Last year at Sundance, “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same” garnered raves from many critics, but after more than 50 festival appearances and a “Best Film Not Paying at a Theater Near You” nom at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, the comedy still doesn’t have a distributor.
And it didn’t have a commercial release until its weeklong run at Brooklyn’s reRun Gastropub Theater in early January; that’s crucial, because a one-week Gotham run guarantees a film a New York Times review, a key selling point for garnering ancillary deals and further theatrical bookings. (Variety also reviews most films that run at the reRun, either at the venue, or previously, at festivals.)
At a time when fests tout record-high distributor pickups, the reality is most are straight-to-VOD, -DVD or -online venues. The reRun is among the only theaters in the U.S. that provides newfound theatrical and ancillary opportunities to films without a distrib.
“Now that the reRun Theater is open, it feels like most (American indie) films at the big U.S. festivals can at least get a one-week run and a New York Times review,” notes Roadside Attractions acquisitions and business affairs veep Dustin Smith. Since its July 2010 debut, the funky venue in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood (located Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) has offered the first paid theatrical runs to “Codependent Lesbian” and four other Sundance features, three Slamdance films, nearly two dozen SXSW entries and other festival films — all booked without theatrical distributors or the high cost of four-walling. Outfitted with 60 reclaimed car seats, reRun has a 12-foot screen and is situated inside the reBar restaurant. Both venues were designed by their owner, Jason Stevens.
With in-theater dining and free-flowing booze as bait, reRun — along with indieScreen and Nitehawk Cinema, two other new theaters in nearby Williamsburg, another hipster neighborhood — are also bringing tastemaker audiences to high-profile niche films.
Several theaters around the country have tried turning the arthouse cinema into a bar, dining and entertainment space, notably Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse and San Francisco’s Foreign Cinema. Manhattan has long given filmmakers the chance to four-wall their pics at downtown venues like the Quad Cinema and Cinema Village. ReRun is the rare for-profit space offering filmmakers the advantages of both. Given the $11,000 price for a week of shows plus publicity, ads and other services at the Quad, for one, the reRun may be the only Gotham theatrical option that many microbudgeted films can afford: Cost includes only deliverables like postage and conversion to Blu-ray, which are generally less than $200, and an even split of the box office.
IndieScreen (whose programmer, Marco Ursino, also runs the Brooklyn Film Festival) and Nitehawk also have offered a portion of their slate to films without distribution since opening in fall 2010 and fall 2011, respectively. Nitehawk co-founder Matthew Viragh can also be credited for boosting biz at all three venues after successfully leading the fight to allow alcohol in Gotham theaters, which began in October.
ReRun curator Aaron Hillis (also editor of GreenCine Daily and a Village Voice film critic) says he finds many of his selections by visiting fests and scouring critics’ year-end lists for overlooked gems. He estimates that around 90% of his bookings come from the fest circuit, most without distributors.
The venue evenly splits the $7 ticket price with filmmakers, and while Hillis admits no one will get rich from the four-figure weeklong grosses from 8-10 shows a week in the space, it offers a rare opportunity for filmmakers with a DIY approach (which was the case with “Codependent Lesbian” helmer Madeleine Olnek, who appeared at each show and broke reRun’s attendance record, selling 400 tickets in the eight-show run.)
Hillis says several features have obtained ancillary distribution deals thanks to their one-week reRun plays, including Los Angeles Film Fest drama “The New Year” and the animated SXSW romantic comedy “Mars.” Others have created a calling card that’s led to further theatrical bookings around the country. The next success story may be the Cincinnati Film Festival thriller “Scalene,” whose opening on Jan. 20 featured a live reRun appearance by recent Emmy winner Margo Martindale.