Call it crowdsourcing for film buffs. Groups in Evansville, and around the country, are taking advantage of a new method to connect films with theater audiences - regardless of geography.
They're doing so with the help of startup companies like Los Angeles-based Gathr Films and Austin, Texas-based Tugg.com.
The companies offer local organizers a way to bring independent films to town - provided they generate enough advance interest.
"We've wanted to bring more diverse movies to Evansville for a long time, and this is just the newest way to do it," said Wally Paynter, board president of the Tri-State Alliance. The Evansville- based nonprofit group serves the region's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.
In April, the Tri-State Alliance worked with Tugg.com to arrange an Evansville screening of the documentary "Bully."
Gathr and Tugg.com operate on similar models, which work like this:
Each company has a catalog of films available for screening, and interested groups or individuals can organize a screening time for the film of their choice. Then, the local organizer must generate interest in the screening and get people to reserve advance tickets online via credit card.
Each film has a set minimum number of tickets that must be reserved. If that minimum is met, the screening takes place and ticket-holders are charged for their tickets.
Money from the ticket sales is shared between the film distributor, the theater company and the filmmaker.
If the minimum isn't reached, ticket-holders are not charged and the screening is canceled.
Tugg.com and Gathr have formed partnerships with a number of theater companies nationwide. Those companies include AMC, which operates Evansville's AMC 16 theater on the West Side of town.
"It's a fair amount of work, but what it takes away is the financial risk for everybody," Paynter said of the arrangement.
Previously, Paynter said, members of the Tri-State Alliance approached local theaters directly about bringing particular films to town. That approach proved unaffordable because the theaters wanted several thousand dollars upfront to cover their costs.
Tugg.com and Gathr say their model is part of the film industry's future.
"We decided that it was time for people to really be empowered in what plays in their movie theaters as much as they are what plays in their living rooms," said Nicolas Gonda, Tugg.com's chief executive officer and cofounder. The company launched in March 2012 at Austin's South by Southwest, an annual conference and festival focused on music, independent films and emerging technologies.
Traditionally, Gonda said, movies opened first in Los Angeles and New York City, and success in those markets led to widespread release nationwide. That model is changing, Gonda said, in part because the media market is more fractured, with fewer large distributors.
"The future of film-going relies on those other communities outside of the major metropolitan ones," Gonda said.
"Broadly speaking, there's just so many forms of entertainment that we all have at our fingertips today."
Scott Glosserman, chief executive officer and founder of Gathr Films, said the model helps independent filmmakers connect with audiences - something that has always been difficult.
"The biggest question you get at a film festival after you see a good movie is, 'Where can I see this movie?'.. There's never been a really good answer to that question," said Glosserman, who is himself a filmmaker.
"All of a sudden, we can accommodate the demand where and when it exists."
Gathr was founded in August 2011. After some beta testing, the company launched its first film in March of this year.
Glosserman said the arrangement also benefits movie theaters, because screenings usually take place during off-peak times.
AMC could not be reached for comment on this story.
Both Glosserman and Gonda said their models work in communities of all sizes.
Gathr Films has helped arrange movie screenings in cities as large as New York City and in towns with populations as small as 9,000, Glosserman said.
More important than community size, they say, is the amount of interest that local promoters can generate.
For that reason, both executives said, the movies that tend to do well with this model are either documentaries or those that tap into the interests of a local group.
That was the case with the film "The Anonymous People," which had an Evansville screening Oct. 28.
The film is about the history of the substance-abuse recovery movement in the U.S., and the Substance Abuse Council of Vanderburgh County used Gathr Films to help arrange the local screening.
The council's director, Crystal Sisson, said the event was a huge success, selling out all available 150 tickets.
Part of the reason for this, Sisson said, is that multiple people, including council employees and board members, worked to promote the event.
Good timing also helped. September is designated as Recovery Month, and the Substance Abuse Council promoted the film screening at its special events that month.
Sisson said the council was so encouraged by the turnout that it may try for another local screening of the same film.
But local groups have also found challenges with this model.
Paynter, with the Tri-State Alliance, said after the success with "Bully" his group used Tugg.com again, this time trying to bring the film "Any Day Now" to Evansville. The film focuses on a 1970s gay couple trying to adopt a child.
Paynter said that screening didn't happen because only 15 or 20 people reserved tickets.
He speculated that the group's second attempt failed because it happened in June, when people are more focused on vacations and other summer activities.
"Bully" may have also had a broader appeal, Paynter said, making it an easier sell to local moviegoers.
The most recent local event, a screening of the environmental documentary "Unacceptable Levels," happened earlier this month.
Wendy Bredhold, the field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force Indiana, was the local promoter for this event and used Tugg.com to bring it to town.
Bredhold said she was excited by how many people bought tickets to the film, but noted that promoting the film took significant effort.
Because Moms Clean Air Force Indiana doesn't have a large local presence, Bredhold handled all of the film promotions herself.
She did so by seeking media publicity, emailing contacts, and promoting the event using multiple forms of social media including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. She also took the tickets at the theater that night.
"It's been a little complicated, a little labor-intensive," she said.
If Moms Clean Air Force brings another film to town, Bredhold said, she will likely use a different model. That model, she said, would involve her group paying to secure film rights for a screening, then showing the film to the public for free.
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