IFH 373: Is TUGG Going Bankrupt and Not Refunding Filmmakers & Customers?

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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.

Alex Ferrari 2:53
Well, my tribe we are here again, unfortunately, we're here again, this is a kind of special emergency edition of the indie film hustle podcast, because if all the crap that we went through last year with distributor wasn't enough, apparently there is a new company that is causing pain and anguish for independent filmmakers now, and that company is tugg. Now a lot of you might have heard or not have heard, I posted an article yesterday about this. And normally this episode would go out on Friday. But I needed to come out publicly and say something about this because so many people have been affected by this. And I'm getting emailed back and forth about it messaged all over the place. And I mean, it's just a little too deja vu for me, this is exactly the same thing that happened with the stripper, where confusion started to run rapid, people started to reach out to me I started doing research found out information, started posting it before anybody else does, and then try to set up some sort of support system for the filmmakers affected by the debacle. And so this is what's going on with tug. If you guys don't know what tug is tug is a theatrical booking agent company, if you will. So what they do is you will be able to do on demand screenings. And their basic model, which is the model some other companies as well is that if you put your movie with them, and then you can sell out a theater somewhere in the country, and or the world depending on the territories they work with, let's say you have an AMC on Thursday night in Burbank at 7pm. And they want to fill that seat theater up. But the only things left is the latest Avenger Marvel movie that's been out for six, seven weeks, which is not filling the theater up anymore. And if you can fill that theater up, they'll give that theater to you. So once you pass a certain threshold, they would book the theater and then all of a sudden you would get paid. Now unfortunately with this model, the theater would make money tugg would make money And basically the lion's share of the money, and filmmakers will be left with whatever was left. And you know what, it's better than nothing. It's a theatrical experience, and so on and so forth. And a lot of people did very well with it. I actually, in my book, Rise of the film entrepreneur dedicated an entire chapter to on demand screenings, because of the success that tugg has had over the years. And by the way, tongue has been around for nine years. So this is not a new company that just started up. They've been around for a long time, and had a lot of successes. And one of the movies that I highlight as a case study, in my book, Rise of the entrepreneur is touch the wall, which was a swimming documentary that generated almost over $700,000, in theatrical and community screenings using tugg. So it was a viable option. And there was nothing in the waters, at least from outside that stated that the company was in trouble, or there was any Hanky Panky going on behind the scenes or anything like that. And then all of a sudden, I get called by a filmmaker, friend of mine, Chris sharp, who is a friend of the show. And he he was telling me that he was a producer on a film called cruel hearts. And then Paul, the director contacted me about what had happened, and basically was that the movie was going to be they had already sold out or pre sold out a bunch of screenings, confirmed their screenings. And then all of a sudden, the screenings got cancelled. And they were saying that is because they didn't meet their threshold, which was Bs, because they had had reached their threshold of you know, so many theaters, so many seats had to be sold before they would book the screening. And they already had in the show notes at indie film hustle.com for slash 373. I actually have screenshots of those screenings that are booked up fully and they're sold out. And then all of a sudden, they're just, it's just called off. So of course, I started do a little digging to see what I could find out. And after doing some searches, I found out that tugs, all of tugs, social media accounts had been shut down. And then I found their 800 number, their 866 customer number, and all I get is machine, which is exactly what was going on with distributors that they were trying to shut down their their business quietly in the cover of night, to make sure that they just basically left and not have to deal with the 1000s of filmmakers that that might have affected. So not only has Paul and Chris and the rest of the filmmakers behind cruel hearts been screwed out of the screenings, which would be about three or $400 in revenue, which sounds like small change. But trust me, guys, when you talk about positive cash flow and a theatrical engagement, every little bit counts for an independent film. But the bigger problem is that now there's around 180 people that have been charged for tickets for these upcoming screenings that have been canceled by tugg. Without warning, which is a total of 20 $200. And if tugg decides not to pay them back or not refund the money, these filmmakers are going to be stuck holding the bill. I mean, Paul, Chris, and the rest of the guys, they're all stuck between a rock and a hard place. This is this is a horrible place to be. And the problem I find is it look companies fold everyday guys, companies closed down every single day around the world. But there's a way to do it. You don't just stop communicating with customers, you don't stop communicating with people you're responsible for, or have access to their livelihood in many ways because of these films. You don't just let go of all of your employees, and then say that screw you, we have no way of helping you anymore. Goodbye. So this is the exact message that Jonathan and other producer on cruel hearts got right before they shut down their Facebook page. And they he couldn't even respond to this because right after they hit send on this message, they shut down their Facebook page. Jonathan, please accept our sincerest apologies. But the tugg platform is winding down operations in the US. And we can no longer facilitate these events. We understand how frustrating This is, as you put a lot of work to promote these events. But we can't in good conscience quote unquote, keep them published as we would not be able to execute them, please excuse us as we also No longer will be able to respond to support inquiries. We wish you all the best. And quote, are you kidding me? So basically, what they're telling you is that sorry, we fired everybody let everybody go. So no one's going to be able to answer any of your questions. So they have basically leaving hundreds of filmmakers out in just out there dangling in the wind. This is Bs, guys. I mean, are you kidding me talk I hope you're listening to this talk. I hope Pablo Gonzales, who is the founder and CEO of this company is listening. Come on man. Do the right thing. I mean, look, if you if the company failed or company closed down, that's all fine and dandy, but Jesus Christ, at least communicate, find a way to help people out, give them options of what they can do, how they can get refunded how, how they can get access to their films, back, all all this stuff, but you've just basically shut the door. Why? Because they don't want to deal with a tug doesn't want to deal with it. This is what's so surprising, because this company was around for nine years did a lot of good in the independent film community. From my understanding, you know, I had them on the show back, I think they were number Episode Number 25, which I've since pulled down, obviously. And if you go to that, there you go, that link is going to just take you to this link. But it just is just ridiculous. And it sounds so damn familiar that it upsets me. It just literally pisses me off. So then I found out today that it's official, because when I broke the story yesterday, no, they hadn't communicated. But all of a sudden today they started to communicate don't know why. But this is the message that was sent out to other filmmakers who are specifically involved with with tug at the moment, we regret to communicate that as of today, the tug platform is shutting down after nine years. Our goal from the inception was to empower filmmakers. And we are deeply sorry that we're no longer able to continue that support. All employees have been let go effectively Friday, and asked to refrain from additional tugg communications. Given that we no longer have resources to which to monitor our support lines, we are unable to reply to your request and concerns. However, it would be beneficial if you could fill out this form, which is a Google Doc with your current mailing information and film names and company so that we may send official communications that may be tert pertain to your particular situation with the company. Are you kidding me? They are just trying there. This is what I find so fascinating about these companies. All they do is they as much as they, they say that they're there for the filmmakers, and they're there to support even in this message. We're here to support and empower independent filmmakers. But when the crap hits the fan, guys, I'm out you're on your own good luck to you. No one has taken any consideration at the damage that they're doing to filmmakers, and to into filmmakers livelihoods very similar to distributor. So then, after I released this yesterday, I started getting emails from people and filmmakers who are being affected by this. And now I'm noticing that just like distributor, it is not a one off, it is not an isolated situation. There's a filmmaker that reached out to me that said tugg owes me 1000s of dollars for my content, my customers license content to stream through toggs platform for both rental and download, they will have no way to have any recourse once they're cut off from the content that they have licensed. That's just one. And I spoke to that filmmaker and she is owed over $8,000 another filmmaker is owed an estimated 80 $300 for 33 theatrical screenings, and over 6000 for educational licenses. So they were not only a booking agent, but they started to come up become a platform as well. And now they're owed a ton of money. And I found out from the other filmmakers, that they have been late on their payments, their quarterly payments for over two years. So things were already starting to happen when when payments start becoming late and late and late and late. That's when that's a first sign of something going wrong. So I've reached out to different news outlets that I know. And hopefully it's in the we're in the middle of Sundance as of this recording. So a lot of people are focusing a lot of media outlets, obviously are focusing on Sundance, but hopefully when Sundance is over, we're going to be able to get some media coverage for this and just keep putting the word out for people. Because I know there's a lot of confusion out there. And I know there's a lot of people that know somebody or is themselves in twined with tug with their screenings, or with film that they filmed or content that they licensed to their own streaming service and all this kind of stuff that is just I'm sorry guys. I'm just upset. It's just I can't believe the last thing I thought I would be dealing with this week was this. It saddens me to the core. It pisses me off. There's filmmakers who livelihoods hinge on these payments on the the money that they're going to generate with their films. You know, some filmmaker said like, this is my rent money. I don't know how I'm going to pay my rent in the next few weeks or next few months, because money was supposedly check was in the mail. This is where I find it so infuriating when companies do this. Just be straightforward with everybody. Hey, guys, we're closing, you know, it didn't work out. I know, we have a lot of films out there. We've built that we built out a plan to figure out how we can make sure that we leave gracefully and help you guys as much as we can, unfortunately, things happen. Done, you know, what if tug would have come out and said that great? Fine, I understand not great, but you know what I mean, it's like, okay, better, that we know what's going on, put out a press release, at least email all of their customers, and put things into into place. So this whole tug situation is changing by the hour, I will keep you updated on what's going on, I just felt that I needed to do this episode, to inform everybody of what's going on. So if you know anybody that's being affected by this, and wants information about what's going on, please send them to the show notes at indie film, hustle, calm Ford slash 373. There, there'll be a link to the Facebook group, protect yourself from distributor which I will be changing soon, to a new name, that's going to be better, better representative of what how beautiful that group has turned what that group is turned into, which is a group that helps filmmakers and helps guide and warn filmmakers about predatory distribution, aggregators and things like this, a place where people can get information about ridiculous, horrible situations like the tug situation and the distributor situation. But if you go to the link at indie film hustle.com for slash 373, the link will be updated there. And you can join the private group, protect yourself from distributor, and I'll also be updating on indie film hustle.com. Any updates about what is happening with this whole event? If anyone out there listening to this podcast, in podcast land, or on YouTube, or wherever you're listening to this podcast? If you know of people who work that tug? Or are you yourself, a person who worked at tug, and wants to call me or reach out to me, did let me know what you might know about what's going on any information would be great, just so we can help filmmakers deal with this horrible situation, please email me at [email protected]. And I will, it will be completely anonymous. You won't I won't use your name. But I just want to get information to filmmakers to people who are affected by this. So we can have something we can have some sort of understanding of why this is happening and what we can do to help ourselves moving forward. I'm not that focused on what has happened. I'm more focused on how we can help filmmakers help people with this horrible situation and and move forward. And hopefully this doesn't happen again. But you know, I don't I just got it's just it's infuriating guys, it's just infuriating. I didn't think three months, four months later, I would be having the same conversation about another company, another well known company in this business. So thank you for listening. Again, just go to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/373 or indiefilmhustle.com/tugg with two G's. And I'll take you there as well. So you can get the latest information about what's going on. And if you know anybody in the media, who needs anybody who is out there who works for any of the big media outlets, please pick this story up, get this information out so people can be informed about what the heck is happening and get the word out. So more and more people can be informed. And then guys, Friday, I have a very special episode that you guys are going to want to listen to, it's going to be Episode 374. It's going to be it's going to be a doozy. It's gonna be it's not interviewing anybody, but it's going to be a doozy. And it can possibly help you from losing your movie or signing a predatory film distribution contract. It's uh, I'll leave it at that guys, cuz I still got to do a little bit more research about what's going on with it. But you will get an episode on Friday. So this week, you get two episodes of the indie film hustle podcast. Unfortunately, you get a bonus one that I really wish I didn't have to do, which is this one. But anyway, guys, we're in this together. If you need any help, please reach out. Please join the Facebook group. A lot. Other information is there and there's a lot of filmmakers there that can help and support you guys during this, this horrible situation with tugg. Thank you again. So, so much. As always keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.




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