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.
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 Sciences - Can'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
- 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.
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.