On Wednesday, October 5th, 2011, Universal Pictures made a monumental announcement that would have a serious impact on the future of film and film going.
Tower Heist, a film by Brett Ratner, starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, hits theaters on the 4th of November. A very short 3 weeks later, Tower Heist will be released on Video On Demand.
Whoa. It may not sound like much, but this is serious business.
Up until now, the only pre-theater release films set loose on VOD have been small, indie flicks; or films that had very low box office expectations.
I love the concept of pre-theater release and same-day release for films that are released in very limited engagements. I had the chance to see Tucker and Dale vs. Evil as a result...George Romero's latest installment in the Dead series...Hobo With a Shotgun...and even another look at Kevin Smith's Red State, before its release on DVD.
This concept is a good thing...but will it work for a major studio release?
Better yet, will it work when the price tag on catching Tower Heist at home is...
Wait for it...
Okay, at first glance, that sounds absolutely effing crazy. When I told The Kid in the Helmet, his kneejerk reaction was nothing short of poetry:
Gotta love The Kid!
Okay, so again, everyone calm down. Yes, it sounds like an insane price. But think about it for a minute. Certainly, there is no way that this will become the standard means for people to see movies, or at least anytime in the foreseeable future. Yes, the "rich" will probably choose this option at their leisure because they can...damn corporate fat cats!
But, for the average movie going joes and jills, 60 beans is quite a financial commitment for a single movie...or is it?
Let me use myself as an example for a moment:
Two movie tickets: $20.00 at AMC Barrywoods
#1 Combo: $13.75
Bottle of Water: $5.00
Pack of Twizlers: $6.00
and here's the kicker...
Babysitter for Reel Rhino Jr.: $40.00
Do the math...it works out!
This model is not for your average afternoon solo flight to the theater, BUT...this completely works for:
Bunch of friends catching a flick and drinking beers night
Your kid's sleepover
Your kid's birthday party
A movie party theme night
You get the idea.
My initial reaction was quite like yours. I actually think this is a pretty lame way to give this a shot....three weeks later??!?
Ideally, if I am going to blow a load of cash on a flick like this, I am paying for the privilege of seeing it at home when I want, from the first moment it is available. But NATO (National Association of Theater Owners) is pretty unhappy at the prospect of the movie dollars shifting from their theaters to the cozy confines of everyone's living room and the high end home theater systems that have become so prevalent. In fact, Cinemark is already talking about boycotting Tower Heist altogether.
Times are changing and we are living in the digital age. I mean we are a far cry from the sedimentary society that was presented to us in WALL-E, but...times are a-changin'.
My fear is a real one, that rising prices for flicks and food at the theater will continue upwards as theaters try to react to this perceived encroachment on their livelihood. But what are they really doing for us?
I applaud the distributors looking at new means for getting the art to the audience. This is happening, just as it happened to the digitization of distribution of photographs; the transition of music from CD's to .mp3's; and the shift from the postal service and phone calls to e-mail and Skype.
Times are a-changin'...
So I say this...this idea is not a bad one. Necessity is the mother of all invention, and perhaps this is the penis showing game the theaters need to get their ass in gear (anybody catch that obscure reference to cult-favorite flick, WAITING?).
Here is what I want to see:
Reasonable prices for popcorn, soda, and candy. $7.75 for $0.22 worth of popcorn...hey, NATO, renegotiate the box office split with the studios...silently agree to spend a few years with lower profit margins...do something...do anything...but make this happen. I think if you do, you will be pleasantly surprised at how willing people are to actually purchase MORE of your product. Take an example from Kansas City's Sprint Center...they operate Quiktrip stores within the arena and sell re-donkulous amount of product to the more than eager arena-goers. Doesn't it make you mad the lengths that people go to sneaking outside food into the theater? Take some damn action.
Advanced theater going venues (ex. AMC's ETX) that don't have a huge upcharge attached to them...get over it, you upgraded your equipment. Absorb the costs a bit more and you won't have empty theaters for the upsold shows!
Show quality prints of older movies. Not just these digital re-releases that have been making the rounds, but more classic prints and short-time runs of the movies that have impacted cinema for so long. You know Gone With The Wind is the most successful film of all time (inflation adjusted) and you can get it dirt cheap basically anywhere you look. But I would pay a premium price to come and see this classic film on the big screen just once. There is money to be made out there, you just have to be willing to work for it.
Show special screenings of current films for roasts and live-tweet showings. Both of these types of viewings would encourage second viewings. Can you imagine if you got filmmakers and the film's stars involved? Getting to watch a movie with a live-tweeted running commentary by those involved with the film? Rian Johnson recorded an .mp3 commentary shortly after The Brother's Bloom was released so that you could watch the film with his commentary. Brilliant.
Really, my thesis here is this: You can't stop progress....you can adapt...or die.
I am glad that Universal is trying this out. It isn't an insane idea and for smaller films, it has already taken hold as a successful means for generating viewership for movies many people may not have had access to.
Film is an art form...isn't it sad that corporations and alliances are keeping this art from being released however the hell anyone associated with its creation wants it to be released.
I love going to the movies...that will never change. I love midnight screenings...that will never change. But I want the big movie houses and distribution companies alike to remember that they are working for me. I am the one holding the dollars they are fighting for...fight for me dammit!
I for one am looking forward to the right situation that presents itself so I want to drop $60 and catch one of these flicks at home. I am glad that I have another option, no matter how ridiculous the price seems on the face of things.
When silent pictures became talkies....when B&W flicks added color...when 2-D added depth...all of these changes have lead to forecasts of DOOM.
The world kept spinning and movies kept playing. This is the next evolution. Just remember, everyone who is fighting this out, are working for you. We need to demand better service, more options, and maybe even some decisions on green lighting flicks not based on a business model, but rather on the prospect of a movie being good.
If you build it, they will come.