The Next Picture Show: Gathr, Like Kickstarter Plus Netflix For The Big Screen

Tired of reading at the end of movie reviews, "This film opens today in New York and Los Angeles"? Small towns now can get first-run films--for a night--with the help of Gathr, a new "theatrical on demand" service.

Scott Glosserman is the founder of Gathr, a service that lets audiences all over the country bring films to their local theater that wouldn't otherwise be shown there. Himself a filmmaker who had been frustrated with the distribution process for his own two films, Glosserman began to wonder why niche audiences around the country couldn’t have at least one-night theatrical runs of their own.

Gathr launched in March. Though not yet profitable, it has angel financing to help it through a period of proving the concept and demand. Gathr has steadily been expanding its catalogue of first-run features; today it announces the acquisition of two new films adapted from H.P. Lovecraft tales, The Call of Cthuluhu and The Whisperer in the Darkness.

FAST COMPANY: What is Gathr?

SCOTT GLOSSERMAN: Gathr is theatrical on-demand distribution. We’re trying to democratize theatrical distribution of films. The traditional distribution model doesn’t work for movies that appeal to limited audiences who nevertheless may be all over the country. It’s just not economically viable to book theaters all over the country for long engagements. But if we create a meritocracy for these films, and have audiences from around the country organize and aggregate themselves and create critical masses for screenings, we can essentially bring a movie anywhere in the country. It’s a Kickstarter-with-Netflix type of feel.

What’s a minyan for a Gathr film? How many people do you need for it to be economically viable?

Depends on the day--Friday will take more people than a Monday or Wednesday. But to boil it down, for a screen that seats 200 people, it generally takes 40-60 people to “tip” a screening. This wouldn’t have been possible before without the bottom coming out of the cost of delivery. An IMAX 70 mm print would run over $40,000 to create the print and ship it. That same movie can be transcoded to a hard drive and shipped to the same theater for a couple hundred bucks.

Can you show old films and new ones?

We have the ability to show just about any film, and have standing relationships with library catalogues. But our primary focus is on first-run movies, movies being released in a limited number of markets that nevertheless appeal to audiences all over the country. We’re able to augment a traditional distributor’s plan by serving secondary and tertiary markets. To give you an idea, there are 3,300 towns in the US of 25,000 people or more. If a filmmaker has a movie that may appeal to 80-150 people one time in every town of 25,000, the filmmaker could be looking at 3,000 screenings.

How do you know if your film will resonate in communities across the country?

A concrete example is with a film of mine, a horror-mockumentary called Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. It had a shot at theatrical for a few days, and made under $100,000 in the theaters. But then it went on to sell a couple hundred thousand DVDs, so that illustrated the fact that there was a sizable online cult horror community that supported the film. We piloted Gathr on my own dime using my films. Within 48 hours, we had 115 separate requests to screen my movie, from as far apart as Guam and Portland, Maine, and everywhere in between. Of those, we were able to tip several screenings. There was a birthday party in San Luis Obispo, and there was a mall cop in Maui who did a screening at the mall. These are markets that never would have had a prayer of seeing a movie like mine theatrically.

Before I lived in New York, I was always frustrated by reading about great new films that “opened today in Los Angeles and New York.” I felt like I lived in a podunk town, even though I didn’t.

We’re the ones who can tell the movie theaters, whether it’s a theater on Nantucket or in Augusta, Maine, or anywhere, that you can now be relevant. You don’t need to get a movie six months later on some scratchy print, when that film is way out of the zeitgeist. Once theaters realize the power of a tool like Gathr, theaters can use it as a tool to program alternative content, to throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks. They can try to set up screenings, and a film can play in Tulsa the same day it plays in New York City.

It seems like it could also turn movie theaters' schedules into constant film festivals.

That’s our goal: to have movies play with a crowd. A crowd elevates the moviegoing experience. If you see Black Swan in its sixth week of release on screen No. 13 in Waltham, Massachusetts, with two people in the room, you may not like it as much as if you see it at the San Sebastian Film Festival. Movies are a visceral experience that are meant to be shared. If we can consolidate audiences and aggregate them over one night, and really pack that theater and give the great experience of a kinetically driven charged crowd, that’s the kind of film experience we want to bring back.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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[Image: Flickr user Kolby]

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