I went to see “Gravity” with my wife on Wednesday evening, and I must say that we were both disappointed. The movie was entirely unrealistic and a little grandiose at times, and wasn’t particularly well-acted, either. However, what left me more disappointed than the movie itself was the movie-going experience. (I have cause for complaint about how loud movies are these days as well – there’s really just no excuse for the sheer decibel level that accompanies most movies today. I routinely wear earplugs and even with those in the movies are still too loud. That should be a separate post.)
Doing my morning web-reading, I came across a story on RT.com that the MPAA recommends cracking down even further on camera phones and what they perceive as a rash of hidden cameras in soft-drink cups. (Never mind that that quite literally sounds like paranoia.) The originating story on TorrentFreak talks about how the MPAA wants to do more to catch “cammers”. So when I read things like that having had to sit through the experience the other evening, it’s rather frustrating.
The problem was not so much the movie. What became the problem was that the movie, scheduled to start at 750pm, did not start until 820pm, a full 30 minutes after the listed start time. During that time, we had to sit through a number of ads as well as two five minute trailers for upcoming movies – the first being “The Secret Life of Walter Smitty” which was almost condescendingly presented by Ben Stiller (and which, I might add, does not look like a good movie). (I can’t remember the second, and neither can my wife, so that tells you how memorable it was.) Essentially, we paid to be advertised to, and we paid to have trailers forced on us for movies in which we likely would have no interest. If there is one thing that I can’t stand it’s paying to be advertised to — the reason why I don’t have cable (and haven’t for years) and why I use both Ad-Blocker Plus & Ghostery on all my browsers.
The simple fact of the matter is that when I pay for a movie, I expect to see a movie. I’m not paying for additional nonsense before or afterwards, and I certainly wouldn’t pay to have half an hour’s worth of ads shown. I’m essentially signing a contract that states that I’ll pay a price (however outrageous the prices are getting, and few would argue that they’re not) to the movie provider(s) for watching the movie, but I’m fairly certain that nowhere in the listing did it mention half an hour’s worth of ads and trailers. (Incidentally, they’re called “trailers” because they used to follow the movies — they now come before the movie because no one in their right mind would continue to sit for movie previews after they’re done watching the movie they paid to see.) It’s a betrayal each time I go to the movie theatre – and the MPAA in all its glory, continually raising ticket prices to attempt guarantee their profits, insists on not only continuing this betrayal (there used to be a couple of trailers before a film – maybe five to ten minutes), but making it worse and then assuming we’re all criminals with cameras in our cups.
That the rentier class (i.e., those in the MPAA) who think profits are guaranteed forever further distort this relationship by indicating that pirates are somehow “stealing” from the people who make the film is yet another strike against them – they pervert language. With their “you wouldn’t download a car” ads (um, most people would rather than pay thousands for one, and it may not be long before 3D printing makes a lot of that possible) they suggest that piracy is taking the money away from people who make the films – people like set builders, painters, lighting crew, gaffers, etc. The problem with this argument is two-fold. One is that movies are budgeted up-front and are expected to recoup the investment, so by the time the movie plays in theatres, the people who have worked on it were already paid and have in all likelihood moved on to their next project. The second is that the people who worked on the movie don’t get another dime based on how well the movie does at the box office. (There are some exceptions for the A-list actors who negotiate this into their contracts. However, the regular staff do not get this treatment.) If the MPAA were to share box office receipts with the entire production crew, then their argument might have some weight, but anyone using the slightest critical reasoning can see that their logic is faulty, and that the better the movie does, the more the MPAA makes – which is of course what they don’t tell you and won’t tell you.
Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal summed things up well in his comic this morning:
This is why piracy will eventually triumph over the MPAA and their movie-going ‘experience’, no matter how much they try and crack down, patronise us into thinking we’re robbing the gaffers, or how much paranoia they have about cup-cams. It’s not because people are innately evil, but because they’re innately lazy. (Bill Gates is famous for saying “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job, because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” Also, you know I must not be a huge fan of the MPAA if I’m quoting Bill Gates to make my point.) If a person can install VPN software (watch them try and outlaw that next) and load a website into their browser, and view an entirely reasonable looking copy of the movie from the comfort of their own home (at a volume that won’t deafen them) within minutes, the lazy person is going to do that – and save money at the same time. They won’t be bombarded with ads, won’t see obnoxiously presented trailers for things they have no interest in, and can quite simply enjoy the experience they were intending to get all along.
The future is of course things like Netflix – where you pay a subscription fee and you can watch shows/movies in your home with your friends. The problem becomes that like cable, these things start out without ads based on the simple idea that you’re already paying a subscription fee. Soon, some suit somewhere gets the brilliant idea that maybe people won’t mind a 10-second commercial, which later becomes 15-seconds, and then 30, and then you have a series of commercials which you’re paying to see throughout the course of half an hour. Until that suit is stopped in his tracks, or comes to realise that his profits can only be guaranteed by making things people want to see without shafting them by also forcing ads down their throats, piracy will only increase.