Notes Towards a Macrocinema Distribution Circuit

My post from a few days ago, in which I proposed a “microcinema circuit,” generated some interesting and inspired discussion. Based on the comments to that post, as well as the conversations I’ve had with some of you via email, I found myself drafting some rough notes towards such a circuit. I think a good name for this is Macrocinema.

Instead of writing up a nicely organized blog essay from my notes, I thought I would simply post them raw (or at least medium rare) since the point is not to generate movement from these notes, but to generate discussion and debate, which then generates action.


Harrill’s Rough Notes for Building a Macrocinema Circuit

1) Gather information

The first step is to locate all possible non-theatrical screening venues: microcinemas, film societies (like Austin Film Society, Bryn Mawr Film Society, etc). and anyplace else that screens films (ir)regularly.

Anyone who wants to help do this work is welcome. (I would imagine it’d be a mix of filmmakers and microcinema gurus.) Hopefully five or ten people could get involved at this stage. Might be helpful if one or two people doing this work had some sort of institutional (non-profit, foundation, or university) support too. Could help take care of any (probably minor) costs associated with this. This is not essential – most of the first steps of this process could be done electronically (i.e., freely – no paper, no postage, etc). Any institutional support would need to simply be that, support. Not support as a means towards ownership.

Start info-gathering with these:

    Microcinema Map at Wayfaring.
    Academic Venues via The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and SciencesCan’t believe AMPAS actually has something helpful for indies on their website!
    Flicker listing #1 and Flicker listing #2

AIVF should have this stuff on their website, too. I can’t find it. Where is it? And Film Arts Foundation used to publish the AEIOU (alternative exhibition index of the universe) guide. Is that on their site? I’m not a member, so I don’t know.

Austin Film Society, for example, isn’t listed on the above sites, so make sure you really dig to find all the cinemas that need to be contacted.

2) Contact venues

Collect venue information:

    – venue size
    – how often they screen
    – how many shows/dates/weeks/whatever they’re interested/able to book self- or semi-self-distributed work
    – genres they show
    – how shows are promoted
    – how much they charge
    – how much of the door they can offer / how much they can offer if FILMMAKER ATTENDS
    – projection formats
    – etc
    – what am I leaving out?

Also: Find out who’s interested in a circuit. Not all will be.

3) Analyze and Compile Data…

Compiling them all makes a nice “book” (really a pdf file we can circulate) for all parties interested. Much like the old and out of print (I think) AEIOU (Alternative Exhibition Index Of the Universe) guide that I had back in the late 90s.

“Analysis” means this: See who’s out there, where they are, which venues are the most stable/strongest (see next point). In essence, look at the dots before you start to connect them.

4) Build Alliances

It’s a matter of connecting the dots on the maps and getting these people to talk.

Regional alliances first. Maybe start with the most well-established microcinemas — the ones that are the most stable. As we all know, venues like this can be in danger of dying — sometimes if only one key organizer moves, or a venue space is lost, etc. Some, however, are stable and thriving. So start with them as the hubs. Then build out to the “spoke” venues surrounding them.

Regional “hub” approach makes it easier for the filmmaker to travel to the venues — you do a “Southeast” region or a “Northwest” region. Then, at some later date, maybe you do the “Midwest” region hub and spokes.

5) Trial and Error

Let’s see how this works, and how well it works with films of different genres. Do a number of trials. Trial runs should, well, TRY different thing. To see what sticks. Features. A package of short films. A documentary with two shorts. With filmmakers in attendance. Without filmmakers. Selling DVDs at venue day of show. Selling DVDs afterwards — either at venue, one website, or some other way. And so on.

NB: I my notes I listed a few ideas about films that might be perfect for this, but I won’t mention them here (yet) since I’ve not approached the makers.

6) Eventually, MAKE A SYSTEM of this (at least a little)

The aim is to make a system of this so the wheel doesn’t have to be invented/reinvented several times by every filmmaker that wants to exhibit this way. Likewise, a system can make things easier for the managers of said microcinemas since they’re usually doing this (like the filmmakers) in their spare time, for little/no financial reward, and out of a gut passion. The aim isn’t just to generate more income for filmmakers/microcinemas, but also to help save everyone’s precious time.

Having said all of this, any system should be a flexible system and, above all, one that grows organically out of the trial and error discussed above. Imposing a top-down system without experiments to see what works is just a bad idea.

One way the Macrocinema circuit could work is to take from the ITVS/Public TV exhibition model (but without the enormous corporate structure. All I mean by this is:

– The network [the MACROcinema] says, “We’ll screen the film” – and it goes out to all participating cinemas, rolling out city by city (so the filmmaker can travel to venues)

– The different channels [MICROcinemas] that might autonomously say, “We’ll take this one and this one” for the things that aren’t going out to (picked up or offered to) the MACROcinema, for whatever reason.

End of notes.

**

These notes are incredibly incomplete, and anyone that has a lot of experience touring or running a microcinema will shoot holes in many of these ideas. That’s okay. The point is to advance the dialogue. Like filmmaking, this is a process of creative problem solving.

8 Responses to “Notes Towards a Macrocinema Distribution Circuit”

  1. The Sujewa Says:

    Hey Paul,

    Good work. I will be keeping notes (for public use) on venues at my Art Indie Film Venues News USA blog:
    http://artindiefilmvenuesnewsusa.blogspot.com/
    It’ll be updated a lot this year, starting mid-March.

    Also, Microcinema International (i think that’s the name of the org) may have a current directory of microcinemas.

    Sujewa
    http://www.wilddiner.com/
    **********************

  2. The Sujewa Says:

    Yup, Microcinema International has a possibly very useful database. I found info on 56 venues w/ seating capacity of 30 or more real quickly:
    http://filmmakingforthepoor.blogspot.com/2006/03/info-on-56-us-indie-film-venues.html

    Sujewa
    http://www.wilddiner.com
    **********************

  3. Paul Says:

    Great.Thanks, Sujewa. I looked there this morning as I was putting up the post but couldn’t find it on the site.

  4. Tom Says:

    It would be cool if a filmmaker could go to one site and post a link to their film along with their touring availability, location and instantly have that info sent to every microcinema in the country. So anyone who’s interested or has availability can then punch the film into their schedule and the filmmaker can get back a potential touring schedule. Maybe with a list of couches they can crash on at each stop.

    But also make the site a central point for sharing information. So the communication is tighter between all of the theatre owners. They share all of the trials and errors and know instantly what works and doesnt.

    It would also be amazing if there was an element for audiences as well a central point for microcinema news and new ideas outside of the mainstream without the latest on the Davinci code or how angry Brian Singer is over the rumors that he went over budget by $25million on the lastest Superman sequel.

  5. Sujewa Ekanayake Says:

    I am going to see Weird War on Fri March 10 @ the Black Cat in DC. This is a band that is completely unknown in mainstream music culture, yet they tour extensively(in US, Europe & elsewhere) & put out albums on different labels on a regular basis. The indie/DIY distro & exhibition aspect of indie rock is sooo well developed (compared to what it is in indie film right now). We should look at how the system of hundreds of indie rock venues operate in relation to the thousands of bands & the thousands of performance slots open per year. Perhaps that system has alread worked out some potential problems that we will have to solve in bringing a more active indie touring/self-distro scene into existence. Anyone who has lots of insight into the nuts & bolts of how the indie rock performance venues system works, operates feel free to post useful info here, at my blog or at your own blog (& post a link to it where we can see it). Thanks.

    Good post Tom, raises good questions, goals to think about.

    Paul & AJ, looking forward to your next, more detailed posts.

    I am going to be writing more on the same topic starting later next week @ my blog.

    Sujewa
    http://www.filmmakingforthepoor.blogspot.com/

  6. Priscilla Grim Says:

    AIVF is developing something to launch in the next six months that you will be happy to see– please feel free to contact me for a conversation.

  7. Brian Newman Says:

    I don’t know the full history, but in some senses we (those of us thinking with you on such ideas) are recreating the wheel here. I have heard that back in the day, that day being when the NEA started supporting media in the early 70s, there was some form of calendar kept so that programmers could know who was traveling where, who was programming who, and what venues were available. It was definitely pre-internet, and somewhat different, but along the same lines in terms of spirit. It’s too bad there has never been enough support of this field to build any institutional memory, but I would imagine some of the earlier generation of DIY filmmakers from that time, early AIVF people, etc would have some lessones learned for us. I’ll try to look into this sometime soon.

    I think the regional hub approach is a good start. I used to help manage a program called Southern Circuit. It still exists, having just been taken over by the Southern Arts Federation, but it took artists (from anywhere in the US) to nine sites in the Southeast. It was not an “open tour” that anyone could go on, because they paid artists for their time and had limited resources, but it was somewhat democratic in that all the cities came together in South Carolina for one weekend a year to select films for the tour. Entry fees were nonexistant, but the SC Arts Commission was subsidizing it.

    Right before I left there around 1999, I was talking with people in Nashville, Memphis, Atlanta, Gainesville, and Jackson about launching some less formal network that could share resoucres to help filmmakers do smaller versions of such tours. Essentially the same idea as this, but we didn’t have blogs, wikis and the piss & vinegar necessary to keep this idea going – maybe now we do.

    Great post to get the ideas going. Thanks Paul and others.

  8. The Sujewa Says:

    Good info. Priscilla & Brian. I need to join AIVF, perhaps this month, and also look into IFP & any other orgs that may be of use in distributing my feature & making more low/no buget DIY features.

    Yeah, looking at how indie filmmakers were doing things, what they were doing in the 70’s (and even 60’s) could provide very useful models. But essentially a new wheel will have to be invented, as far as I can tell. The institutional backed aspect of the indie film culture/industry are cool, but would create a relatively low number of opportunities for filmmakers – compared to an indie rock type audience driven culture/industry. The combination of the two would be ideal – institutions will secure a constant base, individual films/filmmakers will build on that by pulling in (and of course sometimes driving away :) different audiences to the scene.

    One of the weird developments/aspects in liberal independent media/entertainment (both in indie rock & indie film scenes) in America is the kind of “racial” segragation that exists (most indie rock shows & indie films, for the moment, draw a predominantly “white” audience while, at the same time, relatively large non-“white” audiences such as Asian-Americans (tons of Asian American film festivals around, feels like, they certainly made The Debut & Robot Stories success), African-Americans and, if not already, pretty soon, Hispanic-Americans have created parallel scenes/induststries. There are no strong philosophical justifications to the low level of intergration in the liberal independent media scene. It just hasn’t been done yet. There are very powerful benefits to developing a more intergrated scene: $s (more people, more money), new ideas (or new combinations of ideas resulting from different cultural starting points), wider diffusion of useful & positive ideas (the anti-materialist & pro-community, activist stance of indie rock & indie film can be useful to minority teens who may not have those elements as options in their Hollywood created mediascape). The independent scene in America, in both music & film, stand in relation to the more mainstream scene/industry and is defined to a certain degree by the mainstream industry (Hollywood, basically). We should do the good things that they are not doing at any given moment. Otherwise being independent will be a relatively pointless & reduntant thing.