In a normal month, the staff and volunteers at Orange County’s Frida Cinema would be selling tickets and doling out concessions. There would be independent films, a healthy serving of horror, and—of course—screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, complete with the Frida’s very own resident shadow cast.
But it’s spring 2020. The Frida is closed and multiple employees have been furloughed. Determined to bring in enough money to pay for insurance for those employees, the Frida’s founder/executive director Logan Crow and programming director Trevor Dillon put together the 10 Hour Social Distancing Stream-A-Thon Fundraiser!. On Saturday, March 28, the pair reconvened at the Frida—yes, in different rooms—Dillon as the Stream-A-Thon’s host and Crow as it’s producer/IT wizard. They duo pulled from members of their community to put together a program of short films (some directed by Frida staff and volunteers), trailers, and interviews—intercut, of course, with calls to donate. The money the Frida earned, Crow admits, is “a blip” compared to what they would have been making with an open theater… but it was still enough to achieve their goal of paying for insurance for furloughed employees.
Crow, who is also using the shutdown period to learn how to play the ukulele, spoke to Boxoffice Pro about the specifics of how he made the Stream-A-Thon work and what he would do differently next time.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
General question first: How’d it go? Did you raise what you expected?
Never did I think we would raise over $2,000. Not because we don’t have that level of support, but because people are all in the same boat right now with money. Every donation that came in was so, so deeply appreciated.
We raised $2,696. $1,000 of which was from someone who was watching and suddenly private messaged me and said, “I don’t want to be acknowledged, but if you can raise a thousand dollars by the end of this ten hours, I will match it.” So we started to make noise about that during the show. And then right around hour eight, we hit a thousand. I announced it. Then this donor put her thousand in right on the air. And people kept donating! Which was wonderful. We were over the moon.
I told the staff, the good news is that we meant to raise the money to keep you guys insured. That’s where it’s going. And you guys are insured at least another two months. I was hoping to raise money for one month. We raised money for two months. That is cemented. That isn’t changing.
It was fun! It was a really fun thing to put together. There were some learning curves along the way. There were some glitches that, unfortunately, because we were live, just could not be resolved. There’s nothing like having technical difficulties and not knowing what the heck is going on. The good news is, we know what we need to solve next time.
What were the glitches?
The big thing—using the right computer. There are two software programs that we used to put the stream on. Zoom for [interviewees calling in], and OBS, which is a really incredible software that you download for free. I love this thing. I’m can’t remember the last time I was in love with software!
When you go to download it, it gives you options for Windows, Mac, or Linux. At the theater, in our AV room, we have this very, very new, robust, Mega-Mac. So I’m like, “Alright, I’ll use that.” But I was having incessant problems getting it to work correctly. And it wasn’t until shortly before we went live that I was looking at websites and comments and seeing a lot of feedback along the lines of, “Don’t use a Mac. Yes, there’s a Mac version, and yes Mac is an industry standard for things like this—[but] this is very much a Windows-based operation system.”
So I went upstairs and brought my desktop, which is nowhere near as powerful as my Mac, and all of the issues that the Mac was giving us were gone. We had faster connectivity, and it worked like a charm. However, we had preloaded a lot of the content into the Mac, so then it was a rush to get it over to the PC. IT was a lot of me running the backend of the show, jumping on here and there, and behind the scenes loading a lot of content that was ready on the Mac but hadn’t been ready to go on the PC. And in the midst of loading it, missing every once in a while that I had to turn the mics back on. The other big part of it was that I didn’t have a microphone [that was compatible with the PC, leading to sound issues.] All these things will be non-issues next time.
I don’t think I’ve been on a single group video meeting or webcast since this started that hasn’t had some sort of technical issue.
A lot of people were like, “Yeah, whatever, you had some glitches. But the content was great.” The software worked like a charm. Every time we had a film to show or someone to cut to or a title card—it’s a really user-friendly and intuitive program, OBS. So I was a having fun.
It streamed pretty seamlessly to YouTube. The one time we had an issue, where it dropped and we had to start over was because of the headphones. Which didn’t have anything to do with YouTube, OBS, or Zoom.
Basically, to try to distill it, OBS is the software program that you produce the show and the stream from. It allows you to jump between what they call different “scenes.” A scene could be a window on your desktop that you want the audience to see. It could be a title card. It could be of a movie that you want to start playing. It could be anything. But one of the scenes is the Zoom call itself. So you set up the Zoom call. You have it on your monitor as one window, let’s say. And you tell OBS that’s one of your scenes. [OBS] gives you this keycode. You go onto YouTube, you enter the keycode. YouTube starts to pull the stream from OBS. And then basically all you have to worry about at that point is OBS and Zoom. You’re using OBS to choose your different scenes, so if you’ve got Trevor on-screen and he goes, “OK, now we’re going to show this film. Enjoy the show,” you’ve already got it cued up. You click a button, and now the film is playing. And then when it’s done, you click a button, and you’re back to Trevor. And you use Zoom to let new callers in. So that’s it.
It sounds simple.
It’s really simple. The one piece of advice is, use a PC. And make sure that you’ve got a good mic, camera, and speakers. That’s pretty much it. OBS is free. Zoom, I have the pro account. You can use Zoom for free, but not for ten hours. And YouTube is free.
How was the ten hours? Do you wish you’d gone longer? Shorter? Or was it just right?
It was a blast! What’s funny is, when I hit the five-hour mark, I felt it. I was like, “Trevor, we’re at the halfway point.” We both were like, “Wow!” We had this feeling of, “Oh my God, we’re already at five?” And then all of a sudden we were done. The second half just flew by. Because there were so many segments, and because Trevor and I lined up non-stop guests. There were maybe two or three times where we had ten minutes to talk about whatever, ask people to donate. Beyond those couple of moments, we were packed with an agenda. And that really helped make it fly by.
How many guests did you have?
We had 16 guests.
And how many short films did you have in there?
And these guests were all people who were part of the Frida community?
One of the ideas was to give people an opportunity to go behind the scenes and meet some of the folks we work with across very different avenues of our business and learn a little bit about how we do what we do. So we had Bret Berg from AGFA, the American Film Genre Archive. So he came on and talked about AGFA, about restorations [and distribution]. He showed a short. One of our volunteers is a filmmaker. He came on to talk about volunteering at the Frida, and he showed his short film Induction. Then we had Miguel Rodriguez, who founded Horrible Imaginings film festival. He’s a pretty active with Art House Convergence. He talked about doing film festivals at theaters like the Frida.
Our volunteer Ruby Belasco joined us to host a game that she called “Art of Not?” It was basically a list of five films that she loves and will always argue are art films, while other people think they’re trash films. And we had people vote on the YouTube chat as to whether they’re art of not. Throughout the show we did a lot of trailers for streaming movies that we have coming up. We obviously talked a lot about “text to donate, please donate here” and what the funds are for.
So there’s also an audience interaction component, with the YouTube chat. A lot of moving parts here, but it was easy to set up?
Yes, it was easy to set up. We did it all for the first time that day. It was all brand new for us. We had just signed up for Zoom a week earlier. OBS, I had just started to learn the day before, because I was researching a lot of different platforms that would do what I had in mind, and it just kept popping up everywhere. I’m not in any way a techie. Maybe that’s why I’m so enamored with it. As a non-techie, I found it so incredible to use. It was seamless. I honestly felt like the person you see in the news van, on the scene of a crime, that’s airing live from your van. It was pretty cool.
I was Googling and going to YouTube and putting in “How do you use OBS?” And “How do you use with OBS and YouTube?” That’s all I did. Watched 20 minutes of one, 20 minutes of the other. It was that simple.
It inspired me to do a lot more. I’m really inspired to do more local shorts. We were talking about maybe doing something where we get our entire Rocky Horror cast and tell them to dress up at home, and then cut between all the different cast members and have them perform live.
You mentioned that the Frida plays Saturday morning cartoons, normally. I could go for some Saturday morning cartoons.
Saturday morning cartoons are cool, but we have to be mindful of copyright.
You have OBS, YouTube, Zoom, Kindful to set up the donations, equipment you already had—did it cost you anything? Aside from the Zoom professional subscription?
Zoom Pro, and then the three percent fee on the donations, and that’s about it.
You’d do it again?
Oh gosh, yeah. I would find other avenues to do this sort of thing. The live part of it was great. I think that the challenge of doing it live was a lot of fun, and that’s probably what drew a lot of people. We’ve never done this. And we’ve talked about it. It’s one of those things where it mirrors the kind of stuff that we’ve always said we want to do but never got around to.
Did you see on YouTube the highest number of people you had watching at one time?
I honestly jumped right into the next thing, so I don’t know.
We were happy with the turnout. We were happy with the donations. We’ve been so stretched thin that we didn’t advertise this as well as we could have. [The Stream-a-Thon was officially decided upon two days before it took place.] I said, “Guys, don’t feel bad about this. In a perfect world it would’ve been the five of us sending out press releases. But we’re depleted.” We did it, and we did well by it. Sure, all things being equal, if we had done it three months ago as part of our normal operations, we would have really made a lot of noise. It was an emergency thing. We did it really quickly. We raised more than we hoped. But if you ask, “If you could do it all over again, what would you do?” Maybe try to find avenues to get the word out more.