Video on demand is a double-edged sword for the film industry. On one hand, it gives audiences access to films they would otherwise have never known about let alone watched. It allows parents with young children to see something besides the latest family-oriented feature. And, of course, it’s a fraction of the cost. But on the other hand, it detracts people from going out to the theater and experiencing the art the way it was meant to be experienced. Viewing an improper display of any form of art can adversely affect the viewers’ opinions and/or lead to misinterpretation--which can sometimes be worse than disliking the product. Movie houses--most notably AMC Theatres--are trying to get people back into the cinema by upgrading the amenities and making it a more luxurious experience. Alcoholic beverages are now offered at many locations, the leather seats recline, and the self-serve pop machines offer so many options one becomes overwhelmed by the mere sight of that soulless, inanimate object. Earlier this year, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas hypothesized an “implosion” of the film industry where anything from ticket prices reflecting budget to a night at the movies being a $150 formal spectacle more akin to a night at the opera. Personally, I think having to pay $150 for a movie is deplorable.
So what is there to do? Should theaters continue on this age-old path of simply making things “better” and raises prices? Or is this an opportunity to try something really innovative? Enter director David Lowery whose latest feature, Ain’t The Bodies Saints, is being enjoyed by audiences and critics alike. To promote his film and promote three films of his friends (Short Term 12, Drinking Buddies, and You’re Next), Lowery proposed the #ATBSquapruplefeature. If a movie-goer sees all four films within one weekend and tweets a picture of all four ticket stubs, s/he would receive a prop from the film. Soon, producers and directors of the other film jumped on board and offered various items from their respective movies. Lowery made it clear the distributors hadn’t endorsed this giveaway “in any way, shape or form.” My question is this: why wouldn’t the distributors jump on this fantastic idea?
Movie houses have their own system of “frequent viewer” perks ranging from weekly coupons to free tickets. It’s not a new concept, and unfortunately it is one of which few people take advantage. But if this idea was put in practice at the distributor level it could do what the cinemas have struggled so desperately to do over the last few years: get people in the seats. Imagine a scenario in which you’re with your friends and trying to figure out what to go see. You’ve narrowed it down to two films: Film A and Film B. Both look equally interesting and start at the same time, but then you realize Film B has been released by Distributor X. You happened to have seen the other two films Distributor X recently released so you say, “Hey, y’know if we go see Film B, I get a free t-shirt from the distributor.” If your friends are any friends at all, they will understand the importance of a free t-shirt and Film B will be the show for the night. Your friends (hopefully) enjoy the film, you get a free t-shirt, and Distributor X has that many more people seeing their latest release. Everybody wins.
Of course, to think this can be done and accurately tracked throughout the course of several weeks is a disaster waiting to happen. Chicago, for example, was incapable of completing the #ATBSquadruplefeature. By the time Short Term 12 hit the market, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints had left causing some people who would have seen the film regardless of a giveaway (me) to miss out on watching the film the way it was meant to be watched. Further, rolling releases make it very difficult to pin down a specific date for a specific market as opposed to much larger releases such as Iron Man 3, The Wolf of Wall Street, et al. which stake their claim months--sometimes more than one year--ahead of time. But if a smaller distributor were to “block release” all of its movies in one weekend and offer an incentive to audiences members to see all of them within a certain period, they would have a fighting chance against the larger releases whose marketing depends primarily on star power. Not only would it also boost revenue for the movie houses by having people see that additional movie and buying the additional box of candy, the word-of-mouth campaign and social media marketing would feed back to both the distributor and the movie houses. In turn, this would alleviate many issues of a film not receiving adequate advertising finances. Music Box Films brought The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to the United States in 2010 which proved to be lucrative, but caused many people to miss Mesrine--arguably the best gangster film of the decade--because of a lack of knowledge as to the existence of the film. And now it seems to be slowly drifting off into obscurity. While not everyone would willing or able see five movies in one weekend, they would at least be aware of an alternative(s) to the big blockbuster about which they would have otherwise been clueless.
This idea of “binge watching” has become more popular recently. When The Avengers was released, audiences had the option of purchasing a $25 ticket to watch Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America before the premier. Earlier this year, audiences had similar options with the releases of A Good Day to Die Hard and The World’s End. I agree that the movie theater experience is a spectacle--it always has been. But is it going to remain a spectacle because tickets cost $150 or because guerrilla marketing has turned it into a special event people mark their calendars for, tweet, post, blog, and otherwise create a buzz about?