Most cinephiles would argue that the best way to see a movie is on the big screen in a crowded theatre. Yet, many independent films and documentaries that tour the festival circuit only get limited theatrical releases if at all. Digital distribution has certainly broadened the reach of a number of films, but the magic of seeing a movie on the big screen with a crowd is lost. When you watch a movie alone in your living room or on a portable device of choice, the jokes aren't quite as funny, the thrills aren't quite as thrilling, and the tearjerkers aren't quite as jerking. We as the moviegoing audience can actually do something about this. We can demand that movies we want to see are screened at our local theatres. How? With the launches of OpenIndie, Gathr Films and Tugg, several notable films from recent festival circuits plus older catalog titles are now available for one-night only screenings at your local theatre through new theatrical-on-demand services.
OpenIndie grew out of the experience of filmmaker Arin Crumley using location-based requests to screen his film Four Eyed Monsters theatrically. Crumley partnered with web developer Kieran Masterton to create OpenIndie to give independent filmmakers a platform to reach a theatrical audience. Initially launched in 2010 after a successful Kickstarter campaign, OpenIndie relaunched in early 2012. The company does not actively pursue films. Instead, OpenIndie states that the company relies on filmmakers to post their films to the site. Visitors to the site can then request a screening of a film in their nearest city. Currently, OpenIndie does not book screenings, but instead gathers and manages data on behalf of filmmakers for them to see the demand for their films in certain geographical areas, in turn helping them plan theatrical tours. For the next phase of the company's development, OpenIndie is working to create a network of venues where they can digitally deliver films from its site.
Launched in early 2012, Gathr Films provides moviegoers the opportunity to request a one-night screening of a film in their area, and if a minimum number of people reserve a ticket for the event, the event "tips" on Gathr, meaning the event is confirmed and the film will screen. Gathr hosts each event on its site, showing how many people have reserved tickets, how many tickets still need to be reserved before the event tips, and how many days, hours, minutes and seconds (!) the event has left to tip. If the event doesn't tip, it doesn't happen. Gathr relies on the people who request a screening to spread the word to their friends and family via email and social media to reserve tickets.
Currently, Gathr features 43 titles as of this publishing, focusing on many documentaries from the recent festival circuit, including The Central Park Five, How to Survive a Plague, The Imposter and Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap. Gathr also showcases a number of indie feature films from 2012 and recent years, including The Comedy. Based on its current titles, Gathr does not seem to be pursuing catalog titles from studios at the moment.
The people behind Gathr are founders Scott Glosserman and Mike Mittendorf. Glosserman made a narrative feature (Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon) and a feature documentary (Truth in Numbers: Everything, According to Wikipedia), and was discouraged by the lack of opportunities to screen his film theatrically. Mittendorf hails from the world of film distribution, working with several indie films and handling the distribution of the Twilight films in Latin America. Gathr’s approach seems to target those films that may slip through the cracks after their festival runs but deserve a wider audience and the experience of screening for a crowd, not just one person in a living room or in front of a computer.
Based in Austin, Texas, Tugg was launched by co-founders Nicolas Gonda (CEO and a producer on The Tree of Life) and Pablo Gonzalez (COO and an experience high-tech and marketing executive). Launched in February 2012, and perhaps the most aggressive the three services in terms of expanding its catalog, Tugg currently offers almost 960 movies (as of this publishing) that anyone can request for a screening in their hometown. The list of titles available on Tugg continues to grow rapidly as 80 titles have been added in the past two weeks alone (according to my research notes). Titles range from recent festival darlings (Arbitrage, Sleepwalk with Me, Indie Game: The Movie, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, The Queen of Versailles) to blockbusters of decades past (Die Hard, Alien, Aliens, X-Men) to cult classics (Rocky Horror Picture Show, Office Space, The Princess Bride) to cinema classics (Metropolis, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Seven Samurai).
Tugg has established partnerships with theatres around the country, including Cinemark, Regal Cinemas, AMC Theatres and Alamo Drafthouse among others, plus they continue to make connections with local theatres across the country as users request screenings in their areas. Tugg relies on promoters (the people or groups who request the screening) to spread the word and get people to reserve enough tickets to meet the minimum threshold for a screening to be confirmed. Like Gathr, if a Tugg event doesn’t get enough people to reserve tickets by a set date, the screening doesn't happen. Tugg promoters
may will also get a little money for their troubles – 5% of the adjusted gross receipts if an event is confirmed [thanks to Tugg's PR rep for correcting that mistake on my part] – but there is no guarantee that promoters will receive anything after the theatre, film rights holder, and Tugg cover their costs and fees. Promoters can even make events private and only invite people they know with a password to access the event on Tugg’s website.
Independent filmmakers can contact Tugg to get their films included in the catalog. DCP is preferred as most of Tugg’s theatrical partners have DCP capabilities, but Blu-ray and 35mm can also be accommodated, and even DVD for some theatres. Tugg also has the ability to create DCPs and Blu-rays, so they can work with filmmakers to make sure their content is available to the most theatres possible. Filmmakers retain all theatrical rights to their films as Tugg only acts as a conduit to program individual theatrical screenings of the films on its site.
When TOD and VOD Collide
Independent filmmakers that are considering using one of these services to launch a theatrical tour should be aware that certain theatre chains (e.g. Cinemark, Regal) will not screen films that are currently available via VOD. I happen to know this from personal experience as I am trying to schedule my first event through Tugg right now, a one-night screening of the snowboarding doc, The Art of Flight 3D. Since the original 2D version of The Art of Flight is currently available through VOD outlets, neither the Cinemark theatres nor the Regal theatres in Albuquerque will screen the film, even in its new 3D theatrical format. To Tugg's credit, they contacted me about this issue and asked if I knew of any other theatres in the area that could accommodate the film. I gave them contact information for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, which has a digital 3D theatre, and Tugg is contacting them directly to see if they can arrange a screening, contingent upon compatible digital formats and theatre availability.
Independent filmmakers should keep in mind the challenges they may face to book theatrical tours as they manage their windows, especially as day-and-date VOD/theatrical releases become more commonplace for independent films. Services such as Tugg and Gathr (and to a certain extent OpenIndie) offer a great way to create a theatrical tour for independent films after or even during their festival runs prior to hitting the VOD market. Also, for certain independent films, theatrical tours can generate more revenue than traditional theatrical runs, as noted in the IGTM case study.
Have you used Tugg or Gathr to host a screening of a film you want to see theatrically with friends and family? Or have you used Tugg, Gathr or OpenIndie as a filmmaker to share your films with theatrical audiences? Share your experiences with us in the Comments.
[FILM marquee photo by Flickr user Steve Snodgrass (CC)]