While many deals were made at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, including films in the ultra low budget NEXT section, one can’t assume that all of them will be given theatrical releases. Most filmmakers make their films dreaming of having it play on the big screen, but distributors are becoming much more particular about which films in their slate will actually receive a significant theatrical release beyond the conventional NYC/LA one week screenings to qualify for reviews.
One company has sprung up in the last year to provide both distributors and filmmakers who are self releasing with a way to take the financial risk out of public screenings. Tugg.com is a web-platform that allows the audience bring movies they want to see to a local theater. A person in the community can search through Tugg’s library of available titles and choose one, provide details such as screening date and preferred location, set up the event with the help of a Tugg representative, spread the word to their friends in the local community encouraging them to buy tickets and, if enough people reserve their tickets to meet the minimum ticket threshold, the screening is confirmed.
I sat down with Tugg CEO Nicolas Gonda to talk about the service and how it is being used so far.
Q: Tell me about how the idea for Tugg came about?
NG: “It came through realization at the time, and still today, that it is difficult for audiences to engage with filmmakers on a very local level to determine what movies come to their town. We launched Tugg as a reaction to a very evident need where audiences are interacting with filmmakers on the social channels more and more and the theme around Sundance this year is community and engagement with the audience.
We want to create a user interface for every movie theater in the country so that audiences in those communities could determine what movies come there.”
Q: What needs to be in place for the platform to be utilized successfully?
NG: “Filmmakers need to have a finished film and the deliverables. For some theaters, it could be Bluray or DCPs and at Tugg we offer a service for filmmakers where we help them create DCPs from their digital files. And of course we take 35 mm from studio repertoire. Anything that could be projected in a movie theater so long as that local theater can accommodate it, we help facilitate it.
[Tugg] launched it at SXSW in 2012 so it is about 9 months old. We have nearly 1,000 titles, everything from classic studio films, the first silent ones, to the kinds of films shown here at this festival. That’s one of the beautiful things about Tugg, there is an open door for so many filmmakers to come in, so long as they can foster a community around their work and support these screening events, any event can occur.”
Q: What kind of organizations or clubs go onto the website and decide films to bring to their communities?
NG: “One great example was Bully , released by the Weinstein Company, had quite a wide release. But naturally it didn’t reach certain communities. A police officer in San Angelo Texas wanted to screen the film to champion those messages to his community and over 250 people showed up.
Last year was the 25th anniversary of the release of The Princess Bride . We scheduled events all over the country with the 35mm print. There is a documentary. Somewhere Between, that played this festival last year that is showing to thousands of people all over the country with very little P&A money, but executing on the relationships that they built by arming their fans and followers with a call to action to screen the film.”
Q: How does a filmmaker get the film onto your platform?
NG: “Come to Tugg.com and there’s a Contact Us section. Filmmakers can contact us at email@example.com and we’ll walk you through the process of screening your film.”
Q: What kinds of films are you seeing doing well? Is it names, is it interest groups, environmental docs? What seems to succeed?
NG: “It really is about the following and community fostered around the film. One of the early successes was a film called Iron Sky which used crowdsourcing and crowdfunding for the film so they had a network already in place by the time they got to the distribution stage. People were anxiously awaiting to hear what they could do to see the film.
That can be the case for a lot of documentaries that have certain causes with organizations behind them. But as we are seeing more and more, filmmakers are actively creating communities that aren’t just about the one film they made, but about them as artists and they follow from film to film. So that can transcend a certain type of genre.”
Q: To me the beauty of Tugg is about mitigating risk and this can work for distributors as well as filmmakers. How does Tugg work for that?
NG: “Anyone can log onto Tugg and pick out a movie they want to see in a local theater. If they can get enough friends and family and social media connections to commit to buying tickets within a certain amount of time, that screening event is confirmed. It is very similar to what you see with Kickstarter, where there is a tipping point that makes the screening happen. As you say, some distributors and studios are using us to make true interaction and to mitigate risk. For an indie film, you may book New York and LA, but this is a great way to say what other cities are showing demand that we may not have planned?”
It cannot be overemphasized that the films seeing success from using Tugg for theatrical screenings already have an engaged fanbase fostered over many months or years. If filmmakers haven’t done the work of connecting with an audience ahead of time and believe screenings will just happen once the film is on the Tugg website, they will be unhappy with their results. Now more than ever, the work of a filmmaking team includes knowing who the audience of their film is and connecting to them well before release whether they are self releasing or not. New tools for doing this are being created every day and the successful filmmaker will be able both to create a compelling story and cultivate an audience around her work.