I’m still young enough that I can say that I dream of seeing my movies in a movie theater. There might come a time in the near future where movie theaters either don’t exist or are relegated to only show 3d and IMAX movies. They keep coming up with and reintroducing gimmicks to get people in the seats and I fear that one day the only thing that is left are the gimmicks and the good stories that want to be told just aren’t being funded anymore. The real talented people might in fact move to other artistic mediums like novels where they can focus on telling their stories without having to wait for a $80,000,000 budget to be approved.
But so far that hasn’t happened. Today there are still great movies that are being shown in the cinema and everytime I go to see a film there’s some part of me, way in the back of my head that dreams about one of my films opening on several thousand screens.
My little phone watching confession
With all that in mind, why do I watch most of my content on my iPhone? I mean, isn’t that somewhat sacrileges for a filmmaker? Not only do I watch most of my movies and tv shows on my phone, I actually (I can’t believe I’m admitting this) prefer it sometimes. The convenience of being able to watch something whenever I want has just become so great that I can’t resist. But before you judge and dismiss me as a hack or a hypocrite just admit silently to yourself that you love watching things on your phone too so we can at least have a conversation about it.
What is the movie going experience like today?
The movie going experience today is interesting. As an audience member we have a real fight between the theaters and the streaming platforms. With movies like Bright – Netflix is competing head to head with summer blockbusters. Most people become more attached to tv shows they watch than movies so really the pull to go see something in the theater isn’t nearly as strong as it is to watch something on your phone.
From what I can tell, there are only a small handful of reasons people still go to the movie theater in today’s market:
- It’s a movie they literally can’t wait to see. I’m reserving this for marquee filmmakers like Tarantino and franchises like Star Wars for die-hard fans. Everything else people can kind of wait for from my own little informal research on the subject.
- They like seeing special fx movies in the theater for the good sound and visual quality.
- They actually like 3D (Do these people exist? I hate 3D. I’ve yet to see one freaking film where it did anything for me)
- They’re cinephiles and have a snobby outlook about seeing certain films only in the theater.
- They have a true heart for cinema and go to the theaters to support it financially as a way to support the medium (my guess is this represents 0.000000001% of the audience)
- They’re bored and it’s an affordable activity to get them out of the house – from what I can tell this is the clear leader of the pack.
the pull to go see something in the theater isn’t nearly as strong as it is to watch something on your phone.
Going to the movies is part of the American culture. Just like eating popcorn at the movies is just engraved into the minds of Americans everywhere – going to the movies is something that is part of the social lexicon in this country.
Interesting side note – I once took an Italian foreign exchange student to see a movie and asked her if she wanted popcorn. She thought it was weird that Americans eat during a movie and considered it rude. I bought her one anyways just in case she changed her mind. She ate her whole tub of popcorn and some of mine…and the salt made her thirsty enough to down an entire large Icee – score one for America!
Movies are cheap enough (especially with things like moviepass coming out) that they’re still a great date option. It’s a cheap way to spend two hours seeing amazing performances, music and fx in a state of the art audio-visual theater. The shared experience of seeing a movie with a date or some friends is also quite appealing to people.
With all this in mind, the theaters still have a good chance of being around for a while and that has very little to do with the quality of the movies that are being produced. I actually think that movies in theaters are not judged by audiences against every other movie ever made but by the five to ten other titles they could see at the theater that weekend (at least when they’re buying their ticket and not ripping the movie apart over coffee after they’ve watched it).
If you’re not looking for something to do or enjoy watching things alone, the phone is kind of where it’s at most of the time.
The quality of most phones
Filmmakers often complain about people watching things on their phone because the quality isn’t anywhere close to a theater. I couldn’t disagree more. The quality of my iPhone is incredible. The picture is immaculate. The brightness is superb. And if I hold the phone about fifteen inches from my face its equivalent to watching a 70” monitor on the other side of my bedroom.
I also invested in a pair of decent headphones so not only is the sound better than any bedroom system under $20,000, I don’t have to deal with people talking to each other like I would in a movie theater. My attention is more focused when I’m watching things on my phone than it ever is at the theater.
Also, isn’t it great that you’re never late to a screening when it’s on your phone? Or that you can pause the movie if you have to use the restroom? I don’t like that I often stop watching things mid-way because something comes up with one of my kids but it’s a small price to pay for all the convenience. Oh, and let’s not forget that you can watch stuff while laying down in your bed? Does life get any better than that? Movie in bed? AMAZING!
The impression of seeing something on Netflix vs. a small art house theater
The last thing I want to touch on is the prestige factor of having a movie in a theater. There is definitely something about having a blockbuster in a theater alongside other blockbusters, but if you’re an independent filmmaker like myself and the dream goal is to get into Sundance or Cannes and then get a small distribution deal then the realistic best case scenario is a slow role out of the movie in independent cinemas like the Laemmle theaters. While getting into these small arthouse theaters is great and I really appreciate them for screening smaller films, let’s be honest – the seats at these theaters usually suck, the popcorn is quite often stale and old, and for most movie audiences they’re damn near toxic.
Even as a filmmaker, if I’m truly being honest with myself I’m much much much more impressed if a film comes up in my recommendation queue on Netflix than if it’s doing a short-run at a local art house theater. So the allure of the prestige has kind of fallen in today’s market as well. One day things may change but for the moment I’m totally in love with watching things on my phone and I’m kind of tired of filmmakers not looking at it as a valid way to watch a film.