Simple Machine's Nandan RaoA huge challenge for independent filmmakers is getting eyeballs on their movies. Many new tools aim to solve this problem, but Nandan Rao's DIY screening platform Simple Machine is going one further: they are offering cash for you to create your own live event, your own film festival -- as long as it can be accomplished for $1,000 or less. Read on for the full details and a quick word from Simple Machine founder Nandan Rao.

From the press release:

How can we push the film-festival concept into smaller, more intimate nooks and crannies in our societal fabric? What new terms are needed to describe the formats of communal movie watching that resonate with us today? These are the questions we're hoping our grant-winners will help to answer. Sell us on specific films or a process, on an audience or a space, on the reach or the intimacy, on the ambition or the simplicity.

NFS: This grant program is a big step for you. What brought this up?

Nandan Rao: It was a matter of me looking at the sort of money that I'm spending on development cost and trying to get people to throw screenings. So we wanted to short circuit that: rather than us spending time begging people to do something, let's just throw money at them directly. Let's literally just buy what we want to happen instead of thinking people should just do this because they want to do this. It's just a way to buy the end result of our business, which is not a sustainable way to do it, but for now it works.

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NFS: Are there any rules, limitations?

Nandan Rao: It's totally out there. For the next round probably I'll let people know more about what we're looking for, but right now it's totally open. Personally, I'm less interested in generative film festivals, like 24-hour film festivals, etc. I'm more interested in all the work that exists already and find new ways to show that stuff to people.

Maybe there's a university in your town that will let you use their screening room. Maybe there's a theater that will let you use their space for a couple of nights, and this will cover that. Maybe it will cover a small party and a couple of film rentals. I don't care if someone pays themselves $1,000 if they work their ass off to put together something really cool. I don't need a budget, I just want a quality product.

NFS: Is there a difference between a festival and just a screening?

Nandan Rao: I don't think there's a difference, but in some ways we're getting trapped in that vernacular. We started with individual screenings, DIY backyard pop-up events, and from there we intended to move into the festival space and be useful for all but the biggest of festivals. Now, with the grants, we're trying to make that transition directly.

I've always been interested in the space between what is now occupied by film festivals and what is now occupied by theaters. It's a very large space that can be very successful, and that's what I'm looking for in these proposals. Rather than a focus on posturing yourself in some kind of international scene, or calling yourself a festival with a capital F, if you drop all that stuff and just try to create a cool event for an audience there's so much you can do.

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NFS: What other qualities are you really looking for in these submissions?

Nandan Rao: I care mostly about the films. Film festivals are gatekeepers and that's awesome, we need gatekeepers. But at the end of the day there's a linear hierarchy with these 5 festivals at the top. Granted, they are slightly different -- a Berlin film is not a Sundance film, but they're not that different. In film somehow we've lost that nuance, we all say, "No, I just want to be Sundance." You should hate something, you should want to differentiate, and there should be other people to get together with that hate that thing too. And that thing shouldn't just be "We got rejected from Sundance." I want people to be actively building a different aesthetic, and that's what I'm looking for in these proposals. The ones saying, "These films would be awesome together and they should be shown in this place."


Simple Machine really has their fingers on the pulse of the space between festival and theatrical moviegoing. This concept empowers us to continue to find and connect with our audiences, to carve out our own markets and have a great time experiencing the art we love. It's a win/win/win situation, so let your imagination wild -- though not too wild -- as Simple Machine reminds: "Be considerate; make sure it won't take us more than 10 minutes to understand your concept."

These grants are being offered once per quarter. Submissions for the first quarter grant will be open until April 15th. Send your email pitch to and, as always, join the discussion in the comments below.