So, someone has to ask this and it might as well be me.
What exactly was up with all the DVD bashing at the Oscars?
The Academy Awards began with a little bit of a shaky start; first-time host Jon Stewart seemed a bit nervous and restrained with his slow, deliberate - and rather safe - opening monologue. It was only later - when introducing prepared film parodies and when ad-libbing about events that had just taken place onstage - that he came into his own.
But what most interested me as a DVD guy was the unexpected and completely unwelcome insults thrown at the home video industry.
First we had Sid Ganis, new president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (these are the folks who put the Academy into the Academy Awards). He muttered something about how watching films in a theatre with a big screen and an audience full of people is the only way to go... that you're not getting the true picture if you watch the film at home.
Then there was actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who - in prepared remarks apparently written for him - introduced a film montage, one of several unnecessary and ineffective montages for the night. (Note to Gil Cates: you'll have more room for the acceptance speeches next time if you cut out the montages.) In his intro, Jake said something about how you simply can't watch movies on a TV and wished us luck trying to watch one of these films on a "portable DVD."
I'm not even sure what that means, as all DVDs are portable. I guess he meant a portable DVD player and was trying to suggest that big films (he was introducing a montage on "epic" movies) suffered when seen on a small screen.
Well, there's some truth to that.
Comedies, while not normally needing a big screen for their visual effects, do indeed benefit by the presence of other theatergoers and the infectious nature of public laughter. It is funnier with several hundred (or a thousand or more) strangers laughing along with you.
But all the films nominated for "Best Picture" this year are small in scale, except for their ideas.
They all play beautifully (or will) on DVD. And the film that unexpectedly took home the big prize - "Crash" - may have won specifically because people watched it in their homes.
Not only has the film been commercially available on DVD since September, but the studio (Lionsgate) sent out an unprecedented 130,000 DVD screeners (promotional copies) to members of the Academy and other showbiz types, so they could watch the film when and where they pleased. (The DVDs are portable, after all.) If you didn't get your copy, Sid, contact Lionsgate and I'm sure they'll rectify the error.
Seriously, though, just where are Sid and Jake watching their movies?
I live in New York and I can count on one finger the number of show palaces that remain... large theatres with humongous screens and sound systems that will not only knock your socks off, but most of your undergarments, too.
Seeing a film at the Ziegfield Theater is indeed an experience.
But most theatres I go to in New York (and Los Angeles) have postage stamp size screens, filthy bathrooms and sound that bleeds through from one theatre to the next so you hear loud explosions during sensitive dramas. The theatres I go to have sticky floors, rude employees and even ruder audiences, who talk through much of the film.
When you complain to theatre management, they shrug their shoulders and hand you a business card for the "district manager" (often in another city) so you can call and complain. The phone number is never answered by a human being and so you leave a voice-mail message, which is never returned.
No, Jake, you're right. I can't have that kind of experience with a "portable DVD."
The theatregoing experience is exactly why many people prefer watching films at home and why video windows (the delay from theatre premiere to the home video release) are shrinking.
At home, I watch what I want when I want. If I'm hungry I can eat healthy popcorn or a salad or pig out on a pastrami sandwich or a pizza. I can stop for a phone call or a bathroom break. I can play a particularly dense scene over and over if I don't understand all the complicated plot points - or if Mrs. Dossier talks over a scene - or she's fallen asleep.
I have a 34 inch digital television and, frankly, given the size of most theatre screens these days, the picture looks pretty darn big (and often better quality than a scratchy print that's been running for weeks or months down at the local multiplex).
Hey, Sid, did you ever hear of biting the hand that feeds you?
Tell me, I'm really curious about this... how can you be a producer and the president of the Academy and yet somehow be unaware that most films make more money from their home video release than they make in theatres? This has been going on for about ten years!
"The Incredibles" made over $100 million the first day the DVD was released, compared to $93 million in theatres in its first week. The first week "The Passion of the Christ" was released on DVD, it made $134 million. First week in theatres? $119 million.
And "Ray" took in $75 million in DVD sales in its first week, exactly the same amount it made after twenty weeks in theatres.
Last week, "Walk the Line" sold three million units on its first day of sale. Even at a discounted price of about $15 a pop (for the Single Disc Edition), that's still equivalent to more than a third of the film's gross in theatres so far.
Clearly, people like watching movies on TV.
Does it really make sense to come down hard on the home video experience when millions of people are watching the Academy Awards at home, many of them on their brand new fancy schmancy HDTVs with superior picture and sound?
Talk about Hollywood being out of touch!
How do you think they felt when you told them they just spent $1500 or $2000 on something not all that worthwhile?
As for the films you yourself have produced... Sid, baby, sweetie, are you really trying to tell me that "Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo" must be seen on the big screen? That "Big Daddy" is somehow bigger and daddier in theatres? That we're not having the complete "Mr. Deeds" experience if we don't see it at the cinema?
I'm not here to argue that going to a theatre to see a BIG movie is not a worthwhile experience (provided the theatre is well maintained and the audience doesn't misbehave), but the fact is they're not making many BIG movies anymore.
Now we can "chicken and egg" that discussion all we want - are there no big movies because people aren't going to the theatres or are people staying away from theatres because there are no big movies? - but the fact is that the home video business is on the rise.
Whether we watch those movies on DVD or whether they get downloaded directly to our TVs, people will continue to watch and enjoy Hollywood's best at home.
If for some reason the Academy believes that going to a movie theater is vastly superior or that it's the way to somehow "save" the business, then do something to get people in theatres.
Make GOOD movies. (If you make them, they will come.)
Make BIG movies. (Pleasant though it may be, there's no compelling reason to see "Jiminy Glick in La La Wood" in a theatre.)
Make theatregoing PLEASURABLE.
The theatres that will succeed in the future are the ones that create an experience you truly can't have at home. Theatres with plush seats or sofas. Boutique theatres that serve gourmet food and cocktails, with valet parking and childcare.
More traditionally, theatres that focus on quality, service and preserving the integrity of the movie-going experience will prosper.
What do I mean when I say "preserving the integrity of the movie-going experience?"
I'm talking about removing patrons who talk and those who insist on taking and making cell phone calls during the movie. I'm talking about cleaning the theatre - really cleaning the theatre - so I'm not sitting in the residue of week-old junior mints and soda pop.
I'm talking about properly installing and maintaining seats so that I don't have to see a chiropractor after every show. I'm talking about maintaining a comfortable temperature in the theater, so I don't have to wear an overcoat or strip down to my skivvies to watch the film. (I'm talking about removing patrons who insist on stripping down to their skivvies.)
I'm talking about cleaning the bathrooms so I don't have to walk through a pool of other men's urine in order to relieve myself or wash my hands. (While you're at it, why not refill toilet paper and paper towels more than once a week? That would be nice.)
Most importantly, I'm talking about having quality prints of each film and having projectionists who monitor what's actually being shown in the theatre to make sure everything is running smoothly; I'm talking about having ushers who actually move through the theatre at regular intervals to monitor audience behavior.
You encourage theater owners to do all that, Sid, and I'll go to see movies on (what passes for) the big screen more often.
Oh, and I'm sorry about what I said before. "Duece Bigalow" was better in theatres. In fact, the special effects were amazing... in one scene, they actually made it look like Rob Schneider was acting.