By Lance Weiler, May 13th, 2010

Recently, Ted Hope posted a list entitled 38 More Ways The Film Industry Is Failing Today the first point on the list focuses on building richer theatrical experiences.

1. We cannot logically justify any ticket price whatsoever for a non-event film. There are too many better options at too low a price. Simply getting out of the house or watching something somewhere because that is the only place it is currently available does not justify a ticket price enough. We still think of movies as things people will buy. We have to change our thinking about movies to something that enhances other experiences, and it is that which has monetary value. Film’s power as a community organizing tool extends far beyond its power to sell popcorn (and the whole exhibition industry is based on that old popcorn idea).

This and the other 37 points are definitely worth reading. They raise numerous questions while hinting at possible solutions. In relation to the first point that Ted raises I was struck by the fact that “Hosted Screenings” present an interesting option for those looking to roll something out in today’s theatrical market.

We had a chance to catch up with filmmaker Sol Tryon from Mangusta Productions to hear about his recent experimentation in the hybrid distribution world and how he and his team are working around a “Hosted Screenings” model for their theatrical releases.

What lead to your hybrid distribution efforts around your slate of films?

Over the past few years we have seen the independent film industry flip on it’s head. With the number of films getting big advances for all rights deals dropping drastically, it became apparent that in order to be independent filmmakers with sustainable careers we were going to have to know how to market and distribute our films ourselves. We began exploring and comparing the different options for self, hybrid and traditional distribution. Fortunately, there have been a few other filmmakers blazing these trails already giving us some points of reference to work from. For the most part though, these strategies are only being implemented as a one off sort of thing for specific films. Seeing this as a developing trend, we decided to try to shape our company around eventually being prepared to release all of our films ourselves theatrically. With that as the strategy, we have begun including a modest P&A (prints and advertising) budget into our production budget in order to finance a theatrical release. This puts us, the filmmakers, as well as the initial investors in a greater position of power when it comes to managing the distribution options. If one of the precious few large all rights deals comes our way, we can take it and just distribute the remaining funds back to our investors. If there aren’t any offers we are jumping up and down about, we have the ability to distribute the film ourselves in a way we feel it deserves. The ideal situation being that we develop this strategy for distributing our films to a point where other filmmakers and distributors want to work with us because they see the value we are able to add to a project.

Can you explain how you’re approaching theatrical and the results you’ve seen so far from your efforts?

Our first theatrical release was FIX (directed by Tao Ruspoli; starring Olivia Wilde and Shawn Andrews). We opened in New York and played for two weeks at the Village East. We generated a lot of press and saw a real tangible jump in awareness for the film. One of the most effective strategies we employed was setting up hosted screenings where we invited cast, crew, friends and influential personalities to take part in themed post-screening Q&A’s. For instance, we invited Daniel Pinchbeck, a proponent of hallucinogens, to participate in a discussion with Tao Ruspoli titled: “Drugs: Culture, Addiction and the Exploration of Altered States of Consciousness”. Pinchbeck promoted the screening on his Reality Sandwich blog which, combined with our promotional and marketing efforts, enabled us to sell out a Tuesday night screening.

With our two current films, The Living Wake and 2012: Time For Change we’ve continued in this direction. With 2012: Time For Change we partnered with Green Festivals (the largest green expo in the U.S.). They hold five events throughout the year (San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Washington D.C., and San Francisco again). We premiered the film April 9th at the San Francisco event where we organized panels on the green festival main stage featuring participants in the film and set up a booth to promote our screenings, build our mailing list, and sell merchandise. Outside of the festival, we booked a Landmark Theater for one screening a night for three nights. With the awareness we built up at the green festival and our grass roots marketing, we sold out all of our screenings and built a strong base of interest in the area for our film. Each night the film was followed by a Q&A featuring a different lineup of luminaries from the film. These events became great opportunities to bring together an eclectic mix of personalities into one space for unique discussions. The guests included Paul Stamets (Mycologist), Rob Garza (Thievery Corporation: Musician), Tiokasin Ghosthorse (First Voices Indigenous Radio), Richard Register (Ecological City Design), Barbara Marx Hubbard (Futurist, Writer), and many more.

We are continuing this approach next in Chicago and are expanding the idea in Seattle to incorporate a full one week theatrical run. The thinking is that Seattle is a great market for this film and with the green festival’s outreach, as well as the attention we received from our San Francisco event the time is right to explore taking things to the next level. We are also planning an event screening in NYC for early July with Sting, Paul Stamets, Ganga White, Daniel Pinchbeck and director Joao Amorim where we will be doing simultaneous screenings through several platforms and streaming the Q&A/panel discussion live after the film.

With our latest release, The Living Wake, we are collaborating with Dylan Marchetti of Variance Films on our theatrical bookings. We started by booking theaters in New York (May 14th) and LA (May 21st). From there we used those dates to build around with other cities. We currently are planning on releasing the film in Seattle (June 4th), Chicago (June 25th) and several other cities through June and July. We have also recently secured separate deals for the DVD and VOD rights, coordinating them both to be released on August 3rd.

Can you share how you design your self hosted screenings?

For our New York release of The Living Wake this week we have a total of twenty hosted screenings set up, and are planning to do the same in Los Angeles next week. Many of the screenings will be hosted by the Filmmakers and Cast members themselves (Sol Tryon, Jesse Eisenberg, Mike O’Connell, Jim Gaffigan), while others will be hosted by special guests such as Shirin Neshat (Women Without Men), Mark Webber (Explicit Ills), Cory McAbee (American Astronaut), Daniel Pinchbeck (2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl), Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness), and Jimmy Miller (Step Brothers). Several companies and film festivals we have screened at are also jumping in and hosting select screenings in support of the film.

Our goal is to create an event type of experience within the traditional theatrical format. The approach with each host is slightly different. Some hosts are trying to just promote us and our film by bringing people that they think would enjoy it to a specific screening. Others it works two fold for, where they are promoting us, but we are promoting them as well and it becomes a mutually beneficial experience. All of it though is targeted at creating a particular experience around each and every screening for the audience.

What tips would you offer for someone who is interested in booking their own event / hosted screenings?

Give people as many reasons as you can to go out and see your film. It’s hard to get people into the theater, it’s expensive, and you’re competing with a zillion other things so you have to work to make the experience unique and memorable. Form partnerships whenever and wherever possible with groups and individuals and help promote each other. Get as much advice from people who have done it before as you possibly can, but remember that Self and Hybrid Distribution is still very new, there are no set rules as to how it is done so be creative. Lastly, be prepared to work harder than you ever have. The only guarantee in going this route is that the fate of your film rests on you and how much work you are able to put into it.

What’s next and will you be releasing theatrically in more cities?

The Living Wake and 2012: Time For Change will be rolling out to more cities throughout the summer and fall. The next film on our slate for distribution is Being In The World, a documentary directed by Tao Ruspoli (Fix). This project we have been with from the beginning and are devising a strategy for a theatrical tour building on the experiences gained from Fix, 2012: Time For Change and The Living Wake, but gearing everything specifically for this film. We have also decided to work on supporting other indie films that we think deserve a theatrical release, but have not had the opportunity for what ever reason to make it happen yet. In that vein, we are providing the P&A financing for Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench to be released by Variance Films. We have a few projects in development and plan on continuing to do theatrical releases on our own films as well as others. Our goal is to work with filmmakers on establishing a sustainable environment for us all to continue creating the projects that inspire us.

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Posted in audience biz distribution doc event

Lance Weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects.


  • The idea of hosted screenings is really exciting to me - I suppose for as long as I've had plans of releasing @FToM online for free, I've always been excited about the idea of forming relationships and ease of feedback that comes with the web.

    One thing that's never felt quite as exciting, as perhaps that very initial thrill of seeing your work on a bigger screen, is that the audience has much less immediate ways of commenting or questioning. And approaching limited releases this way: of going around personally with your own film and planning events like Q&As around each showing is exactly what has been missing. Make each screening limited, make it personal, open it up for discussion. Great post.

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