Future of Film: Alternative Cinema Strikes Back

Alt Screen is a handy site that provides a comprehensive guide to almost all of the alternative film screenings in the New York City area.
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By Karen Kemmerle

Who wants their moviegoing experience to consist only of big screen blockbusters at multiplexes? One of the websites I check daily is Alt Screen, a handy site that provides a comprehensive guide to almost all of the alternative film screenings in the New York City area. These include such eclectic fare as repertory revivals, annual festivals, non-theatrical releases, and live cinema events. The daily screenings calendar, the backbone of Alt Screen, is made up of staff picks that float to the top each day, and all are clearly linked to the official listings, online trailers and aggregated reviews that make this site so rich, varied, and practical.

So when I read about Alt Screen’s Kickstarter campaign, I was intrigued, and I made a point of sitting down with Alt Screen editor, Paul Brunick, to discuss his crowdfunding promotion and his goals for the site.

Credit: Alt Screen

Crowdfunding is traditionally used by filmmakers to fund small projects, but Brunick is adopting the model to raise capital to improve the Alt Screen site and get people into the theaters. Brunick turned to Kickstarter. With the money he raises, Brunick hopes to make investments in his web design and capabilities that will ensure that he can continue to get the word out about the wide variety of alternative cinema opportunities that the city has to offer. And if the Alt Screen campaign is successful, Brunick believes that the audiences attending the alternative cinema venues will expand as well.

Brunick compares sustaining his campaign momentum to hitting a beach ball into a crowd. He explains: “People have to be constantly popping it back up in the air. You get 100 Facebook likes on day one and by day two, it’s already moved on.” He hopes to draw on the support of friends and his immediate professional/personal circles in the first round. From there, his expectation seems practical: “I’m hoping to expand to more news outlets and turn to the theaters we list to see what they can do.”

The most drool-worthy enticements to donate, besides improving the Internet’s only online clearinghouse for New York’s alternative cinema, are the potential rewards that Brunick is dangling before cinephiles. Among them are first edition film books, film society memberships, movie passes, magnets of suspense, and even posters signed by directors like Woody Allen, Wes Anderson and Whit Stillman.

As these goodies indicate, Brunick and his team have won the support of some of New York’s premiere filmmakers and exhibition venues. Brunick explains his approach quite matter-of- factly: “I thought of it the way you might think of running a national presidential campaign. The prizes at the top of the ticket items tend to influence all the way down the line. That level of support will help us in the long run. We got a majority of these items through our personal contacts or professional contacts one degree removed. For the Woody Allen poster, we found out the email of his assistant through a friend of a friend.”

Credit: Alt Screen/ Magnets of Suspense

The cooperation Brunick has received from the alternative cinema venues is remarkable in light of the fact that these theaters — offering up to 30 different screenings each day — are in competition with each other. Brunick observes that the coverage that these theaters were getting for decades in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the metropolitan dailies, and the alternative weeklies has tapered off a lot, especially in the last five years.

He cites the David Cronenberg series at Museum of the Moving Image as an example, explaining: “For me, it is this huge event, but I don’t think the showings were covered in any of the New York papers. The Times did an online slide show, but that was it. So I think the exhibitors realize that it’s important to get the word out.” He adds: “On any given night, two theaters will be in competition, but getting people in the habit of going to events and adding alternative cinema to their interests will increase attendance at screenings for everyone in the long run.”

When asked about the ways that Alt Screen will use the funds from the campaign, Brunick acknowledges wryly that his plans create a bit of a problem: “One of the challenges for our campaign is that what we need the money for is incredible unsexy. We need to overhaul the backend. As of now, we are publishing the whole thing on Word Press.” On a more exciting note, Brunick talked enthusiastically about his plans for Alt Screen to put out its first annual e-book anthology this year. He notes that one of the features of the e-book each year will be original content from Alt Screen’s contributors that cannot be found anywhere else.

Brunick does see the bigger picture. While most of the alternative venues he promotes have social media outlets, for the most part they are missing out on opportunities that the digital age provides to expand their audiences and increase viewership. Many of these screening venues do not have mobile sites or smart phone applications, both of which Brunick would love to create as a part of Alt Screen. He understands the obstacles and the possibilities: “For a mobile site or a smart phone app to happen, I would need a lot of money. In my dream scenario, I would love to have people sign in with usernames and be able to create their own repertory schedules. This would get users to connect with other alt fans and see what screenings people want to see.”

I mentioned that a location-based social networking service would be a great addition to “dream app” so that audience members could see what theaters their friends are currently checked into and what films they are watching. Brunick added that he would also like to integrate his site with a service like Watch It, so that Alt Screen fans can create a master queue on any platform of movies they want to watch for easy queue management.

At day 11, Brunick and his staff of editors, interns and contributors have over $5000 dollars of their $16,000 goal pledged. I, for one, will be donating… how about you?

Karen Kemmerle is the Digital Content Coordinator for Tribeca Film, where she works closely with the VP of Digital Media, Kristin McCracken and Future of Film editor, Chris Dorr. Most recently, Karen worked as the Outreach Coordinator for the Nantucket Film Festival. She is, and will always be, a Nicolas Cage enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter.

The Future of Film blog is a place where leading filmmakers and experts within the film industry share their thoughts on film, technology and the future of media.

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