Checking In on “Film Airbnb” Simple Machine

on Wednesday, Jan. 15th

I came across Simple Machine, a website that aims to be something like the Airbnb of indie film, at South by Southwest last year.

Since that chance encounter I’ve spoken with Simple Machine co-founder Nandan Rao a few times, about both the site and the state of the indie film scene in general. The most recent conversation was just last week, after Simple Machine announced a redesign aimed at making the growing catalog of films easier to navigate.

A quick refresher: Simple Machine isn’t a competitor for Netflix, but instead a way of making the booking process for indie film screenings more transparent. As such, the site has a target demographic that is more “niche” than a commercial-focused website. Simple Machine wants to be on the minds of art house programmers and hardcore film buffs.

“We were a little bit on autopilot,” said Rao of the team’s 2013. “We had a strategy of reaching out through Twitter, looking at film fans and self described cinephiles on Twitter, folks that followed certain magazines.”

As they built up the core of their network, the Simple Machine team saw that the site itself needed work. The indie film market–as small as it is financially speaking–is creatively broad. This can make connecting curators and promoters with films particularly difficult.

“We quickly realized we needed to start pumping out new iterations of the design to make it easier for people to navigate, who didn’t necessarily know the films.”

Rao doesn’t need to educate the whole of the moving going public on the slate of indie films that are able to be booked through the site. He just needs a select slice.

“My theory was that people would always have to pick a curator and get to know the curators, as far as browsing and finding films.”

The work, he said, is “still a matter of us trying to find what that looks like.”

Since our initial check in Simple Machine has been used to book screenings, but Rao made no indications that there’s been a major push in activity. The site, still in beta, hasn’t made a major promotional effort to drum up business. As such it is still trading on word of mouth and social media to develop a following.

Rao was in attendance at this week’s Art House Convergence, the gathering of film programmers that takes place before the Sundance Film Festival, and we’ll be checking back in with him when he returns.


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