The Movie Slump

In one of what has been a long stream of reports lately, the news states that movie box office totals are off 7-10% from where they were last year and that the box office totals in general are slumping. It’s not suprising seeing as how it now costs at least $10 to watch a movie in San Francisco. And besides the cost, in my mind, there has been very little released lately that has been any good. I just watched Batman Begins (fantastic by the way), but that was the first film I’ve seen in an uncountable amount of months. I did see Star Wars Episode III, but that was in Dubrovnik for about $2. If I had been here, I would have waited for video.
This all makes me ponder as to when the cries of “It’s file sharing!” or “Piracy! Piracy!” begin to get louder. We’ve heard it all before when music sales were slumping. They claimed that it was due to online file sharing. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. There isn’t a good study that found a direct correlation between slumping sales and file sharing except for the very weak argument that when sales went down, file sharing was growing. This is like saying that I think because it was been raining for the last month that my car isn’t driving well, while ignoring that fact I haven’t done any maintainence to it in 60,000 miles. I feel that this is a very apt analogy actually, because it seems that the recording industry thought they could just sit back and let their record producing formula play out and keep making them money. In other words, they’ve been putting out nothing but junk music for the last 7-8 years and it’s finally starting to show that no one is buying it.
Think I’m jaded towards today’s pop music because I’m closing in on 29? I thought so too until going to Europe just recently and heard music on the radio that I actually liked and would even buy. To be honest, the only music I buy these days is from artists that have been around more than five years. The current stuff is awful and people know it. There may be one good single, but with iTunes or the other countless electronic distribution methods out there, people can get just that one song.
So, I think we should really apply the same thinking to the movie industry. After all, it has become an industry. There is a set plot outline that they follow and expect people to keep going to. Yeah, they change up the stars and mix and match, but it does little good as it is all very staid in its ways. Do I feel that everything coming out is garbage? Absolutely not, but you have to weed through many, many ticket booths to find something that is indeed good. I’m very spoiled in being in San Francisco where there are enough independent movie houses that run the smaller releases I can go see.
As for watching movies in the bigger theaters, I don’t do it anymore. For my girlfriend and I to go, it costs $20! That costs more than what the DVD costs to buy and OWN. Why do I want to spend that and get a one time viewing out of the show? Yes there’s that theater experience, but these days, that is not something I enjoy. Besides the things that have always been there like people talking through the film and laughing at everything that happens, there are now people who talk incessantly on their cell phones through the show. ?!@#$%#! Add the ads in on top of that (the ones that play before the movie starts) and you get an experience that isn’t worth so much. I much prefer my Netflix queue and the $20 that costs me each month to watch about 12 movies or so. I can use the bathroom whenever I want to and eat food from my own kitchen.
Netflix is just one of the ways the technology is changing the shape of movie distribution and we get back to the statement I made earlier about how I suspect the piracy charges starting to be levelled. We were first made very aware to this in these well-produced but misguided PSA’s that ran before the films telling people not to steal movies. To be honest, I sincerely feel that people are not pirating films in any way that is going to greatly impact ticket sales. It is very true that you can find any new release on a file sharing program these days, but I’ve seen the results and they’re horrid, especially when blown up to a 42″ plasma screen size. If you actually download a film that is full DVD quality, then you are downloading 4.7 gigabytes of information. On a standard DSL connection of 1.5 megabits, that would take 6 hours at maximum speed. The catch is that you don’t get maximum speed when file sharing and this would more likely take several days to download. Sure, there are people that will leave their machines on constantly and do this, but do you seriously think that people who are taking the time to do this are the kind of people that you’re losing in the theater?
Huh? What? But they’re stealing! They’re thieves! Of course and there will always be thieves out there. Thieves don’t have a ton of common sense though, because if you work out the raw cost of electricity and high speed internet line over the time of download of let’s say 4-7 days, that will cost about $7-12, which can be more than the cost of the ticket! I know, I know, people will say that they have the machine on anyways and pay for the internet by the month, but if you toss in the fact that it’s illegal and that MPAA is out there looking for theives, then in my book that’s just not really worth it.
This is what I’m getting at though. The movie industry is putting out a lot of garbage these days and instead of saying that people are stealing their films and not paying for them, they need to understand that their quality level is in a hole they dug under a deep level of complete garbage. The Lord of the Rings movies made billions and could have easily been stolen (probably was for that matter), but people went to see all of them in the theater because they were a set of movies that you actually wanted to see in the theater. I think that Francis Coppola said it best (pardon the paraphrasing) in that when he was making his best films in the 1970’s, there were people in charge of the movie companies that liked making money, but also liked making good films. These days the people in charge only care about making money and the spirit of film is gone. So Francis, what will happen to fix this? “Someday, those people will be gone.” We can only hope so…