It’s something to look forward to each week after getting through homework.

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