The Internet may offer endless opportunities for up-and-coming artists to promote themselves in theory, but when’s the last time you actually took a chance on a title, filmmaker, or star you’d never heard of? Outside of a few tech-savvy cinephiles, consumers are still reluctant to devote their time and energy to movies they haven’t so much as seen a TV spot for — and that’s a problem that a new website called Prescreen is trying to fix.

Founded by former Groupon exec Shawn Bercuson, the start-up will aim to bring Groupon-style marketing to feature film distribution by helping people find and watch high-quality full-length movies online. More after the jump.

Like Groupon, Prescreen will send a daily email to subscribers — only Prescreen’s emails will offer movies, not restaurant coupons. Each title will cost $4 to watch on the first day that it goes on sale, with the price increasing afterward. The movie will remain available for 60 days, after which point the movies are allowed to move into other distribution methods.

Prescreen will not require a certain number of purchases the way Groupon does, nor will the films necessarily go for a discount. Instead, the site plans to draw people by offering credit back to the first 5% of people who buy each movie, who can then use that money toward another movie. Subscribers will therefore have an incentive to buy early and to convince their friends to buy as well, since the more people purchase a particular movie, the greater chance there is that they’ll be in the first 5%. Moreover, founder and CEO Bercuson points out, there’s always the thrill of being the first to find the next cool thing. “Everyone likes to be the first to discover a band,” he told Forbes. “You can say, ‘I knew them at the local bar.’ And the last person (to watch) is always incentivized to share.”

Bercuson, who used to be the VP of business development at Groupon and a principal at Groupon investor Lightbank, says Prescreen will be curated with great care, as the site can only distribute 365 movies per year. Though submissions will be considered, Bercuson says he’ll mostly be looking for films that have been well-received or feature recognizable stars, but that haven’t quite caught on for whatever reason. The movies might be ones that never hit theaters, or ones that have only had limited releases. They can be from any genre, including comedy, drama, and documentary.

Bercuson’s hope is that Prescreen will help bridge the gap between production and distribution, as in some cases a film may get a lot of funding early on but find itself with no method of distribution. Prescreen could also offer “blockbuster exposure on an indie budget” for independent filmmakers and distributors of smaller films, who may not have the funds to run a more traditional marketing campaign. “It’s a good way for content owners or distributors to get good marketing exposure and distribution,” he said.

At the same time, the company will help its subscribers by pointing them to a streamlined selection of lesser-known but worthwhile movies. “We can provide some hidden gems (for consumers) then who knows what will happen,” he said. “There are a lot of places to buy movies out there such as iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon… But there are also hard-to-find smaller titles you might be really interested in and you didn’t know existed.”

Discuss: Would you sign up for Prescreen?

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