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David Poland

By David Poland

Taking Sides

It struck me as I thought about the disregard for exhibitors shown by the major distributors this week in their announcement on VOD that it really isn’t personal.

Forget it just being exhibitors and consider the unions as well.

The studios and the corporations that own them think of every piece of the puzzle, human or not, as being something that should be adjusted to serve their every interest and whim. Actors, writers, and directors have a job to do, but the remuneration, unless the individual is powerful enough to demand and receive more, should, in the eyes of these companies, serve their bottom line. There are only two common denominators; ego and money. And money usually wins over ego.

What’s hard, for those of us who believe in fairness and shared responsibility, is that the corporations aren’t really wrong… they are just doing what corporations do. AMPTP couldn’t run roughshod over the talent unions, as they did in the last serious round of contracts, without the unions/guilds submitting (consciously or otherwise). The only leverage the employees really have is themselves and their work… but even with one guild striking, they couldn’t hold it together long enough to get significantly improved contracts. And now, SAG is already a shadow of its former self.

Exhibitors have long seemed to have an inferiority complex, like Canadians often have about America. Inferiority is not an objective truth. These are symbiotic relationships. But roles are quickly set and the distributors’ superiority complex is profound, almost made worse by the awareness that they really do need the theater owners. That’s a step less control than is optimal. This makes ideas like shortened theatrical windows more attractive, even if they don’t make financial sense… because ego makes them think that more control will eventually lead to more money. How many times has that been wrong? (We can start the conversation with the DVD Bubble and the failure to manage it.)

The exhibitors get fawned over in public by the distributors and then, after the doors close, they are treated as though they were just another obstacle to overcome. The movie theater industry in America was really rebuilt in the late 90s, by way of a load of bankruptcies, and allowed for a reconsideration of how films could be distributed. Without that partnership with the exhibitors, we wouldn’t have the massive openings we now have, which in turn, have led to the studios thinking that they can short the theatrical runs and get to the post-theatrical in 6 weeks or less, where the split is more lucrative to them.

But I can’t say that the studios/distributors are The Bad Guys. There is no morality to business, good or bad. There are some people with strong moral ideas and some of them are even enormously successful business people. But the standard for decision making, beyond those exceptions, is not a secret. Maximize in any way that doesn’t, ultimately, minimize due to the force of the maximizing action. Morality is a math problem.

The distributors are dead wrong, in my opinion, about this idea… on a business level before we even discuss the art of cinema. But are they evil? No, not really. Even though WB and Universal are both owned by parents with cable businesses and Fox is owned by a parent with an international satellite business, and Sony sees a big piece of its future as a content conduit via the internet by way of their hardware platforms… they are just trying to maximize their businesses.

This, of course, makes it all harder to respond to naked aggression. Villains make it easier to get the troops excited. Exhibitors can’t actually KNOW that shortened windows will undermine their businesses. It’s just a well-educated guess. While nothing has buried theatrical, every major innovation that makes filmed entertainment more accessible away from theaters has done incremental damage.

And ironically, while Jim Cameron and George Lucas and Jeffrey Katzenberg talk about improving the movie experience with new technology, they are unwittingly playing right into the hands of the studios that want more events and fewer movies. The theory, according to the trio, is that even conventional dramas will be improved by 3D and other improving technologies. But what I hear is the chance for those who want to turn theatrical into an event medium.

For theater owners to be able to change this equation, they will have to be willing to lose some money. Some serious money. Soon. Essentially, it is like a strike situation. Both sides have something to lose… and the repercussions will last longer than the moment.

The Distributors keeps getting to have its cake and eat it too. And as much as I hope it’s not true, I expect it to go that way on this as well. Distributors will give up some short term battles to win the war. The ball may not roll all the way down hill. But we will probably have to wait to for economic forces to change the playing field… which is usually too late.

So whose side do you take? The Good Guys who don’t stick to their guns or The Bad Guys who do? It isn’t as easy a question as it probably should be.

16 Responses to “Taking Sides”

  1. IOv3 says:

    1) A good drama would be enhanced by 3D. I agree with that 100 percent but…

    2) 3D is dead. Seriously, it’s dead. Avatar represented the climax and Dragon the anti-climax. Now, 3D is dying on the vine because people got their fill. The fact that during this fake ass con, they had people trying to schill for something that’s dead is pretty funny.

    3) This VOD shit isn’t going to happen.

    4) Oh it’s not going to happen.

    5) Even if it this VOD shit happens, these rich motherfuckers seem to be forgetting that… PEOPLE ARE BROKE!

    6) It’s like these motherfuckers are so rich and caught up in a mid-oughties mindset, that they forget that people are broke, and 30 DOLLARS CAN STILL BUY A LOT OF FOOD!

    7) This means that this VOD shit will happen for a month or two. Hell it might make it til the end of the year but…

    8 ) It’s going to die, it’s going to fade away, and

    9) This will just be another bit of failure from the studios when it comes to dealing with the FUTURE! Seriously, these assholes need to stop grasping at straws. They still have a valued commodity (except in some local barbershops and most Chinatowns) and treating this way is just stupid.

    10) Luckily Disney gave them the middle finger and this pretty much means… it’s DOA. Here’s hoping they get a grasp on things because George, Cameron, and Katz are wrong. That’s not the future. Whatever is the future, it sure as shit will not be what those three brought up. Why? Rango.

  2. LexG says:

    Re IO’s point on 3D (is it on topic?)…

    Was thinking about this today: THOR is a 3D release. Apparently? Is it the first movie in this “trend” where NO ONE is excited about the 3D aspect? It just seems like such a ho-hum throwaway, like, OH YEAH, it’s in 3D some places. Kind of like GREEN HORNET, only worse. I saw HORNET in 2D, and it was fine. Didn’t need 3D, wouldn’t have wanted to see it that way.

    THOR there is NO WAY I’ll seek it out in 3D. I don’t think anyone cares it’s in 3D at ALL. And most of these things, it’s kind of burnt because most theaters’ “3D house” is a smaller screen than their big rooms. Something like THOR, I want to see on a GIANT SCREEN in 2.35. Not some compromised 3D bullshit.

    Please make 3D go away FOREVER.

  3. Mike says:

    I believe 3D is dying as well, as the studios overdid it. 3D should be an event – like Avatar, not on everything. Until they get the no-glasses thing figured out, I will never see another 3D movie. It costs too much and it just isn’t that fun of an experience.

    This VOD thing is sooooo stupid. If it was opening weekend, or even weekend three, people might pay that much to see it at home. Because all the advertising and hype has geared us to wanting to see it opening weekend. But eight weeks out? By that point people want to see whatever is now opening. And really – who cares about seeing a movie two months out when you can wait two more and rent it from Red Box for one dollar.

  4. IOv3 says:

    Lex, Thor is post-converted so that’s another reason not to seek it out in 3D. The last Potter is in 3D as well but who needs to see that in 3D? The bump is dwindling away, Cameron got to make more money with one of his films, but he didn’t start a movement. Why George is even bothering to post convert the SW film? Seriously, I look forward to seeing them in a theatre again as a fan, but fuck this 3D nonsense.

    What’s really freaking annoying about this nonsense is: 3D is pretty cool. Seriously, it’s a great little extension to some films, and I enjoy the shit out of it. What I don’t enjoy is getting jacked for close to 4 dollars more to see a film in 3D.

    I would almost guarantee that 3D would be in a better place, if it were not for the jacked up fees. Once they started jacking up prices for post-converted crap like Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender. That was that for pretty much that for 3D.

  5. hcat says:

    Isn’t the everyday person who orders this stuff at home going to be in for a shock when they think they are ordering a regular rental and end up with a $30 charge on their monthly bill? Most people who use this service are not aware of release dates and windows, they just know that the see some ads some time ago for movies and in a short time it ends up on PPV.

    And is this going to run all the way to the rental window? I can imagine people being a bit weary of the service if they order a $30 Video and the next week they see it for $5.99.

  6. Sean Orelaja says:

    In response to IOV3, quite frankly you have no clue, none whatsoever. Firstly would a comedy satire such as Sideways, look good in 3D, of course not, the list is endless.
    VOD will happen, prices will be on a scale from 24 hour streaming viewing to unlimited, so if you are broke you just watch once, for little cost (after a theatrical/dvd release). Who pays $30 for a movie, how do you view your movies on a gold plated throne. VOD is the future, apple have been trying for years, now with Google making big plans and Youtube beta testing, you’d need to be living in a cave not to realise it.
    The future will not be dictated by studios who couldn’t give a crap about their audience and hence churn out $50,000,000 bhanda poo, it’ll revert to the independents, once these groups are seen to be making sizeable profits in their droves, the studios will get on board and attempt to bastardize the whole system.
    With reference to 3D, if it brings in the bucks it’ll continue and evolve to be more spectacular until it saturates the market to such an extent that it is reduced to the occasional 3D picture, by which time retrospective 3D technology will have improved and perhaps we may actually see some originality in the works.
    If you are so dissatified with cinema, red a book!
    Sean Orelaja. Martial Archetype.

  7. hcat says:

    In his defense, IO said a drama would work well in 3D, didn’t say anything about a comedy though something broad may work quite well.

    Apple and Google will go nowhere without the studios, independents might make some coin going VOD (which IFC and Magnolia have been doing for years) but that is not going to bring the studios along who actually make the $200 million bhanda poo(?) that people pay money to see.

    Your 3D paragraph was insiteful 3 years ago but we are already on the downslope as far as oversaturation quelling demand.

    and just a few other nitpicks, Sideways was not a satire and even with the relaxed spelling rules of the internet telling people to ‘red a book’ is pretty fucking hilarious.

  8. IOv3 says:

    Sean O, what Hcat stated and have you ever seen the more atmospheric dramas made by Joe Wright and a film like the House of Sand and Fog? Films such as those would be aided by 3D because 3D is a great enhancer for some films and a really atmospheric drama could use some quality 3D.

    Now, VOD, is for TV shows. It just is. Movies costing 30 dollars eight week later, flat out ignores that during the Summer, especially, people are on to the next thing.

    We also have been conditioned to expect the DVD/BD at a certain time, so only someone with money to blow will spend it on a 24 hour rental of an 8 week old movie, when they could wait another 8 to 12 weeks and own the DVD/BD.

    Finally, Hcat is right, and 3D is on the downslope. It’s finished before it’s started because unless someone can pull something new out of it. Which seems sort of hard at the moment. It’s just another fad that James Cameron used to make a shitload of money. I swear to god, that fucking guy.

  9. hcat says:

    Now that you mention it Atonement would have rocked in 3D.

  10. IOv3 says:

    Shit, HOP isn’t in 3D either? Wow. I hope Howard Singer realizes that we blew our 3D load and gets Sony off of their 3D IS THE FUTURE kick.

  11. Triple Option says:

    hcat wrote: I can imagine people being a bit weary of the service if they order a $30 Video and the next week they see it for $5.99.

    And thus will become the beginning and end of the $30 VOD window. This topic came up before and I was saying an event type movie that doesn’t command the big screen would be the way to go with this. Ala Sex/City or Harry Potter, maybe even a Hangover film where people could plan a party around it. Sure, $30 is fine for date night or family night but if personal economics can override emotion, which is more likely to happen in a family setting than a guy not wanting to look cheap even if it is less than going out, I feel like people are gonna opt to choose out of the $6 bin than the ones on the top shelf. Especially if they’re not going to offer up the biggest titles??? Why are people going to pay that kind of money for a film they haven’t shown any excitement seeing in the theater just a couple of weeks earlier? A premium VOD only really makes sense for more of the day/date thing.

    Regarding that whole 3D thing, count me in the out pile. Went to a midnight screening of Source Code last night. I called a few theaters to see who was playing it and I was AMAZED that the AMC Cen City had raised their price of the 3D & IMAX surcharges from just one year ago. OK, you raise ticket prices due to increase cost of living/doing business, I understand. Then there were supposedly new systems put in everywhere and you’ve gotta pay for glasses but now suddenly I have pay an extra $1 atop my extra fee, for this from last year? What’s that dollar for? To dispose of toxic material that was Clash of the Titans and Last Airbender?

    Glad to know Thor was a post 3D conversion. I’ll definitely not waste my time on seeing that one in 3D. I was watching the trailer then surprised when they said it was 3D cuz there was absolutely nothing I saw nothing in the clip that indicated it was. Thor’s a big movie, I’d otherwise begrudgingly pay the surcharge but then they started running through the clips of all these other films. Most were pretty unmemorable at best. I’d watch and think, ‘eh, maybe’ but then they’d flash the “Coming in 3D” and I’d switch from borderline to definite no thanks.

    I know it’s not Summit’s fault if Sony has a movie or two coming out that’s 3D and that the same may be said for Universal, Disney and WB but man, I sit through 10-15 mins of trailers and keep seeing this pop up over and over again until I feel like I’m taking my car in for service the moment it comes off warranty. I just want to give a giant f.u. to all these money grubbers but I’m not really sure who I should be mad at. I’m not saying it’s a reason to steal but I gotta believe feeling nickeled and dimed and priced out has to diminish any sort of internal barrier to pirating current films off teh internets for even the otherwise morally upstanding person. “I’m not paying $19.50 for one ticket to see the Green Manalishi! I don’t care if it is 3D. I don’t care if I get motion sickness from seeing a copy recorded by some guy’s shaky handheld camcorder trying to focus between buttons in his shirt, I will web surf that mug before I give any of those bastards any more money. They can kiss my green ass! Now, let me see if I can’t find that Mila Kunis – Natalie Portman love scene and maybe the latest Transporter while I’m here.”

    I was wondering the other day if some of the fears of VOD for day/date are unfounded. Are the people most likely to order it the ones who otherwise wouldn’t go to a theater? This may seem kinda obvious but what I’m wondering if the result of cannibalizing their own windows isn’t erroneous thinking? Maybe the theatrical pile stays virtually the same and the video number stays the same but you do have a brand new rev stream. I know that’s what the studios want everyone to believe but maybe it is like the advent of the vcr and it won’t mess with ticket sales? I mean it sounds like a dumb idea to me but then is there really anything to disprove this? Maybe it’s just its own monkey? Maybe the reason it really hasn’t been a great concern or game changer is due to the fact that it by its own nature it really isn’t a market that’s gonna get too big? Sure by a position related to cost, it might have a large margin but if people picking up titles are just a subset of a small set, maybe everyone’s attention should be focused elsewhere??

  12. Martin S says:

    Poland – “And ironically, while Jim Cameron and George Lucas and Jeffrey Katzenberg talk about improving the movie experience with new technology, they are unwittingly playing right into the hands of the studios that want more events and fewer movies. The theory, according to the trio, is that even conventional dramas will be improved by 3D and other improving technologies. But what I hear is the chance for those who want to turn theatrical into an event medium.’

    When it comes to Cameron, this is 100%, flat-out dead wrong. Cameron has been the main advocate – probably a decade now – for less releases. He does not believe in the sub-100M film getting financed and has openly said in several interviews that each studios money should all be allocated into roughly eight movies per year and let the rest go to cable or independent. It was his whole business principle behind Avatar.

    Re: 3D. Blame Clash o’de Titans. The WOM on how shitty that was created a fast buyer beware mentality. Like I asked from the start, how in the hell no one could create a THX trademark if you’re going to invest sooo much into a new tech, is beyond me. They’ve apparently tried post-Titans with True-D/Real-D marketing, but it’s all gibberish now.

    Sean O – that’s a big bag of pretensious bullshit.

    What Google/Youtube, (it’s the same company you know), and Apple, etc… have been trying is not the same as the studio VOD platform. You’re conflating anything streamed into the same soup, which is missing the entire point behind this new announcement. If blanket streaming was the endgoal, then why did Fox back this VOD while at the same time, order a C&D to TWC for their new iPad app?

    I know the indie fantasy of what streaming is supposed to mean, but this isn’t the 90’s. What eventually works on the net will not resemble indie cinema…which brings us back to the real reason behind the new VOD service; create a mid-tier release system that doesn’t have the overhead of theatrical or the taint of D2V, (double-entendre is for Lex).

  13. IOv3 says:

    Martin I love that the next Clash of the Titans movie IS NOT BEING FILMED IN 3D! What in the hell.

  14. hcat says:

    Thanks for that article Martin, I love how TWC calls the channels greedy for wanting to control their own content. So TWC wants to compete with Hulu for shows watched on mobile devices and think the people that own the shows are just going to let them without compensation? Seems like a desperate gesture.

  15. hcat says:

    And someone mentioned earlier about Sony pushing the 3D tvs with a trailer for it on every Sony disc I rent. But they go through the whole speil and then show that their entire 3D catalog is two kids movies, neither of which did all that spectacular of business. Always takes out the interest I have in the ad.

  16. Sean Orelaja says:

    Atonement is in 3d, just open FCPX and duplicate the timeline, convert the ascending timeline to black and white, then layer (adjust it’s rotation by .25 and add a high frequency color to your taste). Render and output at 5K. Happy now, it’s 2015 and i’m in my rest room having a big dump, what are you doing, using Walt Disney’s head to power your Ice Cream factory….
    Oh and don’t talk to me, talk to this guy.
    George and Jim love to suck each others cocks once in a while, i’ve seen them in Japan sucking on milky cocks at 30 yen a pop.
    Hard as a feather, end of your tether…

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