Pat Pilcher: Wake up and smell the coffee Hollywood

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Sadly blockbusters with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars often bomb at the box office. I wonder why? Photo / Thinkstock
Sadly blockbusters with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars often bomb at the box office. I wonder why? Photo / Thinkstock

Paul Desmond (the president of the NZ Motion Pictures Exhibitors Association) wrote a great opinion piece the other day which really got me thinking. What is the future of movies? Why is Piracy such a big issue. Most important of all, where and when is it all going to end?

Paul says that "Nothing beats the thrill of watching a movie on the big screen". This made me wonder when Paul had last been to a cinema? I'm no cheapskate, but paying $12-$17 for a ticket, plus another $5 for a pair of popcorn grease smudged 3D glasses, not to mention massively marked up prices for confectionery really puts a dampener on all things cinema related.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that without fail, I usually end up sat behind a 6 foot something pro basketball player who all but completely blocks the view of the screen while there is usually some idiot next to me who decides to have a long and involved conversation involving 3 or more of their mates, each of whom are usually simultaneously texting on a cellphone that isn't switched to silent mode and whose screen is blindingly bright.

Then there's the state of some of the cinemas. While some truly excellent cinemas such as the Civic or Wellingtons Embassy exist, Paying a half to a third of the cost of DVD to see a movie (assuming said basketball player isn't blocking my view) and eat some vastly overpriced popcorn as the movie plays on a tea-towel sized screen complete with noise from an adjoining cinema all but drowning out dialog during quiet bits isn't good value, nor is it particularly magic, especially when 40" TVs are considered small and increasingly affordable home theatre systems can belt out astonishingly good surround sound audio nowadays.

Thank goodness for increasingly affordable DVDs and Blu-Rays.

Paul also says that the industry is under threat from piracy. We hear this a lot so I guess there must be something to it, otherwise Hollywood, and their local representatives wouldn't be saying it all the time. Interestingly a growing number of influential people are however saying otherwise.

Many like Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales have weighed in, saying that Hollywood needs to spend less time protecting its outdated infrastructure and focus more on moving into the digital age or the internet will do to Hollywood what Wikipedia did to encyclopaedias. It's a provable precedent and all told a pretty compelling argument. So why the big hold up? Why the lack of decent online movie content?

I also agree with Paul that movies are a fantastic art form, I just wish that Hollywood would stop insulting our intelligence with endless amounts of bad prequels and sequels that are little more than special effects rollercoaster rides with poorly scripted plots plus vacuous actors. Sadly blockbusters with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars often bomb at the box office. I wonder why?

Taking the above into account you needn't be rocket scientist to see that a growing number of people are looking for cheaper and more convenient ways to view movies? I don't know about you but I felt absolutely gutted having plunked down a serious wad of cash to watch the first Star Wars prequel or the last terminator movie.

I do however agree wholeheartedly with Paul that we all love a great movie or television show. I am however dubious about propping up an industry that seems more obsessed with making money than story-telling and art - Just look at how Jaws went from being a great movie to a never-ending series of increasingly downmarket sequels.

This isn't an isolated trend either, there's Star Wars, Rocky and god forbid even the Terminator. Would I pay $12-$17+ and sell my left kidney so I could afford some overpriced popcorn plus smudged 3d Glasses so I could to stare at the back of some dudes head to watch such crappy movies?

Paul also says that "It is that commonality of interest that will ensure the survival of the greatest form of story-telling ever invented". It might be more accurate to say that Hollywood better start making sure countries like New Zealand get affordable online alternatives or they'll be overtaken, to become an interesting but largely forgotten footnote in New Zealand's entertainment history?

Sadly Paul is however right on the money that piracy is a problem and even sadder still, are the relatively poor state of the available legal alternatives that are as convenient as piracy. While the movie industry and television is ideally suited for digital delivery, the lack of affordable, convenient and timely digital delivery mediums is not only bewildering, it is also driving many to infringe copyright.

Sure I can buy a DVD or Blu-Ray, and the good news is that these have become increasingly affordable, but once again, content is region locked and most titles don't appear on NZ retailer shelves until after they've screened in Outer Mongolia. Sigh

Perhaps the reality is that Hollywood needs to stop treating the public as criminals or dupes who'll hand over wads of cash to see any old rubbish and start looking at the problem as an opportunity. One suggestion is to start treating audiences with a little respect. Value their intelligence, and while Hollywood is at it, they should get rid of that lame "you wouldn't steal a car would you" advert that plays at the cinema - that copyright was infringed in the making of those adverts is simply too ironic.

Arguably piracy is more about convenience than price. I condone or condemn it, but it isn't hard to see that if you can download, install and/or play a pirated title from the convenience of a PC, how does that compare to a legal provider offering a region-locked version 3 months after its US release, which can only be purchased at a store that you'd rather not visit because you're a) insanely busy or b) the weather is too awful for going outdoors? You'd be right to assume that these are unfortunate incentives for many to pirate.

Equally adding DRM (digital rights management) is the digital equivalent of pouring petrol onto a bonfire. By hobbling or restricting the use of a movie or music title, DRM proponents are arguably pushing people to commit piracy. Pirated titles don't have stupid zoning or restrictions on what hardware they'll work with, so there's little to no wonder so many people are opting for the easier option.

The US has had legit online TV streaming services such as Hulu.com and Netflix for years. Yet their equivalents are at best abysmal by comparison. Pay TV locks you into a bundle of services you're probably never going to watch (but still have to pay for), and then launches new channels serving up 20 year content that most of us hated back in the 70's.

Many people have simply run out of room for storing any more Blu-Ray or DVD disks and catch up TV are really only a way of dishing up the same reality TV rubbish that has already been ignored, even though they're about as close as NZ gets to Hulu. Here's hoping Quickflix and EzyFlix get their acts together as we really need a decent legal alternative to what's currently on offer.

Paul is however quite right in saying that "If we don't find a co-operative means of making the movie business work for everyone then fewer big budget action thrillers and romantic comedies will be made. And all of us movie lovers miss out, even the pirates". If piracy continues to grow, it won't be long before there'll soon be little in the way of financial incentives for the accountants that run the movie studios to bother making movies (I do however wonder about indie film makers).

Piracy looks to be all but unstoppable as the movie and TV industry in New Zealand continue to procrastinate when it comes to delivering decent legal alternatives that are affordable, offer great content on an easy and timely basis. Getting this right would give the public a legitimate alternative to piracy, or so to speak, a carrot to the current copyright law stick. So how about it?

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