Greenpoint’s Silicon Valley–esque cowork space The Yard is home to dozens of local start-ups, some as small as a single laptop. It’s here that the pocket-sized headquarters of Vyer Films can be found, amid minimal white tables and long, low couches—all that’s missing is a ping-pong table. An elevator pitch for Vyer Films might go something like, “Netflix for independent films,” but to leave it at that would be missing the point. A more nuanced pitch might be “sustainable filmmaking”—film-to-table, if you will—but even this doesn’t quite capture it. “An art gallery for movies” is getting there. But whatever the pitch, this three-person Brooklyn start-up is changing the conversation on independent films in America.
Vyer Films founder and CEO K.C. McLeod initially imagined Vyer Films as a means of creating a consistent audience for films that might not send viewers running to the box office—ones without big-name directors or stars, or without broad critical recognition. “No matter how great your movie is, even if it has a sold out show, at the end of it you’ll have a completely empty theater, and you need to put in the time and energy to get all those butts back in the seats all over again. I started thinking about something curatorial—a single destination for good work so people don’t have to worry about reading reviews or trying to be aware of what’s hip. The butt is sort of permanently in that seat.”
This is more or less how video-on-demand functions now, with millions of butts cemented to seats in front of Netflix and other services, but Vyer Films differs from these not only in size but in purpose. Where larger platforms aim to offer the most movies to the most people—from The Seventh Seal to Despicable Me 2—Vyer’s catalogue of films is contemporary, small-scale, and as carefully curated as an art gallery exhibition. Where the general public might wait for a movie to become available online, Vyer Films flips the order, showing you films you’ve never heard of, and might never otherwise have seen.
“I was on the film festival circuit and seeing a lot of great work, but I wasn’t able to share it with friends or recommend it to anyone because there was no way to access it,” Josh Johnson, head of acquisitions, told me. “For me, this company was a way for me to make sure this interesting, exciting work is seen by a wider audience.”
Film festivals notwithstanding, “We’re not trying to go after cinephiles,” said Meredith Wade, cofounder and chief marketing officer. “We’re trying to create experiences, to make something meaningful while also expanding viewers’ knowledge.” While it might be hard to imagine Joe Six-Pack sitting down to watch a hybrid narrative/documentary film about the crumbling economy of rural Greece, Vyer maintains you’d be surprised. (It just may be a six-pack of Zombie Dust.) In this aspect, the company’s philosophy aligns with other small, start-up passion projects in Brooklyn, be they food trucks or handmade candles: quality over quantity, accessibility over pretension.
“We’re seeking out films that haven’t gotten wide exposure,” Josh said. “We’re trying to find things that have slipped between the cracks but are as deserving as those that got the spotlight.”
A prime example of this artistic underdog is The Invader, directed by Nicolas Provost, which K.C. called his favorite film in Vyer’s catalogue. “It premiered at the same festival that Shame did, and everyone knows Shame but no one knows The Invader. There were all these different brands that attached themselves to Shame— the Michael Fassbinder brand, the Steve McQueen brand—and that’s how people discover things. Nicolas Provost is a Belgian video artist; Isaka Sawadogo is a well-known European actor. But if you don’t have those brand attachments, what if there were a Vyer brand to go over them?”
This “brand” stamp of approval has typically come from small, art house–style movie theaters and knowledgeable critics who actively seek out lesser-known and -appreciated work, both of which are decreasingly available to moviegoers outside of major cities.
“You don’t even have to go that far outside of the city to experience that lack of choice,” K.C. pointed out. “You don’t have to be in South Dakota, you could be in Westchester—in terms of what’s available, it’s very similar.” Vyer Films brings the considered selection of an art house movie theater to the geographic democracy of video-on-demand. In doing so, the company is poised to improve life not only for viewers, but for filmmakers as well. “We want to be a sustainable model that can benefit us but that continues to support the creation of the work we want to put out,” Josh said. “And that becomes a cycle that feeds itself.”
Vyer’s pricing structure is tiered: for $20 per month, subscribers have access to Vyer’s entire catalogue. For $15 per month, subscribers have access only to the four new films released every month. Subscribers who pay $99 for six months ($16.50 per month) have full access to the entire catalogue (and save about $21 off the $20 subscription). “When you have a platform with thousands of titles, things just get lost,” Meredith said. “With Vyer’s curatorial setup, there’s a small number of films, and we have a premium price, but the majority of that goes back to the filmmakers.”
But even at what K.C., Meredith, and Josh admit is a premium price point, they believe what Vyer Films contributes validates the associated cost over cheaper (or free-er) models. “People want everything on the Internet to be as free as possible,” K.C. said, “when, in fact, the value films create is hurt by their being free.”
Follow John Sherman on Twitter @_john_sherman.