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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

how the studios don’t really seem to care about piracy…

Speaking of piracy and Sicko

My Film.com buddy Cargill makes a point I’ve been trying to make for ages:

While the big boys spend tons of scratch frisking and wanding film critics who come in to see the film early, hoping this will in some way prevent piracy, films like this keep getting screwed. From the inside. That’s right…. These aren’t clandestine ninja theft operations with Mission Impossible wires suspending people from the ceilings or cameras in the projection booth. These guys are simply grabbing the tapes used to edit and perfect the film for release and just walking out with them. That’s why they look so clean and are so prized by pirates.

So, let me get this straight: critics wearing jeans and a t-shirt practically get a cavity search when they want to watch the thing, but these guys are walking out of the building with boxes of tapes?

Last night at my screening of Ratatouille — to which I had to arrive an hour before showtime so that I could be assured of getting a decent seat, because Disney is one of those studios that does not grant me access to seating reserved for critics — I was allowed to bring my laptop with me into the theater, but I was told that even during the hour I would be sitting there before the movie started, I could not remove the laptop from my bag to use it, or it would be confiscated.

This is the idiocy the studios are going through in their “attempts” to “prevent” piracy: they seem to believe that somehow, my computer would be able to magically record the movie before it had even started and even though the only “recording device” the computer has is a keyboard. (I could transcribe the movie, perhaps, if I could type fast enough, but there doesn’t seem to be a market for that kind of thing.)

Why did I have my laptop with me? Because I am a member of the working press, and I had just come from a press conference with Michael Moore. And I was glad I had the laptop there, too, because we members of the press waited for Moore for 45 minutes beyond the time at which he was promised to show. (Not Moore’s fault, or anyone’s, really: he was doing one-on-one interviews with other journalists.) I’ve been to these things before: I know how they go. I knew I’d be waiting around. And while I was waiting, I was able to get some other work done. This is the reality of being a member of the working press: we wait a lot. But the time is not lost if you can work, and you can work, thanks to the magic of our modern technology.

And I could have gotten a helluva lot more work done while I was waiting for Ratatouille to start. If only the studios weren’t being entirely disingenous about how all those pirated films are actually being pirated.

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  • Well now, MaryAnn, you have a Macbook, don’t you? With a built-in iSight camera? Clearly, you were planning to record the movie with the fantastic quality of your built-in notebook camera and microphone, so you could put it online and devastate their profits.

    I’ve actually seen signs in movie theaters saying you can’t bring in cameraphones, since those have cameras that can take pictures/record video. It’s not enforced, obviously, because you basically can’t get a phone now that’s not a cameraphone, and you really can’t confiscate everyone’s phone before they go into the theater, but it’s still an idiotic policy. Even putting aside the astoundingly crappy quality you would get recording a movie like that, none of them can record anything even close to a feature-length movie. Mine will record 15 seconds worth of video at a time. Not exactly a big piracy threat. The anti-piracy crusaders really are just a bunch of giant, technophobic dopes.

  • MaryAnn

    Well now, MaryAnn, you have a Macbook, don’t you? With a built-in iSight camera?

    Nope, I have an iBook. No camera at all.

    I’ve actually seen signs in movie theaters saying you can’t bring in cameraphones, since those have cameras that can take pictures/record video. It’s not enforced, obviously, because you basically can’t get a phone now that’s not a cameraphone, and you really can’t confiscate everyone’s phone before they go into the theater

    You’d think not, but that’s *exactly* what they do at these all-media screenings: the studios require attendees to check all phones with cameras in them. Which is why, when I got a new phone a year or so ago (after clinging to my ancient phone forever), I made a point of getting a camera-free phone — they *are available — so that I wouldn’t be held up after screenings fighting the mobs to get my phone back.

  • Speaking of idiotic policies:

    When Episode II of “Star Wars,” came out, myself and some of my fellow geeks made a big event of it – we camped out overnight for tickets the week before, and then showed up at the theatre at like six in the morning to camp in line for the noon showing. When we got inside, before the movie started, I was goofing around taking pictures of my friends, and I was asked very politely by a staff member to take my camera out to the car, since George Lucas didn’t want photos taken of the movie. The movie that was already released to the general public and had already had midnight showings at other theatres. (I don’t think there were any midnight showings in our area, or at least none that we could get to realistically – Maine is always behind the times on things like that, and midnight showings didn’t start getting more common until a few years ago.) Yeah, my camera and I were a real danger to his profits at that point.

    I didn’t say anything, since the staff had been so awesome about our camping adventures and the person who spoke to me was very nice and realized how silly it was, but I got a good laugh out of it.

  • It doesn’t matter whether your laptop/notebook has a built-in camera or not, because the people asking you to take it out to your car are idiots.

    Seriously.

    When The Matrix Reloaded came out, I camped out at the theatre in my Agent Smith getup and worked on my web site on my Sony VAIO notebook. When they let us in to the theatre, I took it inside with me… and there was some studio rep there who told me they didn’t want anyone recording the movie, so would I please take the notebook out to my car. I pointed out the lack of any type of recording device on the notebook, but they wouldn’t budge. I had to trek all the way out to my car and lock the notebook in the trunk and then come back in… luckily, the people next to me held my seat for me.

  • MaryAnn

    the people asking you to take it out to your car are idiots

    And of course in NYC, this “take it out to your car” nonsense is impossible. People don’t have cars. The kind of shit that people haul around in their cars in other places, we carry around with us all day.

  • Josh

    Sorry, but I think that Hollywood needs to take a lot of the blame for the fast increasing problem of piracy. They are just not giving the audiences the movie experience they want, and instead increasing budgets and theaters increasing ticket prices. There has been talk about Hollywood supplying newer films to home viewers for years, but nothing has been done. 20 years ago, there was talk of putting newly released films on a Pay Per View outlet. Then, there was talk about having them on the internet where people can pay to watch them. Instead of catching up with the times, Hollywood has dug a deeper hole for themselves, and now it is nearly impossible to get out. There are good quality versions of Ratatouille, Ocean’s 13, Sicko, Die Hard 4 all on the YouTube or Google Video. Very easy to watch these without downloading. I won’t watch these because I feel it is wrong, I made an exception with Sicko because I wanted to see part of the film before I decided if I wanted to pay to see it. I was not a fan of Fahrenheit 9/11.

    Hollywood did a great job conquering TV when that first came on the scene. But with new media, it’s like they don’t even care and are making no attempts to get up with the times. Unfortunately, I fear that things like Sneak Previews and test screenings may be a thing of the past since films always get leaked out.

  • MaryAnn

    There are good quality versions of Ratatouille, Ocean’s 13, Sicko, Die Hard 4 all on the YouTube or Google Video. Very easy to watch these without downloading.

    But it’s not the same experience as watching them in a movie theater with a crowd of people.

    It’s the combination of lousy movies and the horrible multiplex experience that is keeping people away from the movies. As soon as the ‘plexes clean up their act, quit letting people with infants in, find some way to silence cell phones, offer genuinely tasty snacks at reasonable prices, clean up the restrooms, and on and on, then people will start going to the movies again.

  • Josh

    It’s not the same experience for cinema buffs like you and myself, but there is a demand for it. There has to be a lot of introverts out there who would really want to see a film but don’t want the hassle of going to the theater. They could wait for DVD, but by then they have heard and read so much about the film already.

    I agree that the theaters are doing a lousy job. A couple brought their young kid, probably about 6, into the Knocked Up the other day and it bothered my friends and I. The kid was quite through the entire movie but it still bothered us that a parent would subject their kid to that. Problem is that I can’t be some other kids parent.

    I think the rising popularity of Drive-Ins is testement that people are tired of the theater experience. I know that I love going to the Drive-In. I pay $10 for an experience that would cost me $20+ at the regular theater. Plus, I can in the comfort of my vehicle and can adjust the volume. More and more Drive-Ins are popping up again. Heck, if I had the time and money I would open up one closer to where I live.

  • Drive-ins are still dead in my part of the country (I live in Texas) and it’s quite odd to hear that they’re making a comeback. Even odder to hear that they represent an aesthetic alternative to indoor theatres.

    I used to hate going to the drive-in and I suspect the only reason I went to one so often as a young kid was because it was cheaper for my parents to take me and my three siblings there than to an indoor theatre.

    (Let’s not forget…For many young parents of my father’s generation, going to any movie theatre, indoor or out, was a LUXURY. In fact, if you’re poor and working your way through school–like both my parents were–having time to go to the movies is itself a LUXURY. Odd how often this point gets ignored by otherwise class-conscious film critics.)

    And, yeah, Hollywood has a lot to answer for but blaming it exclusively for piracy is like blaming Detroit’s auto companies for car theft. There’s a bit more to the issue–like the age-old desire to have something for nothing–than just blaming the victim.

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