I don’t tend to write about start-up launches unless a) they’re particularly hilarious, or b) the founder is someone I know well.
Every so often, though, I get cold-pitched on something that has the potential to be pretty neat. So neat in fact, that I want the credit for telling you about it first.
Altsie is one of those things.
In a nut, Altsie allows bars, restaurants and other local venues to become one-night-only independent movie theaters.
On the programming side, that involves working with independent film distributors to select one great new release each month, and to secure the public performance rights. On the venue side, the company provides marketing and ticketing support (via Altsie.com) and also manages the shipping of each month’s Blu-Ray disc to each venue. Venues have to provide their own player, projector and screen — and Altsie requires that they also provide a dedicated space for the screening to avoid non-paying customers from simply wandering in.
When I spoke to founder Lucas Rayala, he admitted that the company is starting small. As of today’s launch Alsie is only in one city — Minneapolis — although I’ve been lobbying hard for them to come to Vegas soon. Part of that slow launch is down to the fact that the company is launching on a way smaller budget than most indy movies: the initial product was bootstrapped by Rayala, the technical build was outsourced, and his girlfriend is currently acting as marketing director.
And then there’s Rayala’s slightly hilarious attention to detail. One of Altsie’s initial venues — The Nicollet coffee shop in Minneapolis — had their own screen, by Rayala decided it wasn’t good enough to do the movies justice. So he actually built them a new one. But, he explains: “screen paint costs so much (about $300 a gallon) that I got a company to give me a gallon in return for mentioning them in a how-to video we’re putting together for other businesses interested in building their own screen.”
That’s fucking entrepreneurship, friends.
Still, Rayala’s fixation on quality makes recruiting new venues slow work — there are just two at launch — but he seems confident that once word about Altsie spreads, plenty of others will come calling. “Independent movie venues keep closing and traditional movie theatres are getting bigger, more expensive and further away [from downtown areas]. We’re trying to bring movies closer again.” And, then of course, there’s the customary nod to disruption: “About 70% of theaters are still projecting with film, and it costs $1,200-$2,000 to print a single roll. This is, I believe, what’s fundamentally wrong with our theater system. They have completely fallen behind the curve with respect to technology.”
I’m inclined to share Rayala’s confidence that Alsie will be a hit with venues. There are plenty of upsides for bars and restaurants turning into independent movie theaters for one night a week, particularly if they already have a spare room and a projector.
First, there are the Groupon-like benefits of getting new customers through the door: come for the movie, stay for the chicken wings. And, indeed, Altsie’s ticketing system allows venues to wrap in a dinner or drinks special. But unlike Groupon there’s no need to screw yourself by aggressively discounting your core product. Secondly there’s a meaningful financial incentive: ticket revenue is split three ways between the venue, the film rights-holder and Altsie — and, again, Alsie does a lot of the customer acquisition through its site. Finally: independent movies and cool. And venues that show independent movies become cooler by association.
Of course, unless you’re among the — I dunno, five? — Pando readers who live in Minneapolis, you probably won’t be able to use Altsie straight away. So, in the meantime, here are the previews of Alsie’s featured movies for April, May and June. You’re welcome.
Ink – April
Silver Tongues – May
Apocalypse, CA – June