By Zach Weintraub September 6th, 2013
One evening in July I was sitting on the floor of a small gallery in the back of an art supply store with an anxious eye on the progress of the sunset outside. Was it dark enough? It looked almost dark enough. I made a few final adjustments to the temperamental speaker in my lap before sliding it back into position on the other side of a large white sheet (freshly laundered, wrinkle-free) stretched between two fully extended speaker stands, and then I took a moment to admire the whole setup.
Growing louder from behind was the collective rustling of twenty or so people trying to get comfortable in black plastic folding chairs. Sensing their impatience I climbed to my feet, thanked them all for coming, and crossed the room to tap the space bar on my laptop. A loud, hefty video projector sporting a worn North Thurston Public Schools sticker now began to emit a beam of white light that settled squarely and mostly in focus upon the center of the large sheet at the head of the room. I found my seat in the very back and groped around for the half-beer I'd left sitting nearby. The movie began.
I first saw the movie in question - OK, GOOD - about a year and half before all of this when a DVD screener wound up in my apartment, and I loved it. It gave me that "must share" sensation, but I was never comfortable handing the screener out willy nilly without the filmmaker's permission. Between then and now, I've helped my buddy Nandan Rao put together a website called Simple Machine, a tool that allows anyone to discover and book underseen, underdistributed movies in whatever venue they have access to. We've had a hard time attracting initial users, so for the sake of putting my money where my mouth is, I thought I should take swing at screening these movies myself in my own hometown – Olympia, WA.
Starting from scratch, I needed a movie, projection equipment, a venue, and an audience. My first and only lead was a local filmmaker whom I'd heard of but never met. She agreed to get together with me and discuss the possibilities. She also agreed to let me borrow her projector. We walked around one afternoon and she introduced me to one of the owners at an art supply store with a gallery in back. He said that they might be down to do a one-time thing. Meanwhile, I messaged the director of OK, GOOD – Daniel Martinico – on Simple Machine to see if he’d let me screen the movie. We’d never spoken before but he seemed pretty psyched about it and sent me a flash drive with an .mov file that I could play from my laptop.
Things came together quickly after that, and the day of the screening I sent a reminder text to all of my friends in the area before driving downtown in a borrowed station wagon containing the projection equipment I'd rounded up, plus all of the cables, clamps, and rolls of tape I'd need to piece everything together. I pulled up outside the art supply store at around 7:00pm. The three co-owners let me in and we set it all up at our leisure between bites of burrito and sips of beer.
The first guests trickled in an hour later. Most of them were friends, but a few people showed up that I'd never met before. Sitting in back and watching the movie with all of them was awesome. I loved hearing everyone's laughter, gasps, and sighs...or feeling the collective tension in the room as the tone grew steadily darker. While the setting might not technically have qualified as "theatrical", it was miles ahead of seeing it by myself on DVD a year and a half earlier. I felt all warm and tingly recalling the John Waters style church basement screenings I'd once assumed that the internet had long since put an end to.
In the dark space between the end credits and the lights coming back up, the room pulsed with the trademark energy of a great cinematic experience. The shop owners were pleased. All three of them readily agreed that they'd be willing to do it once a month. It had been a free screening, but earlier I'd left out a pitcher next to a sign saying that all donations would go directly to the filmmaker. Some people had left a few dollars as they wandered in, but I think that more people wound up donating as they left. By the end of the evening the pitcher contained sixty-eight bucks for Mr. Martinico - which I delivered to him the next day via Simple Machine - and a small wildflower.
To check out and sign up for Simple Machine, go to the site here, currently in beta. Zach Weintraub is a filmmaker and actor. He can be seen in the NB films, Men of Dodge City and Fresh Starts for Stale People.