Thursday, March 1, 2012

Movie Quality, Piracy, and the Cinema Experience

Movie theaters are way too expensive. Ticket prices, concessions, the whole nine. I deal with the cost of concessions by not buying them. I deal with the cost of tickets by being very picky about which movies I'll see in the theater.

I used to download movies on bit torrent a lot. Despite being able to download movies for free, eat my own food, sit on the comfort of my couch and pause it when I wanted I would still go to the theater a couple times a month.

I stopped torrenting movies when Netflix came into my life. A lot of people say that piracy is really a content-delivery problem and there's definitely some truth there. As Netflix's streamable library has grown, torrents have gotten further from my mind. To be clear, I would rather pay for access to Netflix than torrent movies for free.

Netflix fills several roles for me:
  • Killing time: I will not buy a movie ticket for this
  • Television shows: I can't buy a movie ticket for this, nor would I
  • Movies I missed in the theater
  • Movies long out of the theater
  • Movies I don't think are worth seeing in the theater

If Netflix disappeared with no replacement I still wouldn't go to the theater for any of the above reasons. What does bring me into the theater? A good movie on a big screen with great sound. If the reviews for a movie are mixed I'll usually wait to watch it via Netflix. A key point to emphasize is that "new release" is not something that brings me to the theater.

I'm optimistic that theaters are starting to get that last point. Locally, "Titanic" and "Star Wars Episode I (in what's-the-fucking-point 3D)" have made trips back through the theaters. Say what you want about the films, if you're going to see them at all, the big screen is the way. We need lots more of this with cheaper ticket prices.

Dear Hollywood,

You don't have to lose money by making another shitty romantic comedy or Resident Evil movie. You can show us movies we've already seen and if you pick good ones we'll pay to see them. We will pay to come to theaters to see movies we already own. You can even draw people in by showing director's cuts and the like. Bring the older movies in a series back into theaters before the next sequel comes out. Put "The Godfather", the Indiana Jones movies, "Blade Runner", or "Airplane!" in theaters and I'll see them all in a week.

What's critical is that you stop making terrible movies. Instead, give us consumers real reasons to come to the theater and make the theater experience something meaningful. Given the digital projection systems it seems unlikely to me that distribution is a significant hurdle to this. If bandwidth is a concern for getting the extremely high resolution movies out to theaters perhaps you can utilize something bandwidth-efficient for the distributor... like bit torrent.