The Screening Room

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 finscreeningroomagle 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 screeningroom3they’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 vangoghthe 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 screeningroom2cinema 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 screeningroom1where 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 screeningroom4Screening 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?

To recap:

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

Ron Howard

Frank Marshall

Whose side are you on?

 

 

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29 thoughts on “The Screening Room

  1. mikeyb @ screenkicker

    Well if someone as masterly as Brett Ratner is against it then I am too! This is a fantastic piece Jay, I’m conflicted about it though. I’m all for having choice in where you watch movies but I worry that we’ll lose the communal experience. Hopefully everything will work out OK 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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  2. Cassandra

    I am definitely pro. I would take the home option in a heartbeat.

    However, I would like to shout out to AMC Theaters in our area who have stripped their theaters and replaced the old uncomfortable seats with huge reclining seats you can reserve in advance. A lot of them also have added full bars in the lobby (nice touch). All without jacking up the price of a movie ticket. Bonus.

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    1. Jay Post author

      That IS a bonus. Coincidentally, AMC is the one theatre chain actually in talks to partner up with this endeavour. I guess they’re ahead of the curve!

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  3. That Other Critic

    I don’t think James Cameron should be allowed to act like he’s still relevant. It’s been like 7 years since Avatar, a film that nobody remembers or cares about, and 19 years since Titanic. People who have gained the ability to vote for Trump weren’t even born then. Make a film, then we’ll talk about “communal experiences,” Mr. Cameron.

    Liked by 3 people

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  4. Liz A.

    $50 is a bit pricey. It’s a good idea, but your average Joe moviegoer isn’t going to shell out that kind of cash for it. Not unless the price comes down a bit. I feel sorry for the movie theater industry. They’re hurting. But then again, maybe the technology is outdated. Movie theaters began when that was the only way one could see filmed entertainment. Not anymore.

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    1. Jay Post author

      When we go to the movies, we’re usually paying about $40 for the two of us to go to the VIP. IF you’re a family of 4, you pay at least that just for a regular movie at a regular theatre – and pray it’s not IMAX or 3D. Or what about the cost of babysitters, cabs, snacks?

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. fragglerocking

    Over here may be different, but a night at the movies is expensive and the seating is not comfortable one bit. No pause button, no bottle of wine or loo breaks that don’t miss the plot. When the have been to the cinema the only communal experience has been who can get out the door quickest at the end. We have a huge screen and 7 speakers in our movie room, can pause to go the loo, rewind the good bits, don’t have to put up with noisy communals and have an absolute blast. 😊

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  6. ninvoid99

    Honestly. I don’t think it’s a good idea at all. It takes away some of the social aspects of the film such as the need to discuss a film with a random stranger after the film is finished. The idea of just booing a bad movie with a bunch of people is fun. Why would I want to pay $150 for something I can pay $6-$7 for at a morning screening?

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  7. badblokebob

    There’s a kind of kneejerk reaction in me that says this is Wrong (I mean, if Brett Ratner condemns it, who are we to disagree?), but I’m also exactly the kind of household it’s aimed at — my partner can’t go to the cinema, and partly because of that (partly because of laziness) I’ve only bothered to go by myself 3 times in the last ~3 years. And I’m ostensibly a film blogger, so imagine what Normal People are like!

    I guess the film industry needs whatever tricks it can get to beat piracy now, anyhow. Sure, some people are always gonna steal, but if you can get even a percentage to pay $50 instead of $0 (or $50 on release weekend instead of $20-or-whatever months later on DVD/Blu-ray/etc), that’s a win.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Jay Post author

      Wow, I never thought I’d say this, but that’s TWO tshirts for #teambrettratner

      Thanks for chiming in. And yes, if it can whittle away at piracy at all, it’ll be a success.

      Liked by 1 person

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  8. J.

    Great post, Jay. A very interesting concept and I can see the attraction to it from both the industry and the viewer.

    It’s not replacing cinema and I dare say it’s unlikely to. But it gives people an option to stay at home – especially families. Also, the industry continues to get some cash in, which allows them to pay James Cameron to make a big CGI masterpiece. Everyone’s a winner!

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. kmSalvatore

    Wow, kool post Jay, and I am for it!! Fantastic concept for sure. Even though I am lucky we have the recliners in the theater we go to. It all make perfect sense. And if my Hubby and I watched more movies, it would be a great thing to have!!! I personally hate going to the show and putting up with people.and watching all my money leave my wallet. Right now it’s over 40. Bucks for us to see a movie.

    Liked by 1 person

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  10. Birgit

    I can see some people use this technology but the average Joe can’t afford this at all. I think people will still go to the theatre but the prices just need to come down a bit but also, I hate when a movie starts at 10:30pm. I think older people would go if the prices were a bit cheaper and not starting when we want to go to bed. The young people will find a way to stream or whatever, they need to concentrate on the people who are working and want to go out for an evening that they can afford and not fall asleep.

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  11. Nena

    I am all for movies at home! That is all we do now. I no longer enjoy going to the movie theatre. It smells like pee, people are loud and get up often throughout the middle of the movie, and many think it’s funny to add their own commentary for everyone to hear. I leave annoyed instead of feeling like it was a “communal art form” experience.

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  12. Christopher

    My knee-jerk reaction is to always be pro-theater. Uncomfortable seats, whining kids, people in front of me checking their phones, and me feeling like my bladder is going to burst because I made the mistake of getting a full-size drink for just a dollar more and if I leave now I won’t be back until the credits are rolling–these are inconveniences that I tolerate because I love the theatrical experience. There’s something about the theater itself that makes even the terrible aspects of it appealing to me.
    And then I kept reading. I thought about what you missed because of back surgery and parents with kids and people who, for whatever reason, can’t get to the theater.
    In an ideal world we could have both the theaters and a convenient home experience, but if it ever comes down to one or the other I’d gladly give up all the inconveniences I love if it means more people will be able to enjoy first-run movies. Taking that away from others would be like stopping a film at its climax and making a crowded theater wait because I’ve gotta go pee.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Jay Post author

      That’s really sweet thinking. I think this service really aims to capture the crowd that doesn’t go to the theatre, while actually trying to help theatres stay alive for everyone else. With the proposed $50, it would include 2 theatre tickets to go see the movie again, if you so choose – either way,a portion of the profits are going to theatres showing the movie.

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  13. tubularsock

    Well ………. Tubularsock likes a film once in a great while but most are pure garbage! So if Tubularsock does venture off to a movie theater the plan is to see the film about four days after the release on a weekday early matinee. Ninety percent of the time I’m an audience of one with a huge screen and wonderful sound system for the price of a discounted ticket.

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  14. SLIP/THROUGH - Dan

    I’m team anti screening room. Some reasons why: Comedies and horror are better with an audience. Plus, with device, let’s say 10 buddies come over. That more than 1 missed theatre ticket. So, movie budgets will drop. No more blockbuster epics. On pro side, if device makes indies available for cheaper, more people will risk watching small movies. You mention a lot of other good bonuses too. With Netflix making big budget movies now, why spend 50 bucks, when you can watch a lot for free… included with subscription fee. By this, I mean we have a free version of Screening Room already, especially if you can wait a couple of months. Great article though. Families and other health issues are best benefit, but more than this demographic will use box. If everyone uses new device we will be left with 2 hour versions of tv shows vs a movie. Then, there’s the whole piracy issue. What happens when box is cracked?

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    1. Jay Post author

      Sean Parker claims it’s piracy proof, but we know that nothing is. Piracy already exists though, and is rampant. Netflix is great, but it puts people at a disadvantage. Some people who are confined to their homes would like to be on Twitter right now discussing Batman V Superman, but that won’t be on Netflix for months or years, if ever.

      I agree that comedies are better with a crowd, but for me, horrors are impossible in a theatre. I have several coping methods that deserve the privacy of my own home – and believe, that’s to the benefit of the general public. No one needs to hear me humming to myself!

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. SLIP/THROUGH - Dan

        HHahah love your horror preparation! Those confined to home would definitely enjoy the theatrical releases day and date, but I think so many more than this small section of movie fans would use this device. I’m sure Sean Parker is banking on it. I’m scared about how this could turn south. Plus, the wait for big releases is way faster than when I was a kid. Revenant is already available from streaming services, and Star Wars is early April, so that’s like a 3 month wait. Unfortunately, today is satisfaction now oriented. If everyone stops going to the theater we could see the big budget films all disappear and we’ll never get another Star Wars or BvS type large-scale adventure.

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  15. Ben

    This is the first time I’m hearing of this and it’s a great idea. It’s an extra option and as was pointed out, it won’t stop people still going to the cinema to get that same experience. Hope it comes to the UK because I’m interested.

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