Tugg Lets Audiences Choose What’s Playing In Theaters

There’s a new startup called Tugg unveiling itself today that promises audience members that they can create their own movie screenings at local theaters.

It’s led by Nicolas Gonda, who was a producer on The Tree Of Life. When I asked why theaters would want to do this, Gonda and his co-founder Pablo Gonzalez (they’re CEO and COO, respectively) said via email that the idea came from Gonda’s work with filmmakers — this is supposed to complement existing distribution methods.

“We felt there was a real opportunity to develop a platform where films and theaters could benefit from having a guaranteed audience in place for screenings, helping to reduce uncertainty about whether a film could find an audience,” they said. “Additionally, we think Tugg presents a great opportunity to foster more interaction with local theaters, helping to increase a personal relationship with theaters and communities.”

The basic process, as outlined on the Tugg website, sounds pretty straightforward. You can select a movie from Tugg’s library (the company says it will announce its distribution partners before this year’s South by Southwest, and it claims to have a “growing library of hundreds of studio and independent films”), choose from available theaters and timeslots, and set other event details like ticket price. Then, a certain number of people need to commit to attend before the event is actually on (the higher the ticket price, the lower the attendance threshold), so you need to spread the word.

This is an appealing idea for anyone who’s ever looked at the list of movies at their local multiplex and thought, “Ugh, why are they showing that stuff, rather than this movie that’s a million times better?” Or to any person or company (including TechCrunch) who wants to organize their own screenings.

On the other hand, changing the distribution model for movies is a big challenge for a startup, since there are so many institutional players. One reason to be confident: Tugg’s board of advisors includes prominent names from the film world, like actor/writer/director Ben Affleck (The Town), writer/director Richard Linklater (Before Sunset), and Tree of Life writer/director Terrence Malick. More importantly, the company says it’s already working with an impressive list of theater chains, including Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, AMC Theatres, Bow Tie Cinemas, Cinemark Theatres, Goodrich Quality Cinemas, Rave Cinemas, and Regal Cinemas.

In fact, even though today is Tugg’s big announcement, the company says it already held pilot screenings in Austin, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, and Boulder, Colo.