Double Feature?

MPAA head Dan Glickman delivered the annual State of the Industry talk to the Showest convention in Las Vegas about a week ago. I’ve clipped some pieces from his prepared remarks. The rhetoric is, hmmm, a bit confused. Some of this — the anti-piracy rhetoric — is familiar territory. Some of it — the nostalgia — is both intriguing and a bit scary. Here goes:

Granted, I’m someone who waxes nostalgic about my hometown theater every chance I get. I’m someone who believes that the only way to really see a movie is in a big theater, on a big screen, with a big bag of popcorn.

I believe that no technology exists, or will ever exist, that replaces the experience of watching towering images in the dark with a crowd of people who laugh, cry and feel terrified at the same moment you do.

The question is, are people like me a dying breed?

Why does the industry persist in defining itself in terms of going to the movies? The last movie that really shook me as a social experience was Star Wars, in 1977. Authentically big screens, long lines of people, going back to the theater to see the film over and over again.

Research released last week by the MPAA suggests, certainly not yet. Almost 70 percent of consumers say going to the theater is the ultimate way to see a movie. But it’s just a matter of time until the competitive marketplace makes high-tech home entertainment more affordable and accessible to everyone.

Not to mention the expanding competition for our customers’ time and entertainment dollar – from video games to pay-per-view sporting events, to the Internet.

All the modern technology in the world notwithstanding, Americans will come to the movies if they think they have value. But if they don’t, they will stay home.

So the question we must answer is what are we going to do to make sure our customers are getting a valuable experience and that they appreciate the value of the experience? . . .

The MPAA wants to ensure that we appreciate the value of the experience? And if we’re not suitably grateful, then what?

Copyrighted works like movies are unique cultural and economic assets that deserve protection. And making sure consumers actually pay for the movie experience continues to be at the core of our mission. On this front we have launched a multi-pronged approach — one that includes enforcement, litigation, legislation, education and innovation. And we are making progress on a global scale.

We are advocating legislation at the federal and state levels to fight movie piracy. From enacting anti-camcording laws that punish people who go into your theaters with the sole purpose of stealing movies, to promoting digital anti-piracy laws designed to stop people from stealing movies from the comfort of their homes, we are aggressively moving forward to protect the value of the movies we all love.

“Stop people from stealing movies from the comfort of their homes.” Echoes of the VCR cops, bursting into our bedrooms to stop us from time-shifting!

We have a plan to go to Universities and High schools and spread the word that illegally downloading our movies is both morally and legally wrong, and such activity does have consequences.

This is important, because if we don’t teach the children to respect copyrights, we will lose the next generation of customers. . . .

The MPAA has a secret plan to . . . ?

The other established, permanent fact is that movies matter to people and, as a result, there will always be a demand for them. For nearly a century, we have made sense of our lives, populated our fantasies, and defined our dreams with words and images we got from going to the movies.

From Rhett Butler’s refusal to give a damn to Dirty Harry’s invitation to make his day — from Dorothy’s uneasy realization she was not in Kansas anymore — a feeling I know only too well – to the Godfather’s suggestion that you make your enemy an offer he can’t refuse — the movies have provided people around the world with a common reference point and a common language. . . .

Dan Glickman gets it! Motion pictures, like other copyrighted works, provide the raw materials for the very fabric of our cultural and social identities. Make my day, Dan! I’ve seen all of the Dirty Harry movies, but I’ve never spent a penny on any of them. That’s why this stuff is so important. Where the MPAA loses me is with the premise that I have to pay to be me. We have to pay to be us. If we don’t pay, then we’re stealing, whether we’re doing it “in the comfort of our own homes,” or in the theater, where we’re supposed to be watching. And we’d better well enjoy it while we’re at it. You’ll pay for it and you’ll like it, too.

I hate to say it, but the whole MPAA enterprise sounds positively Nixonian.

One thought on “Double Feature?

  1. Since the movie industry, as you say, “persist[s] in defining itself in terms of going to the movies,” my question is this: Why has the MPAA been so unwilling to accept or analyze the obvious downfall of in-theater movie-watching experience? I think the (rhetorical?) question you’ve posed is congruent: And if we’re not suitably grateful, then what?

    “Please sir, can I have some more?”

    This isn’t just about technology, although that’s undeniably part of the “problem”. This is about the 30 minutes of commercials (and legal warnings) I have to watch before I enjoy the feature presentation. The 7:15 showing that I paid nearly $10 for now starts closer to 8:00. That “big bag of popcorn” Glickman refers to costs upwards of $7. I hope our friend Glickman has enough cash left on him for a soda. God forbid he took a date…2 tickets, 1 big bag of pop corn, 2 sodas is $35-40.

    What Mr. Glickman and the MPAA needs to understand is that as a 23 year-old, I have little reason to get “nostalgic about my hometown theater.” The MPAA needs to worry about my generation’s movie-watching experience, since we’re their future cashflow.

    He says, “if we don’t teach the children to respect copyrights, we will lose the next generation of customers.” This is the crux of the issue. My customer-dom is in the view of the MPAA based on *my* respect for copyright (whatever that means), not the MPAA’s respect for me as an individual/customer. What about the quality of the product (experience?) being sold.

    What he should have said is, “if we don’t give the children an enjoyable movie-watching experience like I had when I was a child, we will lose the next generation of customers.”

    My couch is quite comfortable, thank you very much. And my movies start on time.

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