Film Tech Firm Gathr Rolls Out Pay-It-Forward Model, Claiming Greater Transparency Than ‘Sound Of Freedom’ Distributor Angel Studios

EXCLUSIVE: Film-focused tech firm Gathr is rolling out a pay-it-forward distribution model with what the company says is greater transparency than schemes like the one used by Angel Studios on 2023 blockbuster Sound of Freedom.

A handful of films are set to deploy the model in the coming months: Brown, directed by Raj Amit Kumar; Christspiracy (Kip Andersen and Kameron Waters); The Sixth (Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine); and Call Me Dancer (Leslie Shampaine). Gathr will host a workshop to walk filmmakers through the new offering at the DC/DOX festival in Washington, D.C., which opens tonight.

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Founded in 2011, Gathr is known for its event management platform, which integrates filmmakers, talent, audiences and venues and integrating ticketing, merchandising and other revenue lines. The company’s signature project was Girl Rising, which took in $1.85 million at the box office in 2013, the fourth-best tally of any documentary feature that year. The company says more than 500 filmmakers have used its various services, among them Michael Moore, Dawn Porter, Jimmy Chinn, Ken Burns, Julia Cohen and Oliver Stone. It has facilitated more than 33,000 screening events, with more than 750,000 tickets sold.

The new pay-it-forward feature allows moviegoers and backers of films to buy a ticket for someone else as a gift. It then provides them with real-time data as to when and how that ticket is being used, a degree of transparency the company says is unique in the industry. (After questions and rumors swirled in film circles after the left-field success of Sound of Freedom, Angel Studios execs eventually released financials from the pay-it-forward effort.)

Gathr CEO Scott Glosserman said the new model has shown “remarkable effectiveness” during initial “stress tests.” The aim now, he added, is to “galvanize filmmakers’ communities around this powerful model by codifying it into a radically transparent technology solution that anyone can use.”

Gathr says it aims to support the creation of customized, flexible, bespoke campaigns, which can include a theatrical and virtual screening campaign, video on demand, impact campaigns, special events, partner TVOD and merchandising. As film teams get real-time data about pay-it-forward transactions, they can zero in on demographics, geographic areas and platforms in order to refine the release as it progresses.

Filmmakers retain 100% ownership, Gathr emphasized, adding that it pays out filmmakers within a 7-day window. Unlike service deals, the arrangement does not require an upfront fee.

Since Indiegogo and Kickstarter came along in the late-2000s, a number of digital upstarts have sought to harness the power of digital media to help the specialty film business navigate a dramatically changing business environment. It has been a daunting challenge to say the least, and the harsh operating climate claimed one high-profile casualty in 2020 when Tugg ceased operations.

Kumar, who wrote and directed Brown, said Gathr’s approach and technology “is the direction in which independent filmmakers must move if they want to keep making these films in the coming decade. Pay It Forward will be a tool of the 21st century which will allow targeting cinema lovers to become producers of indie cinema.”

Some projects already in the market plan to use Gathr’s tool to expand the potential audience. Shampaine’s Call Me Dancer opened theatrically in the fall of 2023 and will use the model to reach communities across India.

“This innovative approach aligns perfectly with my goals of increased accessibility and social impact,” Shampaine said. “By enabling viewers to support each other through ticket purchases, I can amplify the impact of my documentary and ensure that it reaches communities in India who might not otherwise have the opportunity to see it. Gathr’s commitment to transparency and community empowerment is exactly what independent filmmakers like us need to continue telling important stories.”

Other filmmakers attest to the value of Gathr’s partner TVOD setup. Documentarian Stephen Gyllenhaal has been able to arrange for more than 450 charities to use his film, UnCharitable, as an engagement tool to help drive donations. He said Gathr enables “sustainable self-distribution” and helped his film “thrive globally, connecting us with a diverse range of audiences and charities.”

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