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Popcorn and Other Food for Thought

21 Apr, 2004 By: Jessica Wolf

When you work in the video industry, it’s easy to get in a rut of waiting for the DVD to see a film. I know my actual theatrical movie attendance has diminished quite a bit as of late.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone to see a movie in the theater in the past six months (including two press screenings just last week) — and I love going to the movie theater (yes, part of it is for the popcorn).

I’ve had interesting experiences during the exhaustingly long preview reels for two of the films I’ve caught in theaters lately.

The first was at the midnight screening the day The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King hit theaters. There was a sense of camaraderie in the air — after all, we’d been sitting there together waiting for several hours.

The previews finally started to roll, launched by that antipiracy PSA that’s been cropping up so often these days. In it, an everyman Hollywood crew guy spoke very endearingly about his work and what movies mean to him, pointing out that they are his livelihood. Now he’s not rich or famous, but he relies on movies to pay his bills, he reminded the audience. The PSA ends with a phrase that goes something like this “Stop illegal downloading and keep everyone working — movies….they’re worth it.”

OK fine, on with the rest of the previews, one a sci-fi action sequel that shall remain nameless. In the seconds of silence following it, one audience member let out a loud guffaw and said “Yeah, that’s a download.”

Snickers came from the rest of the theater along with a loud, sarcastic retort from a moviegoer across the room. “Aww, but think of the lighting guy.”The rest of the theater erupted in laughter.

Now I’m not judging, and I’m actually hopeful that the MPAA or other groups can inspire a strong enough sense of integrity or even shame to curb illegal downloading of films, after all my livelihood kind of depends on it, too. But more importantly, it’s illegal, it’s thievery, and it’s just plain wrong.

However, I don’t think many people like to feel like they are being emotionally manipulated, which was how that PSA came across that day.

Another anecdote made me think about how reliant the studios are on DVD revenue. That’s an obvious statement, but one that hit home while I was watching the previews before Kill Bill Vol. 2 last weekend.

To not embarrass the studio, I won’t mention the name of the movie, but let’s just say it’s an action thriller sequel with no major stars, not the highest level of special effects — basically a direct-to-video hit.

The audience actually laughed at the preview in all its hyperdramatic previewness.Now maybe it’s a good movie, maybe the preview just didn’t play well, but judging by how much of the plot it gave away (I hate that) it’s pretty safe to say this flick won’t be in theaters long.

It seems to me that the supplier for this (let’s face it) ‘B’ movie is banking on the idea that a splash of awareness that will come from a theatrical burst will boost DVD sales and rental revenue.

Music DVD suppliers have learned lately that a theatrical “premiere” can do a lot for the all-important first-week sales, and I think that’s what’s happening with this particular feature, and others.

Around the watercooler at Video Store Magazine we often discuss how a theatrical run can serve as a marketing tool — granted an expensive one — for the eventual DVD release, if the window is small enough. And it will likely work.

I’m willing to bet that a press release for the preview I saw last weekend will slither across my desk fairly quickly.

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