By Sara Kiener
I’ve been in theatrical distribution for 5 years (a short time by some standards), and have already seen the playing field shift dramatically. 5 years ago, I interned at a reputable distribution company that no longer exists. 3 years ago, I placed trailers in art house theaters that have since changed owners multiple times or…no longer exist. Throughout, I worked on great films that wouldn’t find their way to a theater today and I worked on campaigns that were banking on ad buys and (fingers crossed) strong reviews. Those days are over, for the most part. And I’ve joined the band of noisemakers encouraging filmmakers to consider alternative means of marketing and exhibition.
But my heart still belongs to the independent theaters, so I’m a bit torn.
That’s why I was so thrilled when I first read about Tugg in indieWIRE. Their mission couldn’t be more straightforward: “Tugg brings the movies you want, to your local theater,” yet its’ approach is up to speed with cutting edge social media tactics (crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are at the heart of their model). Here’s how it works in a nutshell: a promoter or a hardcore fan can create an event at a theater, pick a date and time, and then they have to pre-sell a set number of tickets in order to lock-in the event. Everyone gets a percentage of the ticket sales (the filmmaker, the theater, Tugg and even the promoter!) so it’s win win. As an outreach gal, I was particularly interested in how this new model could lend itself to documentaries and niche issue narratives. So I put it to the test, and helped set up an event for Julie Wyman’s new film STRONG! about U.S. Olympian Cheryl Hayworth. I am thrilled with the results and can assure you that there are more screenings in the pipelines.
So should you be thinking about TUGG? Does it make sense for your film? Here are some questions you should ask yourself before pulling the trigger:
*Does your film have a regional audience that is locatable and reachable?
*Do you feel confident that you and your team can locate regional partners and engage them?
*Do you have partners on board who want to help you spread the word but can’t support you financially (i.e., help pay for traditional theatrical distribution and/or pay rental fees)?
*Do you have your theatrical rights?
*Is your film being distributed in NYC and LA? Do you know what to do with it regionally after that?
*Do you believe there’s a home and an audience for your film outside of or in addition to the classroom and the community center setting?
If the answer to most of the questions above is yes, then you should probably start looking into Tugg! Some other films are already hip to the approach and doing rather well. Here are a few examples:
This documentary about the Occupy Wall Street movement (narrated by Ryan Gosling) had 10 screenings across the country over the course of one evening, promoted by the filmmakers themselves and people who had read a Huffington Post article about the film and wanted to get involved. The screenings featured Q&As with the filmmakers as well as members of local communities including professors and figures of the Occupy movement.
ONE DAY ON EARTH
On Earth Day this documentary was shown throughout the US via Tugg. It was filmed in every country across the globe over the course of one day — a crowd-sourced film utilized a crowd-source platform (Tugg) to play in theaters in 11 cities, selling over 1800 tickets without spending $1 on traditional marketing.
The filmmakers of this critically-acclaimed documentary about the death penalty have utilized Tugg to arrange screenings in partnership with death penalty orgs across the country. To date, Tugg has provided theatrical showings of INCENDIARY in more than double the amount of markets it reached during its traditional theatrical run.
ECTASY OF ORDER: THE TETRIS MASTERS
There was a sold out show in Austin for a documentary called ECSTASY OF ORDER: THE TETRIS MASTERS about Tetris World Champions. The promoter, who saw the film at a festival and had to share it with his friends and community, arranged a unique screening through Tugg with an in-theater Tetris competition on the big screen following the film. He has a great recap on the event here.
And this is just the beginning, IMHO. I’m really excited to see what other filmmakers and distributors do with this platform. If enough clever filmmakers and promoters dabble with Tugg, we may be looking at the next phase of theatrical distribution…one ticket at a time.