Wednesday, March 16, 2016

My Thoughts On The Screening Room Debacle

Sean Parker pretty much changed the face of the music industry with his 1999 company Napster. Today, the majority of people likely don't even know what the hell as "Napster" is, but it set a precedent for how people consume music that iTunes and other companies soon perfected and turned into a revolution. A revolution, mind you, that left many record companies up the creek without a paddle financially. Their entire business model had changed forever and there was noooo going back.

So is it at all surprising that Sean Parker's newest proposition for changing the movie business is also being met with, shall we say, some hesitance?

Sean Parker has been proposing to filmmakers, movie theaters and movie studios a new system called The Screening Room, whereby people can rent first-run movies for 48 hours for $50. Basically, in this scenario, the same day Batman v. Superman comes out, you can also watch it at home for fifty bucks, once you purchase the only set-top box that carries these films (that box costs about $150). The system has been met with support from filmmakers like Ron Howard, J.J. Abrams, Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg and is apparently working out a deal of some kind with theater chain AMC, while hundreds of arthouse theaters, as well as certain movie studios and other high profile figures, have protested the proposed system.

What are my thoughts on the matter? Well, I'm a movie theater fanboy, pure and simple. That is THE way to consume cinema, no question. But I'm also in favor of VOD (video-on-demand) systems like iTunes that help get smaller arthouse features to a wider audience who likely don't have a theater playing such films near them. I also understand the studios want to make up some of the revenue they've been losing on the dwindling home video market and I'm sure this sounds like to some of them (to some of them, it's unclear which studios currently are supporting or protesting this concept) a potentially lucrative market.

I'm almost certain this incarnation of The Screening Room won't come to fruition, simply because there's too much momentum against it at this time. That being said, the support of major filmmakers like Spielberg and Abrams does give the inherent concept a major boost and I'm sure this won't be the last time Parker proposes something like this. I personally have nothing against this guy and his plans for delivering cinema to the masses, but I do find the concept of The Screening Room to lack one key area in terms of why seeing feature films in the environment of a movie theater...the communal element of going into a crowded auditorium, chock full of strangers, and all of these people immersing themselves in art for an elongated period of time.

Yes, we've all had those wretched moviegoing experiences where someone's bright cell phone screen briefly blind us or when we're seated in front a chatty Cathy who won't stop talking during the movie. But the positive experiences I've had in a movie theater far far far outweigh the negative ones, those occurrences where an entire room of strangers were united in their love of what was going on on the giant screen in front of us. You won't get an entire sold out crowd of individuals cheering and clapping for Han and Chewie first walking onto the Millenium Falcon in The Force Awakens with The Screening Room, nor nearly a hundred people sitting in stunned silence after Zero Dark Thirty's gut-wrenching ending. Great films can work whether you're seeing them in a theater with one other person or two hundred, but the experience of everyone getting absorbed the magic of cinema is an incredible thing unto itself. You can see the magic of good storytelling entrancing and amalgamating an entire cluster of people occurring before one's very eyes. Could that be something so easily replicated by The Screening Room?

Now, full disclosure, I don't think The Screening Room isn't an inherently bad thing, but it would enforce a greater sense of isolation in the general habit of moviegoers (why go out to a theater when I can stay home and watch Keanu?) and disrupt the unity driven experience of watching films in a movie theater. Many pieces of art (as well as challenge/entertain us) are built to bring us all together and I sincerely believe The Screening Room would be a deterrent to that fundamental cornerstone of the very concept of art itself.

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