Hollywood has always wanted to be on the cutting edge of new trends and technologies. Audiences have been treated to DBOX, 3D, the brief 4D phase, the beloved Cinerama, and I’d be disappointed with myself if I didn’t bring up Smell-O-Vision, a technology so great it was only used for 1960’s Scent of Mystery (what a pun). After various on demand and subscription services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu among others, Sean Parker, peeks out after being lambasted in David Fincher‘s The Social Network, with a revolutionary product that may change what we think of as the home theatre experience. He’ll build us our very own Screening Room.
The Screening Room, a service dedicated to bringing you new Hollywood films with the same release date in theatres, is dividing filmmakers, theatre owners, and distributors alike. With this service, you would be able to watch the latest films for the hefty price of 50 dollars a film that you must watch within 48 hours of your purchase and a one time fee of 150 dollars for the box that you would install in your home for the privilege of not having to leave your abode. Of course, you’d think major theatrical chains wouldn’t be taking this movement very lightly. Sean Parker has allegedly said that exhibitors would be getting a 20 dollar cut from the initial 50 per movie, and 2 free tickets to see the same film in theatres.
It’s incredibly surprising to see filmmakers like, Steven Spielberg, J.J Abrams, Peter Jackson, Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese, on board for this proposal which may change the way we see films from here on out. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that without the theatrical experience, Spielberg’s career would miss out on some of the impact it once had, and that also goes for Peter Jackson and Ron Howard, two of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster magnates. Of course, there are other filmmakers and some of Tinseltown’s best, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, and Roland Emmerich, have come together to “protect the cinematic experience.”
Among the detractors including the prior filmmakers, are the National Association of Theatre Owners who just recently said these models “should be developed by distributors and exhibitors in company-to-company discussions, not by a third party.” But they do “genuinely appreciate the vision and creativity brought to the big screen by motion picture directors.” The Art House Convergence, a collective of hundred of specialty theatres and joined ventures agreed with NATO(?) seeing this new technological venture as “a decline in overall film profitability through the cannibalization of theatrical revenue.” And Tim League, creator and owner of Drafthouse Films and the Drafthouse theatre chain warns the film industry that “adoption of this technology and the piracy threat it presents as a grave disservice…” But as people who take in the movies, but don’t have a stake in the money between distributors and the cinematic experience, what does this all mean for us?
What this means is that we have another way of watching movies that we didn’t have before. Streaming services have been around for more than a few years and arguably has kept the market of filmmaking afloat to an audience that wouldn’t find the time to go out to see a movie in the first place. Those services have increasingly started to pick up independent movies from various film festivals, most notably when Beasts of No Nation was picked up by Netflix for worldwide distribution. The merit of how successful that venture was for Netflix is up for debate, but we can’t pretend that the future of Hollywood wasn’t already moving in a completely different direction than movie studios already wanted.
The Screening Room is Hollywood’s answer to Netflix, Amazon, and the rest of the streaming services trying to catch up. Hollywood has the exclusivity factor of which films come out at a certain date and when you can see them. By doing this, studios can pick up the profits from the people who would usually stay at home and watch Netflix, and those people can watch brand new films. As to whether this model can actually succeed is the true question. Parker and friends have already given the theatre chains, that would generally be upset, the most by giving them a hefty amount of the profit. It’s whether or not the general public wants to pay the initial $150 price tag.
Almost all streaming services have the easy access to the internet which takes out the middle man of a special box that needs to be purchased to see these movies. The services are also relatively cheap at around $10 each depending on the type of subscription you have, where a single film with The Screening Room will cost you $50 dollars, and that’s just for one movie. But for those incredibly fortunate to put down that kind of money, it sounds like it could only be a win. There are no people that would prefer to go out to see a movie rather than staying at home and relaxing with a movie in front of you. You could even bring your friends over and you can have a viewing party together (something I don’t think the studios have really put much thought into).
Studios also completely miss the concept of piracy here. While they have constantly complained about the diminishing returns of piracy to their business models despite many films are still making boatloads of money (e.g. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Deadpool), they don’t understand that people will find a way to pirate their films regardless. It will probably be even easier to do so now. Parker and the backers of The Screening Room can’t stop that.
But what about the cinematic experience? Is it going to die now that The Screening Room is here? How much hyperbole can this debate spark up in the next few months? The cinematic experience and the theatres willing to show them will still be here. Even with the amount of movies that would be readily available to us, there is really no guarantee that every studio would be okay with this. There are a multitude of hoops to jump through in this situation and there will need to be compromise; that is something that won’t be found here with some *cough* Disney. The theatres would never allow their businesses die because of some nifty little box they get some profit out of. There is no way theatres would close down with the amount of money they will still make with IMAX and the various premium formats that are available. Specialty theatres don’t really have a large stake in this argument. The independent studios have been living off VOD for quite some time now and their audiences will still be in the auditoriums to see those films.
And I wouldn’t trade the full cinematic experience I have for anything. Despite how many times I ask someone to stop talking, or turn off their cellphone, when the situation is right, the experience of being taken into a film with hundreds of other people is singular and unrivaled. There was nothing like watching the Millennium Falcon soar over the dunes of Jakku last year and there was certainly nothing like the chaos of Mad Max: Fury Road that would be as stunning as it was in a packed theatre with people that were equally enraptured by Miller’s wonderful action as I was. The cinematic experience will never die as long as there are people still willing to get lost in the worlds that are built for us by veteran filmmakers and new ones alike. And as long as we’re there to support them, we can guarantee that generations of people after us can feel as excited as we were watching a movie on that big screen.
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