“MIAMI CONNECTION: Tugging the next cult sensation to the theater” by Brandy Fons

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Tugg screening of Miami Connection (left to right: Ryan Fons, Brandy Fons, Dacyl Armendariz

MIAMI CONNECTION is a miracle of a movie on the level of childbirth.  Allow me to provide a little support for that claim and you’ll see that there’s a kernel of truth nestled in the hyperbole.  In 1987 Grandmaster Y.K. Kim, a South Korean immigrant with zero filmmaking bona fides, decided to make an action epic set in Orlando, Florida (the film has literally nothing to do with Miami).  He naturally populated his film with “actors” from his central Florida chain of martial arts studios for this story about a rock-synth band of Tae Kwon Do orphans who battle coke-dealing, motorcycle-riding ninjas – why motorcycles you ask?  According to Kim, because that’s how ninjas travel by day.  The results were appropriately abysmal by any standard measure of quality and when it came time to shop the film around for distribution, Kim was told quite bluntly to “throw the film away.”  He decided to self-distribute and MIAMI CONNECTION played a few showings in a couple Orlando theaters before being booed off screens and lost forever.

Cut to 25 years later.  Zack Carlson, a programmer at the Alamo Drafthouse, is trolling through eBay, looking for deals on 35mm prints and comes across a film called MIAMI CONNECTION that he’s never heard of before.  Considering Carlson’s encyclopedic knowledge of all things cult and 80s, this was a true curio.  He snapped it up and played it sight unseen at the Drafthouse where the film absolutely killed.  For all it’s problems with acting, cinematography, editing, acting, sound mixing, lighting, staging and acting, MIAMI CONNECTION contains a special kind of magic that goes way beyond even movies that are typically labeled “so bad they’re good.” There is an infectious sincerity at work in the film, a genuine swing for the fences that results in the most pure fun anyone is likely to have in a theater this year.  And the results, however unintended, produce moments of gut-busting brilliance that could not be replicated by even the most skilled comedy filmmaker.  

imageAwards campaign ad for Miami Connection

It’s a movie that deserves to be shared with friends on the big screen.  And for that, we turned to Tugg a platform that allows moviegoers to choose the films they want to see at the theater and customize their own screening events.  MIAMI CONNECTION, distributed by Drafthouse Films, has done quite well in a regular run – consistently selling out midnight shows in cities across the country – and they wanted to make it available on Tugg to be able to foster screenings anywhere there was demand.  After it had a regular run in Austin, we decided to do our own Tugg event for MIAMI CONNECTION to spread the good word in a new community.

What started out as a test run with Tugg for our first event has turned into something we do consistently because of the joy we get in sharing movies we love with our friends at the Alamo Drafthouse. To be able to interact with our favorite theater in such a communal way has made for some of the best experiences at the movies this year.  There’s something really special about having a theater full of people that you’re directly connected to or at most, one or two degrees separated from.  Additionally, Tugg provides the opportunity to truly customize the experience, fostering a new relationship between moviegoer and movie theater.  We’ve learned from the Drafthouse that part of the fun of going to the movies is to make it a true event – give people something they’ll never get at home or at another theater.  So, we program vintage trailers, hold beer chug relay races, encourage costume parties, embarrass ourselves in a mock performance as a fictional band.  Anything we can think of to enhance the evening and make it a memorable event on top of seeing a great film.

imageActual script cover page for Miami Connection

While not by design, the films we’ve programmed through Tugg have all been movies that we loved from our work with Fantastic Fest– THE FP, HEADHUNTERS, I SAW THE DEVIL and MIAMI CONNECTION.  Fantastic Fest has been a great place of discovery for exciting and daring genre films.  These movies all had regular runs at the Alamo Drafthouse and found their cinephile audience, but Tugg gave us the opportunity to bring in a group of people that had never heard of these films, which for us is part of the fun – introducing people to movies they otherwise wouldn’t have given a chance if not for a peer-to-peer recommendation.  Tugg allows people that have the time and inclination to seek out more adventurous cinema to curate those films for an audience.  Whereas the very first film was a little tougher to assemble our friends to meet the attendance threshold, each successive Tugg event has become easier as people have grown to trust our taste.  Through Tugg, it is now possible for anyone who sees a film they love at Fantastic Fest, or any film festival, and take that experience back home to share it with their community.  

So, how did we do it?  Below is a list of things we did to craft and promote our Tugg event for MIAMI CONNECTION.  This is by no means a definitive process for creating a successful event and there are many paths to reaching an attendance threshold, but this is what worked for us.  Anyone can get started on his or her own event at a local theater (Tugg works with all major exhibitors as well as regional chains and independent theaters), so consider this a helpful guide…

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Best Actor hopeful Grandmaster Y.K. Kim

1) Choose the film

We selected the film from Tugg’s Library of studio and independent film titles, which currently stands at over 900 films.  If you don’t see the film you’d like to program, you can request it from the Tugg team and they’ll try to get it for your event.

2) Choose the theater & date

After we picked the film we got in touch with the Tugg promoter team and gave them our theater preference and a couple of date/time options.  When you want to do your screening can effect the minimum attendance threshold.  So, weekend screenings can be prohibitive since those are high traffic days for a theater, but Monday through Thursday are usually great options for a lower threshold.

3) Partner with other people or organizations

We do all of our screenings with two other local companies who are run by friends in Austin – Bearded Pony, an app development company who’s tagline is “stupid apps for brilliant people” and mixtape marketing  a full-service marketing & creative agency. This allows us to widen our social nets, giving us a larger pool of people to target for our screenings.

4) Create the event description

Come up with the copy for your event page.  Don’t ignore this part as something to quickly check off.  Spend a little time thinking how you can convince people that this is a special opportunity that they can’t miss and what you can do to make the screening more special with fun ballyhoo.  For our event, we came up with a bulleted list of “six reasons why you should care about MIAMI CONNECTION.”

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Available at retailers nowhere

5) Social tools

Create a Facebook Event page that mirrors the description you created for the Tugg event page.  Update the page periodically with status updates (ie, we have 20 tickets left!) paired with fun content or articles about the film you’re promoting.  We posted things like a photo of a MIAMI CONNECTION action figure that to our (and surely the world’s) disappointment doesn’t exist yet.  Do this sparingly though – you don’t want to spam your friends!  It’s also important to educate a little.  Make sure people understand that it takes a certain number of people to buy tickets for the event to happen and that there’s a deadline to achieve that number.

6) Direct outreach

Sometimes it takes some good old-fashioned emailing and calling.  Don’t just rely on posting to Facebook or Twitter.  Getting in touch with people directly to see if they can attend ensures that they don’t miss out on a tweet or Facebook notification in our sometimes overwhelmingly busy social channel noise.

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The mustache is real.

7) Ballyhoo

Make the event special.  For MIAMI CONNECTION, we planned a funny surprise “performance” by the fictional band Dragon Sound from the film, set to the song “Friends Forever.”  My husband and co-founder, Ryan Fons, even grew a mustache to sell the ridiculous outfit.  Thankfully he shaved it immediately following the screening.  We followed the performance with a brief history of the film, and then a spirited Dragon Sound vs. Audience beer chug relay race (beer, while no means required to enjoy MIAMI CONNECTION, definitely doesn’t hurt).  Before the movie played, we ran the following video, which is called “Who is Y.K. Kim” and there’s probably no better way to close this piece than with this wonderful bit of WTF-ery.

imageBrandy Fons is co-founder of FonsPR and reps Alamo Drafthouse, Fantastic Fest and Tugg in addition to film studio & entertainment clients.  Before starting her own agency with her husband Ryan Fons she worked at Walt Disney Studios as a senior publicist.

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