Apps / Arts / Startups

How Filmbot makes moviegoing more social

A Bushwick entrepreneur believes platforms for keeping track of movies are a decade behind the technology for watching movies. He has a new app for catching up.

Max Friend, Filmbot's founder. (Photo courtesy of Filmbot)

What’s really special about going to the movies, Max Friend argues, is the social element.

Usually, you do it with other people — a fact that has been neglected by most platforms built to help people get information about going to the movies.

Friend and his team hope to solve that with Filmbot, a new iOS app out of Bushwick that helps you get all the information you need in one place in order to make sure you see all the movies you want to see.

Download Filmbot for iOS

We first covered Filmbot after it filed a $10,000 debt round with the SEC. We’ve been keeping an eye out for the company since, and it just went public with what it’s working on.

“Even as the ways people were experiencing movies were changing, I felt the platforms for how we discover movies were stalled,” Friend told us during a phone interview.

Filmbot is best with friends. It incorporates contacts who have the app and lets you see if they want to see a film, what they thought of it (if they’ve seen it already) and tools for coordinating a trip to the movies.

You may have had the same reaction as I did to this point. Does “friend” mean “Facebook friend”? Do I care that my high school English teacher wants to see Gone Girl?

That’s not how Filmbot works.

The app authenticates using your phone number, not Facebook or Twitter. It looks for friends based on the phone numbers in your mobile, on the assumption that people you can call are people you really know, and might be people you go to movies with. But you also have the option to hide yourself from people who show up.

This is the social aspect, Friend says, “that was neglected by all the other platforms.”

Even as the ways people were experiencing movies were changing, I felt the platforms for how we discover movies were stalled.

The app also aggregates what your friends thought of movies into scores, but it allows you to tweak the system’s algorithm. You can tell it to give more weight to one friend over another. It only takes a few contacts using it for it to work well. Friend says, “Once you have those five to 15 friends, the social utility is really high.”

Filmbot only really works in New York City now. At least, if you want complete information on where a film is showing and whether it’s showing in 3D or 4D or IMAX or any of the other new formats that cinemas are trying these days.

The company is rolling it out slowly, with a focus on the cities with the highest concentrations of hardcore moviegoers. The reason they are taking their time is because the national APIs that list cinemas list a lot of places that aren’t cinemas, too. They also miss one-off screenings and film fests. Filmbot is working to get all that in there, which is curatorial work as much as it is dev work.

Filmbot also works with all the existing ways of watching films online. So, for example, if you want to see Lucy now, the system knows if it’s available for rent on Amazon but only for purchase on iTunes, for example. Or if you can stream it with your Netflix subscription.

The trick here is that it’s all shown under one title. If you go to traditional movie listings now, Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy 3D is treated like two different films. Filmbot doesn’t see them that way. 3D is an option listed under the movie title.

Filbot on iPone images

Filmbot on iPhone. (Image courtesy of Filmbot)

If sorting out the true film scene for every city sounds like an overwhelming task, it is simpler than it sounds. For now, Filmbot wants to reach hardcore moviegoer, and they are not evenly distributed worldwide.

50 percent of movie tickets, Friend said, are bought by 16 percent of moviegoers.

45 percent of those hardcore film buffs live in just five states, he added. (If that point piqued your interest, check out the Planet Money episode on the perplexing economics of movie tickets.)

“We are really concentrating on cities that have vibrant moviegoing scenes,” Friend said.

Much of Filmbot’s promotion budget will go into demoing its product in theaters at places frequented by frequent moviegoers. Friend developed the strategy while taking night classes for an MBA program at NYU. He took as many classes at the Tisch school’s ITP program as he could.

The company is working out of Brooklyn Desks in Bushwick (here’s a tour). Friend said he has been working on the concept in one way or another since about 2010, including beta testing a web version with some theatergoers in New York City years ago. He and his team have been building the mobile version for the last year, working to get what they think is the right product before unveiling it.

Filmbot is a team of six.


Series: Brooklyn

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