The Internet Killed the Movie Star?

Hello Vietnam and various other countries! Welcome to my podcast my name is Hailey and I am about to take you on a trip of revelation and self reflection, but this isn't a yoga class. No. This is a learning opportunity. A time to make a change. So grab the popcorn, put up your feet, and get ready for the best 15 minutes your ears will ever experience.

You’re listening to inQuery! The podcast show run by the professional writing students here at York University. We’re talking about the technology today while creating the ideas of tomorrow.

As a kid I grew up watching a lot of classic movies. Ocean’s Eleven, the Indiana Jones movies, Forrest Gump, and of course the classic Disney movies. This left me with a bit of a high standard for movies, which was really strange considering I was like eight and probably shouldn’t have watched half the movies I did, but regardless, I’m 18 now, and I’ve got to say, I’m not happy. I’m not happy with what I’m watching. And neither are some other people. You ever heard of Dustin Hoffman? Probably not but that’s okay. To catch you all up he’s a Hollywood actor who’s been in the business for over fifty years. A couple of months ago he did an interview with the Independent where he said film is the worst it’s ever been right now. The guy who participated in “Meet the Fockers” and “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” thinks movies are the worst they’ve ever been right now..... wow. That’s a big statement, but... is there merit to it? Well, kind of. Don’t get me wrong it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but ticket sales for movies peaked in 2002 and in 2014 the number of people who went to the movies was the lowest it has been in the past two decades (Nadeau) . Why is that? Well let’s all remember that around 2002 the Internet was starting to pick up. As it started to pick up people began finding more ways to access information, news, entertainment. This includes movies. The world of movie piracy went digital and it made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. Now some of you might be wondering what movie piracy is exactly. The official definition for movie piracy is “the illegal copying and distribution of movies in print, videos, DVDs or electronic files (The Film Foundation).” This has been going on for decades and in many different ways, however the age of file sharing and downloading has had the biggest impact. Technology is changing faster than the industry can respond to, and this has resulted in the scales tipping in favour of the pirates (Billboard). This is also heightened because internet users are becoming more accustomed to watching videos online (Madden, 4). Keep in mind that developments in technology make peer-to-peer file sharing ( much easier than before.With the click of a button you can watch the hottest movie. And in a lot of ways this seems great. But, is it really? In our attempt to access movies, are we hurting the thing we love? Is the Internet killing the movie star?

We all know at least one website where you can go online and watch a movie for free. Some of you may refer to them as “sketchy websites”. When I think of these websites, putlocker comes to mind, yidio, movie8k, but there are so many more. Now these kind of websites have their faults; poor quality, multiple pop-up ads, risk of computer viruses, I mean I bet each of you has been asked to order a Russian bride after trying to watch something on those sites. Maybe even chinese, but hey, I don't judge After all that though, people still use those sites! That is mind boggling! Why would people put themselves through those poor quality websites instead of just going to the theatre? Well let’s think about an attribute these websites are: free. Let's think about that word free. Not having to pay at all. That sounds mighty appealing, especially when adult movie ticket prices can go over $12.00. That... is a lot of money. Maybe the thing is, people just don’t want to spend money on movies. Well I wanted to find out. I conducted a survey with students at York University, late teens to early twenties as they are the prime demographic of moviegoers, and I asked them if they’d ever used a free movie watching website and why. Of my twenty surveyors, ninety-five percent said they had watched a movie online illegally. Also, fifty percent said they watched newly released movies online. Now, what are their reasons for this? The big ones were because it’s cheap and convenient, the other being that they were too lazy to go to the theatre. Are these valid reasons? Well, movie tickets are pricey, and it is easier to stay at home instead of going to a theater. Society doesn’t like spending money, technology now allows us to avoid that. People don’t like having to leave their home if they can help it, technology now allows us to avoid that. It seems like all of our deepest wishes have come true. Regardless, these are bringing up some serious problems that people are naive to. I'm not going to rant to you about the consequences of pirating movies because let’s be real, if you skip through the FBI warning before DVDs you certainly aren’t going to listen to me. What I am going to do though is tell you all about how the seemingly harmless act of watching movies online for free is actually becoming the downfall to the film industry.

Now I could very easily sit here and tell you how piracy is destroying jobs and livelihoods ( but I don't think that's really going to hit you in the place that it needs to, so I’m going to talk about something everyone loves instead. Let’s start at it from the perspective that matters most: the money. Greenbacks, de niro, the moolah, you and I know it runs the world, and more than anything runs the movie industry. Can’t make a movie without funding. We all think of movie studios as having tons of money to spend on movies. What’s one person not going to the theatre going to do? Here’s the problem: you multiple that one person by, let’s say one thousand, at $12.95 a ticket, and you just cost Universal Studios $12,950 for a movie that cost $150 million to make. That’s a lot of money to make back and it becomes even more difficult when people don’t pay to watch it. Studios just aren’t making the large amounts of money as they should due to piracy. Don’t believe me? Let me hit you with some facts. The Motion Picture Association of America looked into exactly how much the financial damage was, and they found that piracy costs $20.5 billion annually in the United States alone (Norkey). I’ll tell you what that means from the perspective of a single movie. We all remember the Wolf of Wall Street right? That great Leonardo DiCaprio movie from 2014. Well it was the most pirated movie of 2014 with over 30 million piracies worldwide. Now keep in mind that the average movie ticket in the United States was $8.17 and that profits are split between the movie studio and the movie theatre with the movie theatre getting more the longer the movie has been out. Now with all this is mind, if each illegal download equals one movie ticket at $8.17 and the studio only gets half, the result is about $122, 692, 975 robbed from Paramount Pictures (Norkey). That’s insane. This is more than the movie actually made domestically. Out of what it cost to make the film, the movie barely made it over the break even point (Norkey). If that is not a scary figure I don’t know what is. Serious dollars are being lost to piracy and you may think that this doesn’t affect anything, but really, it affects what movies are possible to make. A decrease in money from studios can not only decrease the quality of movies but also the quantity (Norkey). In 2013, 650 movies were released in America (Movie Insider). Keep in mind many of these have limited releases which is why we don’t know about most of them. This year, only 475 will be (Movie Insider). That is 185 less movies in merely two years. Think about it logically: if less people go to the theatres, then less money is given back to the studios, meaning that less movies can be made because they can’t afford to make as many, and this reduction of revenue is partly caused by piracy because people are choosing to stay home to watch movies. Now with less money what does that mean for studios? It means studios are now making less adventurous choices when it comes to picking new films to make (Lodderhose). Think about it, how many sequels, reboots, or adaptations have you been seeing lately? Sequels made up four percent of movies released in 2010, five percent in 2013, and this year will make up seven percent (Movie Insider). We’re definitely beginning to see an increase in the amount of sequels being made. Not just sequels, but adaptations, and reboots. Reason for this? “Brand names are more important than they’ve ever been. I mean, nothing sells as well as like a franchise title, like a James Bond type if thing, where people know what they're getting into.” That’s Peter Howell, we’ll get to him in a little. But seriously guys, how many of you were excited to hear about the next Star Wars movie? How many fangirls explode with feelings when they hear their favourite book is being adapted into a movie? We get excited because we have a connection with this material. These are stories and worlds we love and want to see more of on the big screen. We want to support these movies in hopes that we see more of them and this motivates us to get out of our houses, get away from the pirating sites, and go to the theatres. To make sure they make profit, a studio is much more likely to put money into franchise sequel than to invest in a movie like, Twelve Years a Slave because though Twelve Years a Slave was a critical success and Academy Award Winning movie, movies like these won’t sell as well in theatres because no one is willing to risk spending money on a movie they have no idea about and therefore will just watch it online (Norkey). After all, if they don’t like it they can just stop watching. Even with this sequel mentality in place, piracy can in fact risk the chance of a franchise sequel. I’ll give you an example. The Kick-Ass movies came to an end because of a lack of funding due to piracy. According to Chloe-Grace Moretz, a star of the series, the movie was one of the most pirated of 2013. The movie had extremely low box office revenue and the sequel to Kick Ass 2 was cancelled (Norkey). Piracy not only stops original movies from being made, but can also prevent sequels from being made. Money runs it all and if the studio doesn’t think it’s going to get any, then it won’t invest. This has also lead to a different issue. As we can see there has been this huge incline in blockbuster films. What effect does this really have? Well I asked Peter Howell, a 20 year film critic currently working at the Toronto Star, and he had this to say. “But you’re losing out on the middle type of movie, the ones that attract Academy Awards. The 20, 30 million dollar movie where you might have a really good actress or actor and a story to tell. Those are the ones that feel the loss the most. They’re tougher to make those and they’re tougher to do well at the box office.” Piracy has created this mentality that blockbusters should come first and everything else second, and that’s a problem because what it’s doing is actually cutting off an entire demographic and therefore an entire avenue of revenue. Not only that but it’s making actors and directors go into different outlets ( to create content they want to participate in (Maney). Not everyone wants to be in a Michael Bay movie, but studios aren’t willing to invest in the next Charlie Kaufman film because it’s too risky.

Now clearly piracy is affecting the industry on a multitude of levels, but think about this; are you, the watcher, being affected? Internet users are getting used to video viewing online. It’s certainly become this picturesque setting. You get comfortable with a blanket on your couch or bed, you’ve got a nice chianti in one hand, maybe some fava beans in the other, whatever’s your prerogative, and you torrent the latest Avengers movie; it’s a perfect night. But really this isn’t the way it is. You probably have all the lights on, your screen is maybe a tenth the size of a theatre’s, you’re texting throughout the whole movie, maybe you’re even doing other things while the movie is playing. Some people would classify doing a report while listening to Harry Potter in the background as quality time. The experience of watching a movie is changing by the fact we don’t have to sit quietly in a dark theatre anymore. We aren’t forced to pay attention to movies anymore. What piracy is inadvertently doing is actually lessening the experience of watching a movie by making it something we can sidetrack. There was a study conducted by Tom Troscianko, Timothy Meese, and Stephen Hinde and they were comparing the level of presence people have when watching films on small and large screens. What was found was the larger screens produce larger retinal images. What this does is create higher presence when watching a film and perceivers feel they are “in the situation”, influencing our involvement in the movie. Lower presence indicates that perceivers feel they are just observing moving pictures (Troscianko et al.). In other words, it’s like watching a 90 minute YouTube video, something that doesn’t need massive attention paid to it. Larger screens are more impressive, completely immersive; small screens are not (Troscianko et al.). Piracy is an excuse to not pay attention to the movie you are watching and treat like any other video and not an event, which going to the movies is- an event. Not only that, but it’s a collective event. You may not know the people you are watching your movie with in the theatre, but by the end you all feel like you’ve gone through something together. Watching a movie by pirating it is an excuse to isolate yourself from the rest of society and contain yourself in your own bubble. Movies aren’t meant to do this. Movies are meant to bring everyone together, and now it seems they aren’t able to do that effectively because they’re being watched by people separately on their own time.

Piracy may seem like the easy way to watch a movie, but really it is so harmful to the industry and just depriving you of a true movie-watching experience. Downloading a film online is like stealing a DVD from a store (Norkey). People, it isn’t your property, you have no right to it. The Internet may have created this attitude of self-entitlement, and the desire of people to spread information has been given a strong outlet, but to quote Jean Prewitt, US Senior Government official, “Every consumer click is driving legitimate dollars out of the legal industry and into the pockets of these criminals” (Nadeau, Lodderhose). Many don’t realize that pirating films prevents artists and technicians from getting proper compensation for their work and stop the creation of artistic content (Goel et al). Filmmakers are in danger of losing their jobs and theatres are at risk of only showing films like Transformer sequels and Terminator reboots. Don’t do that to society people. Don’t make us live through another Terminator movie. Technology has advanced, and it’s great, but just because the technology is available, doesn’t mean it should be used to fulfill a sense of entitlement. What it’s doing is making it so our children have no classic movies to grow up with. We all want our kids to grow up feeling connected to a classic movie from their parents time, but they can’t do that with sequels to things they’ve never seen. They can’t do that without Oscar films. If piracy doesn’t come to an end, an entire industry will be eradicated. All those memories will be lost… like tears in the rain. Thanks so much for listening everybody, if you want to listen to more podcasts make sure to check out inQuery’s website because we have a lot of amazing podcasts on the technology of today. Here’s looking at you kid and in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight.

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