You may have heard that Sean Parker is hoping to get his latest venture, Screening Room, into your living room sometime soon. What is it? It’s a little black box that you’d have to purchase for, say, $150, and that box would enable you to spend yet more money! Sound good?
For about $50, you’d get to watch a new movie in your home on the day it’s released in theatres. No more waiting for months for it to be out “on video”. Throw a few bucks at the problem, and there you are, eating snacks you bought for a reasonable price at the grocery store, pressing pause to pee, with all the elbow room you can finagle from your spouse and your dogs, and even a faux-fur throw to keep you cozy on the couch. You don’t even have to wear pants!* (presumably – no guarantee)
But don’t worry: if you love the experience of sitting in a theatre with a few hundred gassy strangers, that option is still open to you, because cinemas aren’t going anywhere. So either way, you’re covered.
Unless James Cameron has a say, and since he believes he does, he’s already said it. Cameron, along with his producing partner Jon Landau, have said they’re “committed to the sanctity of the in-theatre experience” which sounds a little creepy seeing how we’re talking about a dark room with sticky floors and seating that I’m afraid might have lice. “We don’t understand why the industry would want to provide audiences an incentive to skip the best form to experience the art that we work so hard to create.”
You seriously don’t understand it? You don’t understand that $50, while pricey, is still a bargain compared to an average night out at the movies? That inflated prices are keeping people away from your precious “art” and that with the rise in quality of home theatres, your sacred blue people will view just as well at home, and more comfortably. I’m sure Van Gogh isn’t thrilled that his most famous paintings are reproduced on coffee mugs, but do you hear him complaining? No. Because not everyone can afford a trip to New York City to the Museum of Modern Art, where The Starry Night is currently displayed (price of admission: $25). So now the masses can enjoy works of Van Gogh just about everywhere – on shower curtains, on umbrellas, on postcards, and Google. If Van Gogh can be a big boy about it, James Cameron, so can you.
Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, J.J. Abrams, and Peter Jackson all support the technology, becoming stakeholders in the company. So this is causing quite a rift in the film community, a real Hollywood civil war, if you will. And what gives – don’t Spielberg and Abrams direct the same kind of blockbuster movies that demand big screens?
Sure they do. And tent pole movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens will continue to see lots of people swarming to cinemas to have their bones rattled and their eyeballs go dry. But smaller movies struggle to get any theatre release at all. Often I’ll mention a movie I think is great and people write “sounds good, but that will never come to my small town!” and that’s true – if your small town has a 6-theatre Cineplex, chances are, 4 of those screens are playing the super hero movie, one is playing an animated film for families, and then you have just 1 screen left to divide up between all the worthy films.
M. Night Shyamalan, who nobody asked but still likes to pretend he’s relevant in the world of movies, came down decidedly against the startup. “I am completely against the Screening Room. Film is one of our last communal art forms. There are other ways to experience art on your phone and laptop. But cinema is a group of strangers sharing stories and it belongs in a theater. Once filmmakers and theater owners open the door to this idea, there is no going back. The movie going experience is something to fight for! Watching a movie by yourself & watching a movie in a theater are two very different experiences. Film is meant to bring people together.”
The worst thing is, I don’t even really disagree with him. That’s why I still go to movies, like all the frickin time. But “bring people together?” C’mon, man, let’s be real, unless by “bring people together” you mean communally shushing someone, because how dare some random movie goer talk over an important plot point of Transformers? I’ve been to movies that are made funnier because the whole audience is laughing together. I’ve been to movies where the audience spontaneously burst into applause at the end because we were so moved. But I’ve been to too many movies where I’m disturbed by someone’s candy wrappers, hacking coughs, crying kids, deep abiding need to state obvious, observable facts, and an increasing inability to sit for 90 minutes without checking their goddamned phones. Is that part of your “art”, M. Night?
Movie attendance is down, way down, and all theatre owners can think to do is keep jacking up prices without offering a more pleasant experience. The people are already downloading the movies illegally just to avoid overpaying for a subpar experience – why not offer a legal service that will fill the need? Peter Jackson feels that while he opposed other similar ventures, he’s behind Screening Room because it doesn’t “cannibalize” theatres – “Screening Room is very carefully designed to capture an audience that does not currently go to the cinema.” And that’s a pretty big audience. Because movie watchers aren’t just people who prefer theatres or not, they’re also made up of people who don’t have a choice. I missed a bunch of movies when I had back surgery and was attached to too many machines to travel. I still miss them intermittently (and always have, and always will) when my back is acting up and I don’t want to risk those shitty chairs. Parents with young kids who can’t get a babysitter will rejoice. Canadians who get snowed in or iced out will benefit. And people who are immobile, and families that deal with all kinds of physical and mental health problems who just aren’t able to tolerate a public theatre. Shouldn’t they have a venue for great “art” too?
Pro Screening Room: Anti Screening Room:
Steven Spielberg Chris Nolan
JJ Abrams M. Night Shyamalan
Martin Scoresese James Cameron
Brian Grazer Brett Ratner
Peter Jackson Jon Landau
Whose side are you on?