Alt Screen 101: Basics, Backstory and a Few Cheap Jokes to Keep Things Lively

by on April 7, 2011Posted in: Essay


I HOPE YOU’RE not expecting one of those earnest apologia where the Editor asks you, “dear reader, for your indulgence” before proceeding to bore you with some statement of intent. I’ll be damned if I’m going to start excusing my behavior before I’ve even gotten the chance to offend anyone (all good things in time) and, second, I sort of feel like you should be thanking me. No, but seriously!


Alt Screen is like a public utility for NYC film enthusiasts, a one-stop source for event listings and contextual info on alternative film culture in the city. Alternative? Read: repertory revivals and advance previews, festival screenings and local premieres, in-person, site-specific and ever so special cinematic events. Basically everything besides new releases in official theatrical distribution; we’ll be doing some light vetting but are inclined towards the comprehensive.


The site is both a labor of love and a pain in the ass, subsidized by no institution and staffed by a small handful of my cinephilic friends. And since no one is asking you for money or offering any to us (ahem) the least you could do is Like us on Facebook and not troll us too hard.


If you’re stranger to New York’s alternative theatrical scene, I hope that Alt Screen can point you in the right direction and provide some much needed context. There are tons of screenings every day: rarefied art films, schlocky crowdpleasers, avant-garde experiments, glammy celebrity events. This murky urban underworld caters to every vice and truly has something for everyone. “Even the blind?” you ask. Yes, even the blind. Even the retarded.


If you’re already an initiate in this revivalist cult, Alt Screen should at least save you some time–bookmark our home page in your browser and you are only an impulse-click away from a whole day’s worth of screenings. It may even relieve minor headaches and preempt major heartbreaks.


Have you ever gotten lost in the Myst-inspired architecture of Anthology Film Archives‘ website, or struggled awkwardly with the Chinese puzzle box-construction of BAMcinématek‘s calendars? Have you ever circled the block at Lincoln Plaza in search of the secret entrance to the fabled Walter Reade Theater? (Hint: look behind the waterfall.) Have you found yourself asking time and again, “What the fuck is Union Docs?” We have. And we know the trauma of the cinephile’s primal scene: learning about a rare archival screening or an in-person appearance by one of your all-time favorites film people a few days after it’s passed.


It’s happened to us. We can show you the scars. That’s why we’re here.


I’ve tried to make the landing-page as straightforward and easy to use as possible. If the layout gets a little wonky it’s because the internets are, like, way hard and we are teaching ourselves this stuff as we go along. (Patience.) Each day’s best-in-show selection appears at the top under Editor’s Pick; those neato lobby cards are drawn up by our awesome designer, Jay Eccleston. Just below that you’ll find the three runner-up options under Also Recommended and, further down, the Complete Listings. You can browse one week into the future using the day-calendar icons near the top of the page.


Since I’m not getting any traffic-based advertising revenue (the few display ads you see are run in exchange for gimcrack giveaways like tickets and DVDs and shit), I have no vested interest in coralling you into the walled wasteland of an overwhelmingly useless database. Thus three of the four vector icons you’ll see are outbound links: to the venue’s official program notes (the ticket button) and to the film’s Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes pages (the angled “M” and red tomato). The button with the quotation-mark directs you to posts about the film on our blog. When there’s nothing to link to, there’s no icon to click. It’s that simple.


And for all you mobile-web users out there, we are totally looking into that.


So that’s the main attraction in this three-ring circus; the side acts are the Blog and Explore pages. The latter is a sub-sectioned blog roll that’s been folded into a curated Google search. Circumvent all the SEO-optimized nonsense and page-rank your way to a better world or just click blindly into an unfamiliar name. Why not?


The blog will feature a mix of curated and created content. For the daily Editor’s Pick we’ll compile a brief round-up of critical and contextual material (words, sounds, images) and two, maybe three times a week we’ll feature mid-sized to long-form Features; all of that material will appear at the top of the main page.


Going forward I hope to expand the offerings on the blog: static resources rolled out like recurring features; you-are-there dispatches from live events; evocative excepts and reading suggestions from online and print sources; links to interesting interactive websites; viral videos, image macros and various stupid-smart content (we call them ‘laffers’). I’ll try to keep the focus on film but, honestly, the main criterion is my momentary interest. I’m not going to limit the posts to some predefined content vertical; better to risk irrelevancy than preempt the site from developing organically. As Michael Cera said in that movie about Twitter, “We don’t even know what this is yet.”


And, yeah, we really don’t. That’s part of the fun. This is our sandbox. We’ve got half-baked ideas and twice as many opinions and, well, nothing to lose. But we aren’t exactly adrift either. To quote an inspirational film by one of our favorite auteurs, “It has a philosophy. That’s what makes it dangerous.”


[Part Two will appear sometime next month, totally at our leisure.]

  • Thank you, Paul.

    • Anonymous

      You’re very welcome, sir. How about giving us a little FSLC love on Facebook? :)

  • I’m offended.

    • Anonymous

      We just playin, boo.

  • Groovy stuff, I’m very excited about this. How can I get reRun’s programming in the fold, since it seems to fit snugly within your mission statement?

    • Anonymous

      Hey Aaron, you’re definitely in the mix:
      I’ve been so focused on taming the backend that I haven’t been able to be as thorough about the showtimes, but that’s just first-week jitters. Shoot me an email whenever we’re missing smoething and I’ll get it right up.

  • As I just posted on your Facebook page, this site is a dream come true. Thank You!!! I wish I had some dough to throw at you guys for this wonderful work (but, hell, if you have a fund raising film party i’m there!!!). This makes retrospective film life in NYC soooo much easier and those dreaded “just past” traumas a non-occurrence.

    The ONLY suggestion I have right now (and this is selfishly something that I desperately need) is that you have listed with the screening info if a film print is NOT being screened. A lot of the newer venues have only digital projection (mostly from standard def DVDs with older selections) and sometimes even places like Film Forum project from a DVD (like with ‘Made in the USA’ two years ago). This is something that Film Forum points out clearly in the screening info, but some current places do not. And most times that’s a deal breaker for me. just a suggestion!

    Keep up the great work!! Thanks a million!

    • Anonymous

      We’re working on it, Peter. The difficulty is that it requires us to individually email every publicist to track down the info, whereas the current info can be grabbed from the site. But it’s definitely on our shortlist of features and functionality to come. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Wow I have been saying someone needed to do this for so long. Thanks for all of the work, I’m sure you’ll have many thankful fans in the near future. Are you guys familiar with Spectacle in Williamsburg? These guys are always programming incredible stuff.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Jay. We’ve been saying that too. I don’t think I’m falsely modest when I say that this idea was totally obvious (and most of the NY weeklies do 80% of the legwork already). We know about Spectacle and have been listed a few programs, will continute to do so. If you ever see that we’re missing something good, shoot us an email.

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