The Bigger Picture: Film and the Age of Facebook

Written by Film, The Bigger Picture

mm_twitter[1]We live in a self-absorbed culture. Everything we do is shared through blogs, status updates, and tweets. Now that people have the Internet on their phones, nobody is more than a second away from an update. Yet, in this age of instantaneous content, cinema is still going strong.

Hollywood has panicked a bit in the last few years. For a time, box office numbers took a dive, and they began to blame their troubles on piracy. First, let’s discuss that logic. The entertainment industry always labels pirated works as “lost sales.” That’s not quite true. It’s difficult to predict whether the people who watch pirated movies would have actually paid for that work in the first place. People who use cracked software generally do so out of necessity, and how can the software industry really justify the prices they charge?

None of what I say is the equivocal truth, but then again, neither is the industry’s complaint of “lost sales.” I don’t even know where to look for ripped movies. The people who do it, thought prevalent, still make up an incredibly small number. Would it be justified for the retail industry to blame poor sales on shoplifting, and to call those incidents “lost sales?”

Now that the economy is in the tank, box office numbers have gone back up. Ticket prices haven’t gone down, nor are they even throughout the nation. In Los Angeles, most matinee prices are nearly $10. Los Angeles and New York are incredibly large markets. So much for the rules of supply and demand.

People are online more than ever now. Many are at home because they’ve lost their jobs. Others are struggling with the price of gas and groceries. Yet, amidst all this, people are still crowding movie theaters. Is it because people will pay any price for a distraction from the difficulties of their daily life?

Online networking sites have become ridiculously big. I resisted during the heyday of Myspace (heyday is now two years ago). Eventually I surrendered to Facebook, and have become a very willing participant. I still don’t understand Twitter, though. What these websites have done is help remove some of the anonymity of the Internet. People are more likely to act responsibly on these sites, because normal societal rules often come into play.

The film industry should also be thankful for the rise of these sites. They aren’t just a great marketing resource. They also provide the best advertising someone can get: word of mouth. I often see and participate in long discussions between Facebook friends about movies, and have received numerous recommendations this way. The excitement generated among friends is far more persuasive than any TV commercial could ever be.

Star Trek has become a huge phenomenon, and networking sites certainly played a large part. I didn’t really care for the movie, and made such a comment on my Facebook page. It didn’t take too long for responses to pile up, mostly in disagreement. In a couple hours’ time, the thread had become longer than any previous discussion I had initiated. People have strong opinions about that movie, and despite my insistence that it won’t have a very lasting impact I am resigned to the fact that people seem to respond to it well.

People are online so often now that it’s hard to believe people are willing to drive to a theater to watch a movie. Perhaps the Internet has become such a major part of our regular lives that a movie is a welcome break from it. After all, a dark movie theater is one of the only places where electronic devices are actively discouraged.

I think most people still want to pay for entertainment. High school kids don’t impress their dates by downloading Transformers 2. Making and spending money is something people take pride in, and I don’t think that’s likely to change anytime soon. How’s that for a free market argument?

Now pass this column around on your Tweets.

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