Flixclusive Interview: Nicolas Gonda, co-founder of Tugg


I’m really jazzed about Tugg. I’ve written about it a little, and I think that, if it takes off, it’s a platform that can really change the way people think about distributing their own movies in our era of social media. Hell, if people can organize protests that topple governments and create international attention, surely we can get fifty people together to watch the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven, right?

I had a chance to speak with Nicolas Gonda, the co-founder of Tugg, and we chatted about the company, the service, and how it can fit in with the changing future of movie distribution. Check it all out after the jump!

I hear you guys are doing some stuff for [SXSW] this year.

Yeah, we’re preparing to officially launch at South By. There’s a lot of integration within the festival as well. We’re the official sponsor of the Buzz screenings, so festival attendees will be using Tugg to determine what films from this year’s festival will get additional showtimes that they call a Buzz screening. Also, it already has been used to see which titles from previous fesitvals will get Encore screenings this year based on atendee’s demands. It’ll be an exciting few weeks.

Yeah, you guys are really firing on all cylinders right out of the gate, and other metaphors that I will be mixing horribly. How did all this get started? What’s the beginning of Tugg?

I began in distribution with Focus Features all throughout college and afterwards, then began working with filmmakers like [Terrence] Malick over the past seven or eight years. So with the distribution background and the experience working very closely with artists like him, I started to see very quickly certain bottlenecks, certain inefficiencies within the distribution process. There’s an interesting story where we were finishing The New World, and there was a version of the film that [Malick] was very passionate about, but the running time was much longer than what is standard. Over the years, I had so many people come up to me and ask how they could see a film like that in theaters.  I would be on the other side, wondering why a film like that couldn’t be in theaters.

I really was fascinated by that question and figured if we could answer that, find a solution to it, it wouldn’t just apply to Terry and his films but so many other filmmakers and audiences. At that point, I teamed up with my co-founded Pablo Gonzalez, who comes from a technology background, and we spent the first period really studying what was taking place. Everything from the digital transformation of theaters to the effect of social media on moviegoing, and then, obviously, certain opportunities for efficiency within the distribution systems. We learned if we were able to build something that took away the if-come for exhibitors, the risk of people not showing up for something, and then the speculative costs and risks for the distributor, then really your imagination can run wild with many things that can actually happen. That’s what we’ve built with Tugg. The theater benefits from a guaranteed audience, the distributor has all of its costs covered by the event itself, and as a result of that, the audience gets what they want to see when they want to see it.

I assume you guys have a list of movies that you’ve either purchased or have an agreement with the studios to play their screenings? Something like that?

That’s correct. Every title that appears on Tugg has the rights and economics tiered and pretedermined before it ever appears on the site.

Are you working with any larger theater chains, or are you working with smaller, indie houses?

Earlier last week, we announced our theater partnership, and those included AMC, Regal, Cinemark, Rave, and several others you can see. It’s an amalgamation of the biggest chains in the country as well as regional ones.

This is an interesting model, but where exactly do you see a profit off of this?

For every successful event, Tugg generates a margin off of that, basically.

You talked a little bit about the distribution model and some of its inadequacies. I like the idea that you’re approaching those inadequacies using social media as a means to organize people in going outside the distribution systems themselves as opposed to you guys as a corporate entity going outside the distribution system. It makes me think a little bit about Kevin Smith was doing with Red State, using his own model of distribution. What do you guys think about the other alternate distribution methods out there

We built Tugg to work as a supplement to anything from a traditional distribution process with studios that we work with, as well as to aid independent filmmakers who may have embarked on an alternative distribution process, and they’re looking to supplement it with an efficiency like this. We’re not trying to be a substitute. We’re building this to help all kinds of filmmakers and content owners in whatever’s best for their project. I think that what Kevin Smith has done, which is incredible, is an example of a mentality of filmmakers that aren’t just approaching do-it-yourself because there’s no other alternative. They’re approaching it because it’s the best approach for that film, even if they have more traditional alternatives to choose from. We’re seeing, all the time, every month, more and more examples of filmmakers all over the world that have made their films so creatively and distributing them creatively. We’re seeing more and more examples of films that are being made as a result of crowd funding. We’re seeing films where a filmmaker goes off with a passionate crew for two weeks with a 5D or a Red and comes back with a beautiful work of art, puts a trailer on Vimeo, and less than a week later, there’s over a million views and people requesting to see it in theaters. It’s just indicative to the day and age we live in right now. It really lends itself to quite an exciting cinematic revolution. Filmmakers are more empowered than ever. The tools to make movies are more abundant than ever, and what we’re trying to do is create a distribution system that gives those filmmakers just as creative of a platform to distribute their films as they have to make their films.