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New site to let theater-goers pick films at area theaters

Gary Dinges
gdinges@statesman.com

A soon-to-debut website will let theater-goers pick the films they'd like to see screened at a number of local cinemas.

Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse and the AMC, Cinemark and Regal chains have partnered with Tugg.com, which will officially launch at this year's South by Southwest festival.

Tugg users can choose from a variety of films, pick a theater and select a time. They then use email and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote the screening. Get enough RSVPs by the deadline, and the event's a go.

The participating film distributors and available titles — classics, as well as newer releases — won't be made public until closer to SXSW.

"Every film speaks to a different person, and the most exciting thing about Tugg is that it allows for audiences to find their films and films to find their audiences," said CEO Nicolas Gonda, co-founder of the site.

Once a screening is confirmed, Tugg handles all the details, including ticketing and delivering the selected film to the reserved theater.

"We are eager to offer a platform that enables studios, filmmakers and exhibitors to have unprecedented interaction with communities and influencers," Tugg co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Pablo Gonzalez said.

Tugg's board of advisors includes Terrence Malick, director of Smithville-filmed "Tree of Life," as well as actor Ben Affleck and filmmaker Richard Linklater, co-founder of the Austin Film Society.

The site, according to Alamo CEO and founder Tim League, has the potential to change the movie business.

"As the creators were first showing me Tugg, I had the same sensation I had when I first started using Facebook," League said. "This was a brilliant, well-executed concept."

AMC has been testing Tugg, and executives are pleased with the results, according to Robert Lenihan, the chain's president of programming. Trials have shown "the power of grass-roots, guest-advocate marketing," he said.

With the area's four dominant theater chains participating, Tugg users will have the opportunity to host screenings at more than a dozen cinemas across Central Texas.

There are four Austin Alamo Drafthouses, with a fifth set to open next month in Southwest Austin at Slaughter Lane and MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1). AMC has a theater at Barton Creek Square mall, Regal has six area locations, and Cinemark has seven megaplexes scattered across Central Texas.

gdinges@statesman.com; 912-5987