Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Just Want the Damn Screeners

Very rarely does moviegoing feel like a chore to me, but it does happen once in a while. (Like the time we decided to watch all three extended-edition Lord of the Rings movies in a single day... but that's another story.)

The 2014 Oscar nominations were announced on January 16th. The awards will be handed out on March 2nd. That's just forty-five days--barely a month and a half--for Academy voters (and interested civilians like moi) to make their decisions. And once again this year, there are nine Best Picture nominees. Nine! DeeAnn and I have seen three of them. The least depressing ones, apparently. More on that later.

I don't have a horse in this race, but suppose--just suppose--you're a conscientious Academy member who wants to actually watch all the nominated films before voting. Well, you've got your work cut out for you. Ballots are due back to PricewaterhouseCoopers for final tabulation no later than 5:00 PM Pacific Time on February 25th. And in the worst-case scenario--i.e., you haven't seen any of the nominees--you've got fifty-seven movies to watch in just forty days.

(ASIDE: it's not actually that bad, since fifteen of those nominees are short films--five each of documentary, animated, and live action--and you could cheat on original song by voting for a song without having seen the film in which it's featured, and you may not actually be eligible to vote in some categories because of your specific profession. But for the sake of the thought experiment, let's examine the absolute worst case here.)

If you wanted to watch every single one of the nominated films before voting, you'd have to watch an average of three movies every two days. That in itself is not a hardship--people pay to sit through much more than that at film festivals--but the catch is that many of these movies are only playing in theatres. If you're an Academy member in Los Angeles, your card will get you into any number of screenings for free, and you've probably also got a stack of DVDs at home sent to you by the studios. So it's just a matter of making the time.

But what about the aforementioned civilians, like myself, who are interested in the big pageant and want to have informed opinions at their viewing parties? That's a lot tougher. Of the Best Picture nominees, only one (Captain Phillips) has been released on DVD so far. A few years ago, Shorts International started packaging each year's nominated live action and animated shorts for limited theatrical runs (and sells some of them on iTunes, though availability there is spotty). Some of the foreign films might never see an American release. The only good news, I suppose, is that all the Documentary Feature nominees are available for home viewing, and four out of the five (The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, and The Square) are on Netflix streaming.

Which brings me to my point: why don't movie studios want to distribute their films more widely? It would seem to be to their advantage to let people buy--or even just rent--movies during awards season, when the media is all fired up about reporting on the races, and even smaller films can get a lot of exposure. Sure, I can pay to see all the Best Picture nominees--but I'd have to drive to at least three different theatres, and plan my day around whatever showtimes were available. If those movies were available to rent from Amazon Instant Video (not iTunes, because their rental interface sucks eggs), I would be all over that--and I'm sure a lot of other people would be, too.

The studios aren't making any more money by limiting my viewing options. They're actually losing money, because many of the films I would see now--while they're Academy Award nominees--I will forget about later, because most of them won't actually win an Oscar, and then I'll lose interest.

It's not the money that's the issue; it's convenience. I will totally spend as much as ten bucks on a movie rental, but I won't spend the time required to find a showtime and location that fit into my schedule. Because at the end of the day, it's just entertainment, and I have lots of other, more convenient options for fun things to do.



Brian Enigma said...

I suspect they've done some math around the opportunity cost and found it isn't worth it. The market generally demands a certain price for rentals. For example, looking at Amazon Prime, it's about $6 to rent The Fifth Estate, a relatively new release. That's $6 for you (and probably several friends if you're doing an Oscar screening party) to watch at your house (minus whatever Amazon takes). Netflix is worse, since you could theoretically watch all 57 movies (had they been available) for the same low monthly price. Letting you have it "early" for rental means you aren't going to the theater to pay $12 (per person). I believe most of that goes to the studios, which is why theaters are forced to charge crazy-money for snacks. Arguably, you could charge more for early rentals, closer to the $12 ticket price, but I suspect people will get confused/angered by the resulting pricing structure. Suddenly "New Releases" aren't the newest. There are "Pre-New Releases" that are more expensive and more new than "New Releases." Without a lot of detailed explanation, that looks like greedy money-grubbing to the layman.

CKL said...

All good points, but I gotta go with John Rogers here: "Fuck the math. I want my warp drive and laser watch." :)

If people really want to do something, they'll find a way to do it. "We don't know how" has never stopped us before.