It’s 11 a.m. on a Wednesday and I’m walking into a movie theater for two reasons: I love movies and I need a way of avoiding my air condition-less apartment in the dog days of summer. I already know what I’m going to see but there isn’t much chance of spontaneity at your local multiplex.
Scanning the electronic kiosk reveals stories of giant robots and monsters, zombies, ghosts, flying men in tights and cartoon snails with a dream to go fast among others. Some of these movies I’ve seen and they’re fine, but I’ve basically seen a form of all of them before (except for racing snails). There’s no surprises, no creativity, no documentaries. Just the same conventionality you’ll find at any chain-in-a-mall cinema in this great country of ours.
But that’s why you have art houses. They cater to unique and interesting stories that would normally not even be on your radar. Eugene has such a place, the Bijou. Recently, owner Ed Schiessl opened a second location, the Bijou Metro downtown. Like the original, the new location was built for the people in the community to see what they want to see.
But tailoring your content to what the people want and delivering it in a timely manner isn’t always easy. So Schiessl found a company that gives him an opportunity to accomplish that.
“One of the difficulties we have in the Eugene market, is that films tend not to reach us here until several weeks after their limited release in NY and LA, so we rarely get to take advantage of early marketing momentum from NY Times and other national reviews,” Schiessl says. “This series affords us a rare opportunity to screen films right at the beginning of their run, often before their official NY and LA premiere.”
The series he’s referring to is the Gathr Preview Series. You know that phrase you hear on television sometimes when a movie preview comes on saying, “opening in select cities?” Those select cities are usually New York or Los Angeles, the biggest markets for filmgoers. People like us in little old Eugene usually have to wait a while before we too can experience that acclaimed indie that everyone’s talking about.
The Gathr Preview Series gives audiences in select cities the chance to see new independent cinema even before it reaches the larger markets and Eugene was chosen as one of those cities thanks in large part to Gathr Films CEO Scott Glosserman’s personal history with the state of Oregon.
“I directed my first feature film, Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, in and around the Portland area. I fell in love with Oregon and I got a real taste for the sophistication level of the film community in your state,” Glosserman says. “We have subsequently developed terrific relationships with community-driven art house theatres in Oregon, Eugene and Portland especially. Having such a willing and capable theatre partner and also an engaged film community are the two most important elements for a successful Preview Series.”
The Preview Series was launched in April of this year with a focus of showcasing four films a month (one each week). The company offers a one month subscription for $19 and a 3 month plan for $49. Members get free tickets and guaranteed seats to each screening, frequent post-screening discussions and surprise screenings on occasion. The membership calculates to less than $5 per movie.
Besides the Preview Series, Gathr Films also offers a service they like to refer to as Theatrical on Demand (TOD). On the company’s website, they emphasize a communal gathering. Gathr screenings can only happen if a minimum number of people reserve tickets before a screening request expires.
On every screening page you’ll find an update that shows you the number of current reservations, the number of additional reservations needed to tip the screening and how much time remains before that particular screening request expires. Think of it as a countdown clock to get you motivated to round up some of your friends and make a screening happen.
When enough people have reserved tickets to a screening before time expires, the screening is a go. If the minimum number of reservations is not met, the screening does not take place and anyone who purchased a reserve seat isn’t charged. Any non-members also have an opportunity to see a particular film as a limited number of full-priced tickets are available on a first come, first-served basis.
It’s all about finding a venue that can support the screening and that doesn’t necessarily mean just art house theaters. According to the Gathr Films website, a documentary called King: A Filmed Record…From Montgomery to Memphis about the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is scheduled to screen at the Regal Theater at Valley River Center on August 28 to commemorate the 50 anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech. In order for that to happen, 100 people need to tip the screening.
Based out of Los Angeles, the company incorporated in 2011 and spent the following year beta testing. It wasn’t until earlier this year that they saw their vision come to fruition.
“We only really got started with our first film, Girl Rising, for which we facilitated full theatrical and Theatrical On Demand distribution this past March. The documentary currently sits at the 96th spot for highest grossing docs of all time,” Glosserman says.
With the advent of instant streaming, Video on Demand and HD big screen televisions, the allure of the theater seems to have dwindled somewhat over the last few years and theater owners, particularly smaller ones, are doing whatever they can to stand out and bring audiences back to the theater.
“‘Eventizing’ is a big buzz-word in the industry right now — creating a special movie-going experience beyond the traditional model is extremely important,” Schiessl say. “Bringing beer and wine into our model, and getting creative with our programming to include operas, discussions, live music and special event screenings like the ones we do with Gathr are all important parts of keeping cinema alive as the industry and accessibility evolve.”
The idea of bringing people together to share an experience is really what makes cinema stand out. Sure it’s easier just to stay at home in your pajamas and enjoy something on your 50″ flat screen, but where’s the sharing of laughter or sadness?
“Watching movies in theatres connects us with our communities and reaffirms our common bonds. It’s vitally important that we preserve this culturally significant tradition,” Glosserman says.
The next film in Eugene’s Gathr Preview Series is Savannah which tells the true story of Ward Allen, an eccentric character who rejects his plantation heritage for the freedom of life on the river. You won’t find that at the local Cinemark or Regal Theater. The date for the movie to be screened is Thursday, August 8 at 7:30 p.m. It will only happen if the people demand it.
“I hope more people in our market discover Gathr and start using it — it’s such a great model, and an important tool for the consumer to manifest exactly what they want, and for us to gauge interest in certain films that we might otherwise not be aware of at all,” Schiessl says.
I leave the multiplex around 1:30 having been adequately satisfied. But I knew what I was getting into to with giant robots and monsters. Savannah is something I know nothing about. It could be really good. Maybe I’ll tell a few friends and we can discover something together.