Directors PO’d at PPV

How much would you pay to premiere a Hollywood movie in your living room?

Given that ticket prices now range from $7 to an East Coast high of $13, would you ante up $15 to stream “Fast Five” or “Thor 3D” in the privacy of your home theater? How about $20. Do I hear $30?

I ask because the window between theatrical premiere and PPV is closing fast and James Cameron and other top filmmakers ‒ responding to a deal between DirecTV and the major studios to reduce the 132-day window to two months ‒  are fighting mad, pointing to “the cannibalization” of ticket sales and increased opportunities for piracy if this “cut-throat new (business) model” is adapted.

Home Advantage? Premieres at a price

On Wednesday, Cameron, Peter Jackson, Kathryn Bigelow and 20 others, in alliance with the National Association of Theatre Owners, signed an open letter to the studios decrying a practice that would put first-run movies in your home while they’re still in theaters. Besides undercutting profits, these signatories argue, this would severely penalize specialty filmmakers whose work depends on slow-build word-of-mouth, and it would further devalue the movie-going experience “bolstered by the latest in digital projection, digital sound, and stadium seating.”

No word about the joker who kicks your seat throughout “Water for Elephants,” or the latecomer who uses his cell phone as a flashlight to find a seat during the scariest part of “Scream 4” and then periodically checks his email, IM’s and the time during the rest of the show.

Only last week in an AMC house I had to get up and shush employees who were talking so loudly on their walkie-talkies that you could hear their conversation in the auditorium. At “The Conspirator,” the guy seated behind me carried on a business transaction over his cell phone. Where were the ushers who say they discourage such annoyances? Talking among themselves in the lobby?

The fact of the matter is that filmgoers are fed up with less than optimum experiences when they go out to the theater, and this is causing an exodus to pay-per-view, where just this week I saw “The Bleeding House” as it was unreeling 3000 miles away at the Tribeca Film Festival. Friday, a local paper alerted readers to an exciting “opening” — Simon Rumley’s incendiary “Red White & Blue.” I had to laugh. The indie bowed on Comcast last September.

As someone who grew up watching movies as they were meant to be watched ‒ in movie houses ‒ I fear for the future of theaters, particularly the ones that are meticulously maintained and monitored, like our own Camera Cinemas. But the truth of the matter is we as a culture want things faster, faster … FASTER! And where there’s a market for streaming the latest movies, the studios and cable will rush to exploit it, exhibitors be damned.

I’m not worried about Hollywood’s profit margin. The major studios will, I’m sure, manage to squeak by. (They grossed $32 billion internationally last year.) I am, however, concerned about the look of movies. As more and more films premiere as PPV pickups, there will be less incentive to shoot on film in widescreen aspect ratios. We’ll get fewer films like “No Country for Old Men” and the overlooked Peter Weir’s epic “The Way Back” and more washed-out, rerouted  TV productions, like “The Girl Who Played with Fire.”


3 Responses to “Directors PO’d at PPV”

  1. John E. Says:

    I’ve yet to pay-per-view mainly because two summers ago I cut my cable down to the point that “on demand” isn’t even available to me (I was tired of paying $100+ for a hundred channels I don’t care to watch). Nevertheless, I wouldn’t pay $20-$30 for a recently released film–not for an indie, not for a blockbuster like Thor. You were talking about fast, fast, FAST, and before you know it these films will be available on Redbox for a $1, or at the least, on sale at Target for $20, costing less to own the physical disc than it would for paying the privilege to sit next to the stench of a smoker for 90 minutes. There have been so many films at the theaters we skipped out on because of mixed reviews that we later watched through Redbox. Our verdict later: “Gosh, I’m so glad we didn’t spend $21.50 on that!”

    I still value the big screen and the digital sound and if the film warrants that, I’ll pony up $21.50 for two for it. But the real issue at the core as you pointed out so nicely is the poor movie-going experience, particularly at AMC here in the Bay. My wife and I have completely given up on AMC and now go to the CineArts at Santana Row where the audiences tend to be more mature (although more smellier–either too much cologne/perfume or their clothing is saturated with smoke).

    As McLuhan would have it, cell phone technology changed the ecology of the movie-going experience. I do think theaters should hire goons, not scrawny high school juniors, to police the movie theaters. While I do concede that the cell phone policy enforcement is a tricky thing, theaters still need to step it up here and show us that they are serious about it. They should at the very least hand us complimentary Milk Duds and a sling shot to fire upon the violators at will.


  2. Andy Frazer Says:

    Cell phones? Annoying neighbors? Uncomfortably loud sound systems? We stopped going to movie theaters about five or six years ago. And that was even before you could surf the internet from your iPhone. Although I miss the huge screen experience, today I wouldn’t trade my living room for a movie theater any day or night (although I do miss the Camera Cinemas in San Jose).



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