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Tugg, The Social Movie Theater Startup, Uses Crowdsourcing To Choose Which Movies Play At Local Theaters

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In the summer of 2001, as a high schooler living in the suburbs of Atlanta, there was one movie I simply had to see the very moment it was released.

That movie was "Pootie Tang."

In the leadup to its release, the film -- based, as I am sure you all remember, on a nonsensical Lothario character from "The Chris Rock Show," and directed by a not-yet-famous Louis C.K. -- was all my friends and I could talk about; and yet on the Friday it came out, "Pootie Tang" was not on the screens of any of our local theaters. We were incredibly disa-Poot-ed that we might miss out on the first day of the "Tang," and we had to beg our parents to drive us over an hour to the closest showing.

I think we can all agree that, in this day and age, nobody should have to expend so much effort or energy in order to fulfill a wish as simple as seeing "Pootie Tang" on opening night. That's (partly) why I'm so excited for Tugg, a new startup that could eventually destroy the "Pootie Tang" scenario described above forever.

Tugg was founded by Nicolas Gonda, a movie executive who has worked extensively with the director Terrence Malick (whose films have a certain affinity with "Pootie Tang"), and takes the crowd-funding model of a site like Kickstarter and applies it to your local cinema: Anyone can choose a film from Tugg's library that they'd like to see screened, along with a participating neighborhood movie theater; those selections immediately create a signup page, with the film's info, including showtime, date and ticket price.

If enough people commit to buying tickets on the Tugg website, the movie "tips" and the screening is on. All buyers are on the hook for their tickets, and the movie theater is the on the hook to screen the film at that time on that date. It's a win-win for consumer and movie theater: The theater is guaranteed a full, profitable screening, and the ticket buyers get to enjoy a movie they all really want to see in theaters (this movie may or may not be "Pootie Tang").

Gonda credits sites like Kickstarter for familiarizing the "collective buying" mentality that fuels Tugg and can make the movie selection experience for theaters and theatergoers much more efficient.

"Collective buying says, 'Here's our goal, if we can do this together, we can take over this screen, we can see this movie," Gonda explains. "Five years ago, this would have been a much more difficult task to introduce to the public, but now ... more people across all demographics are more familiar with the behavior involved."

"Theaters aren't necessarily programming in an inefficient way, but there are definitely shortcomings ... It's a matter of there not being the tools for them to realize what they want to offer to their communities."

With a tool like Tugg, those "inefficiencies" in movie theater programming could be reduced, if not eliminated: Imagine if theater owners asked members of their community what movies they wanted to see, rather than having to predict every week what movie-goers might want to see.

Tugg's vision is not that large yet. It is currently focused on one-off showings, for independent directors trying to get their films shown, or local special interest groups with a relevant movie they want their supporters to see. Successful screenings have ranged from comic book enthusiasts gathering for the screening of a documentary about a Comic Con, and an anti-death penalty group showing a documentary that called for the death penalty's repeal.

Because Tugg is still in beta, and a relatively new company, the ways in which you can use the service are currently quite limited. The catalogue of films available to screen sits in the four-hundreds (though growing steadily) and the locations are limited to large cities*. More restrictively, if you want to create an event, you have to prove that you have influence over a sufficient amount of potential ticket-buyers on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. That's because, for prospective ticket buyers, you cannot yet browse screenings by location or title; you have to be invited by an event organizer.

Clearly, though, once Tugg opens its doors to wider user access, and to browsing events by location, it has the potential to transform the movie selection process for both theater owners and theatergoers. Imagine the ability for almost anyone to select a movie he or she wishes to see in a local theater, posting that film along with a date and location like a classified ad or a Kickstarter project; anyone who also wants to see that film can hop in, grab a ticket, and create an organic, wholly beneficial event for the community and movie theater. That will be an exciting turn, if Tugg can pull it off and attract a wide enough network of users.

(And if it can't: Well, it can still enable local groups and indie directors to easily organize and promote screenings at actual theaters for the movies they care about. And that's a worthy function, I think we can agree).

Anyway, as most things do in my life, it all comes back to "Pootie Tang": The prospect of a kind-of "Kickstarter for Film Screenings" -- though unable to solve a bygone problem from my youth -- could not only greatly enhance the quality and visibility of films in your neighborhood, it could also empower you to create a big-screen experience of your own, an endeavor previously too expensive and complicated for most of us to imagine.

If only Tugg had existed-- and, uh, if only I had known about Rotten Tomatoes -- back when "Pootie Tang" had been released. What difficulty it could have prevented, for me, my friends and our mothers!

And yet this is more than just a bunch of loser teenager boys who want to see some awful comedy on a Friday night: It is using the power of the Internet to make the entire moviegoing experience, for everyone from the theater owner down to the ticket buyer, more sensible.

*Tugg has pointed out to me that any promoter in any city -- not just large cities -- can create an event, provided he or she has influence over a large enough group of people. The company has pointed to screenings in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Columbus, Georga, and Fort Collins, Colorado, as proof.

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