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Is TUGG Going Bankrupt and Not Refunding Filmmakers & Customers?

UPDATE: Tugg closes it’s doors and leaves filmmakers out to dry. Read the rest of the article for more information.

I don’t know if something is in the air but things are getting rougher for indie filmmakers every day. I received a call today from a few filmmakers who are having major issues with the on-demand theatrical booking company TUGG, Inc. It seems that the company has shut its doors and left filmmakers in the dark.

If you have read my new book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur®: How to Turn Your Indie Film into a Moneymaking Business, you know that I wrote an entire chapter highlighting TUGG and the amazing case study of the film Touch the Wall. These filmmakers made over $700K using Tugg. They have been working well with the independent film community for years so this call was a bit surprising.

While speaking to a friend of the show and producer of Chris Sharpe, I started digging to see what I could find out. After doing some searches I found out that all of Tugg’s social media accounts had been closed but their website is still up but so was Distribber’s if you remember. I called their 866 customer support number but only got a machine. This is exactly what happened with Distribber. A company trying to close quietly.

Side note: If you are unfamiliar with the Distribber bankruptcy and how it affected thousands of filmmakers, click here

The director of the upcoming film in question, Cruel Hearts Paul Osborne, sent me this email summarizing what has happened so far.

Our movie CRUEL HEARTS is coming out Feb 11th, and in addition to the VOD/Blu/DVD stuff we’d set up theatrical engagements timed to our release.  The whole “also in select theaters” business.  Most of these screenings were set up through Tugg, who I’ve used before successfully. Yesterday – 15 days before release – our producer notices one screening is now listed as “called off” on their site.  He contacts me to see what’s what – after all, that screening was selling well and had well surpassed its ticket sales threshold.
I checked – indeed it was listed as “called off”, and to my shock, all of our other screenings were as well, including one that had been sold out for weeks.  I contacted Tugg immediately and repeatedly – email, phone – but have yet to receive any sort of reply.  I mean, still, today, nothing. The only communication we received at all was thru Facebook.  Our producer had messaged them there and finally, they wrote back a terse note that they were shutting down operations and not to contact them anymore.  Immediately following that, the FB page shut down.  Twitter also went dark around the same time.
Today ticketholders for our two “confirmed screenings” received emails saying the screenings were canceled due to lack of interest (not true) and that not to worry, their cards had not been charged (also not true).
So now – with two weeks before release – we’re scrambling to 1) contact ticketholders and advise them to contest the charges; 2) set up screenings directly with the theaters where significant sales had taken place to salvage the release; 3) do all the PR damage control possible while still promoting our film.
Also – Tugg had yet to pay us for 2 successful screenings last fall.  So we’re apparently eating those costs as well. It’s a disaster on all fronts. And they STILL have yet to contact me as the representative of this title, despite my many attempts.
Producer Jonathan Brown shared his experience.

I received only one response yesterday and that was via FB. See below. I reached out to TUGG via FB, TWITTER, Their website PRESS link, and made a phone call to their 866 number, and left a message. I received the FB message and tried to respond immediately, but found that they had deleted their FB page and TWITTER page. Bill Eikost found two different movies that mentioned having their films being called off as well. TURNEROVER and WE THE PEOPLE 2.0. See below.

I also reached out to a friend in Birmingham. She let me know that she was indeed charged by TUGG on Jan 9th for our Feb 11th screening, and just this morning received an email saying it was called off. The email also indicated that her credit card would NOT be charged for the tickets, which we know is completely false. There is no indication on a refund and she is disputing the charges.
With Tugg going under it’s unlikely the Paul and his partners will see the revenue owed to them for the two screenings last fall, which totals around $250.  If the forthcoming Tugg screenings would have happened, they would have generated another $300-400 in revenue.  It sounds like a small change, but when you’re talking positive cashflow from theatrical engagements on an indie film, every little bit counts.
More filmmakers are taking to Twitter trying to find out what is happening.

Here was the last message sent by TUGG before they shut down their Facebook page.

Additionally, around 180 people were charged for tickets in the upcoming screenings that were canceled, by Tugg without warning, for a total of about $2200.  If Tugg fails to reimburse them, then, in essence, the filmmakers are on the hook for that money.  They solicited those audience members.  Do they reimburse them?  Do they ask them to go through the hassle of filing disputes with their credit card companies? The filmmakers are doing their best to deal with this crap storm.
Meanwhile, we’re trying to negotiate directly with the venues to honor the original screenings which, if they do, then we have to go back to these audience members again and politely ask them to re-buy their tickets.  And all of this with two weeks before the movie comes out. And all of this is not to even mention the overall negative effect it has on our marketing campaign at large.  We’re trying to get people excited to see the movie – that’s what drives sales.  And something negative like this really damages our momentum.

Many indie filmmakers literally just went through something similar just a few months ago with the disgusting actions of the film aggregator Distribber. The company started to close up operations but did it quietly in the dark of the night with no fanfare and worst of all no communication. This is where I have a MAJOR issue.

Companies close every day but don’t be shady about it. Communicate with your customers. You have a moral responsibility, and also a legal one if money is in the picture. TUGG, Inc. owes filmmakers and customers money.  So what does TUGG do? No press release. No post on social media. Nothing. They close their social media accounts and stop all communications. I truly hope everything does pan out and TUGG, not only refunds customers but also pay any money that is owed to filmmakers.

This is the official statement the filmmakers are releasing to their fans and customers.


It seems our primary theatrical booking service, Tugg, is – without any warning whatsoever – shutting its doors.  They’ve been a reliable provider in the indie film world for almost a decade, so this comes as a genuine shock.  Even more disturbing is that they’ve done this without any communication with their clients whatsoever.  We’ve heard nothing from them except a terse message over social media right before their account was deleted. 

Unfortunately, this effects most of our upcoming screenings.  Birmingham, Albany, and Chicago will no longer happen through Tugg, and our team is working their hardest to re-negotiate directly with the theaters.  And the screenings we were setting up for other cities?  All up in the air as we’re starting over with precious little time to do it.

However, the Denver screening is still a go!  This wasn’t set up through Tugg so if you can still buy tickets, and if you’ve already bought them, you’re good!  This screening is 100% happening.

But for every other screening – what does this mean for you if you already bought tickets?  For Albany or Birmingham, despite the email from Tugg, your credit cards were indeed charged.  At this point we don’t trust Tugg to process refunds, so we strongly urge you dispute the charge with your card provider.  We are so sorry for the hassle – again, Tugg has been reliable for YEARS and we did NOT see this coming at all.  The last thing we want is to inconvenience even a single member of our audience.

If you were a Chicago ticket holder you, fortunately, weren’t charged, so while it’s disappointing, at least all you have to do is hang tight.

As mentioned above, we’ll be working to re-set these screenings where possible – and if/when we do, these will be through the THEATER so there’s no chance of any funny business.  If you’d like to be notified, please feel free to email us at [email protected] and we’ll let you know as soon as tickets are available to re-buy.

Again, we are SO SORRY about this.  We’re embarrassed, devastated and deeply apologetic for any and every inconvenience this has caused.  But we’re also determined to do right by each and every one of you and will pursue every avenue to make this right.

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Action Items:

If you are a filmmaker affected by TUGG’s actions please reach out to me at [email protected] or join the Protect Yourself From Distribber & Predatory Film Distributors Facebook Group. I’ll be placing the latest updates in that group. You can share updates with other filmmakers there as well.

This is a developing situation and I’ll update you as soon as I learn more. If anyone from TUGG Inc or former employees want to reach out please do so. Filmmakers have a right to know what is going on with there films and money. I wish the filmmakers affected by this all the best.

After multiple attempts and reaching out to my contacts at the company, Tugg could not be reached for comment.

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