We here at Screen Rant recently took notice of a post over at Shock Til You Drop referring to a Twitter-based message from Rhett Reese, writer of the recent horror/comedy Zombieland, in which Reese claimed that a Zombieland sequel is now a questionable endeavor, largely due to the film’s current status as “the most pirated movie on bit torrent.”
Here are the numbers behind that statement: Zombieland‘s current worldwide earnings – according to Box Office Mojo – approximate to about $85 million, more than tripling the movie’s $23.6 million production budget. Looking at figures like that, a sequel should be a no-brainer, right?
If only it was that simple…Here’s the message that Reese posted on his Twitter page:
“Zombieland currently the most pirated movie on bit torrent. Over one million downloads and counting.”
That tweet was quickly followed by this ominous statement:
“Beyond depressing. This greatly affects the likelihood of a Zombieland 2.”
The bottom line: it only matters to certain degree that Zombieland earned triple its production budget; when you factor in marketing in promotion, that margin gets a lot slimmer and really, in the end, studios watch the much-lauded bottom line to measure how well their films have done. To guarantee a Zombieland 2, Sony was no doubt looking for Zombieland 1 to crack the triple-digit millions – a feat the film should’ve easily accomplished, if those one million people sitting at their computers had decided to drop 7-12 bucks to see the film in theaters, instead of 7-12 minutes downloading it illegally.
And now the fate of Zombieland 2 hangs in the balance, and that just SUCKS.
INDISPUTABLE EVIDENCE OF WRONGDOING
The movie piracy debate isn’t new. Since someone first came up with the bright idea of hooking up two VCRs to record their rented videotapes, movie piracy has been a rampant crime. With the Internet and digital filming/editing came the chance to get a movie in one’s hands before said movie ever even made it into theaters. I highly doubt that many (if any) of us can claim 100% angelic behavior if pressed about our history with illegal downloads (or streaming services), but I think this Zombieland case is one where we are now seeing clear, indisputable evidence of the damage that piracy can cause.
And yes, we’ve already heard all the “reasonable” arguments for piracy – in fact, we here at Screen Rant hosted an epic debate about the subject just this past spring, when a early, rough-cut of X-Men Origins: Wolverine was rampantly pirated by the online community. Our stance was and is this: “We at Screen Rant will never support this kind of behavior…” Stealing is stealing (or so WE think), no matter how hard you want to argue the point.
To be fair, here are the most comment arguments for piracy: Movies are too expensive these days; lack of etiquette amongst movie audiences can ruin the theatrical experience; movie marketing is often so misleading that it could be considered stealing; or (my personal fav) the time-tested “I’m just one person, I’m not hurtin’ anybody,” defense. We’ve heard it all…
IMHO, the bottom line is that most often, people pirate movies they want to see – or, at the very least, movies they “kinda want to see” (read: see, but not pay to see). But no matter how they try to quantify it, some degree of desire or interest must exist for people to even bother downloading a film. Of the percentage of people who do choose to illegally download a flick, a certain percentage (sometimes over 50% I’d say) actually enjoy the film – they reap the pleasure of a good movie without ever rewarding those who worked so hard to entertain them. Doesn’t sound fair, does it?
Worse yet: if you do enjoy a film like Zombieland, don’t you want to see Zombieland 2 get made? Of course you do. But how will that happen if the movie doesn’t make enough money to convince the studio suits that a sequel is worth making??? Your movie ticket money isn’t just throwaway capital – often it is the measuring stick for how the ever-shifting landscape of cinema will shape itself next. If studios don’t think films like Zombieland are what audiences want (And we do! Really, we do!) then what we’re going to get instead is something we DON’T want. And if I have to watch eight more Saw movies because of some misinterpreted low profits caused by piracy, needless to say, I’m going to be PO’d!
Of course, the piracy issue isn’t going to just vanish, so what can we do to make both movie goers and movie makers equally happy in the future?
MOVING TOWARD THE MIDDLE
There is one jewel of wisdom to be unearthed from this whole piracy issue (if you can believe that statement): Both movie makers and movie goers need to take a step toward compromise. But how to do that?
Why, by embracing the digital marketplace, of course!
It’s already beginning to happen: this year has seen a slight increase in the number of movies you can watch from home on the same day you can watch them in theaters. Most digital cable services that I know of offer “Same Day On Demand” (SDOD), often in HD quality, for smaller films that maybe aren’t getting a wide theatrical release, or films going straight to DVD/Blu-ray because they were deemed unsuitable (read: not profitable enough) for theatrical release. Pretty much the same deal goes for digital downloads (DD) through itunes, Amazon or similar online services.
I myself became aware of the golden shores of SDOD/DD last Halloween, when Fear.net dumped Clive Barker’s much-troubled film Midnight Meat Train onto on demand (for free!) BEFORE the film hit DVD. Not only did that viewing make me feel cool for catching a talked-about horror flick before most others had a chance to – it made me grateful to the studio for not trying to trick me into theaters and even persuaded me to watch Fear.net more than I ever would have done before.
This year, I’ve watched some films that were actually good on SDOD, including the Robin Williams black-comedy World’s Greatest Dad, and the homage to 80s horror flicks, The House of The Devil. And, after enjoying the experience of seeing both films in gorgeous HD from the comfort of my own home, I’ve come to the conclusion that Hollywood is seriously undervaluing this lane of the market.
Twilight hit VOD the same day as its DVD release. Needless to say, fans were happy.
Some other great films that didn’t get a fair theatrical shake but could’ve been great success in the digital market: Black Dynamite, Assassination of a High School President – and though it made big profits, the 50% of the audience that hated Paranormal Activity might’ve felt different had they been able to view it from their living rooms (as it stands, a PA sequel might turn out to be a flop).
Let’s just break this situation down for a second (in some nice, easy-to-follow bulletpoints):
- Movie theaters are already transforming themselves into a spectacle-heavy business (how many movies at YOUR local theater now come in digital prints, digital 3D, IMAX, IMAX 3D… how many more will follow suit next year?).
- Movie theaters can be very annoying (for reasons we clearly state HERE).
- HD TVs & Home Theater Systems are more prolific than ever.
Ok, some good points, but SDOD/DD rentals cost (on average) $6.99 per movie – why should you pay that high a price? I’ll tell you why:
- A $6.99 rental for you and a date is still MUCH cheaper than two movie tickets costing $7 – 12 a piece to see the same movie.
- At home with SDOD/DD, you can eat what you want, drink what you want, relax how you want – hell, not wear pants if you want!
- No one (except your family) is likely to ruin your movie-watching experience.
Still not convinced? Still think that $6.99 SDOD/DD experience isn’t worth it? Here some numbers to compare:
- The movie ticket price figure stated above.
- The fact that you’re already paying around $100 a month (or more) for digital cable, mainly for those four or five cable shows you like.
- Premium movie channels on cable cost an extra $15 a month per channel (in some places) for what is largely hit-or-miss viewing.
- For true HD movie quality you need a Blu-ray player ($$$) and either a rental service or ample $$$$ to buy those Blu-rays.
- If you think services like Netflix are the answer, that’s still $10-20 a month for movies that aren’t even in HD (unless you own a Blu-ray player); $50 a year for Xbox Live.
- The money you’re spending on rental services is going toward months-old movies – never that new flick you’ve been dying to get out and see.
So what SHOULD be the new model for Hollywood?
The cable bill was the biggest selling point for me: I already pay $100 bucks a month for my service – what’s an extra $15-20 every month or two on top of that to watch a couple new movies I want to see? If I go to a theater, bring my girlfriend and some A-hole(s) can’t shut up and let me enjoy myself…that’s $30 (at least) down the drain for the sake of one unsatisfying night. I already pay Netflix $17-20 a month to rent three movies at once for as long as I want – maybe one month I run through 15 films, but another month I’m super-busy and end up getting through just two or three. In that latter case, I’ve paid $17-20 to let movies gather dust next to my DVD player.
With SDOD or DD, I only spend when I’m SURE I’m going to watch a film, and my personal satisfaction is entirely up to my own discretion and imagination ;-). Sounds pretty freaking worthwhile to me.
HOLLYWOOD, TIME TO ADAPT
This whole SDOD/DD issue really boils down to market perception, IMHO. Right now, it still feels as though movie studios view SDOD/DD as a sort of dumping ground, rather than a legit way to market movies to the masses and therefore, movie goers also view the services that way. To stimulate the market, I think studios need to change how they utilize it by taking some key steps:
- Offer more digital-based releases that premiere before theatrical releases – What’s there to lose? Offer your movies on digital cable, smartphone or computer (in HD quality) a few days to a week before a theatrical premiere and already you’re cutting out one of the main incentives for pirating. And let’s be real: if your movie is good enough, people WILL shell out again for the “big-screen experience.” You may end up making more money than you would’ve. If Zombieland had been available on cable same day as in theaters, would a sequel be hanging in the balance? Maybe, but then again, maybe not…
- Market the $mart way – If you’re taking full advantage of the digital market, what’s the need for huge billboards, three different trailers, TV spots, print ads, etc… If you’re selling a movie to the online/digital consumer then use the free promotion you get from blogs like Screen Rant (HINT!) – or maybe loop your trailers and spots on cable on demand menus ad nausem. Archive movie info in one place (on cable menus, websites), use fan reactions and early screening promotions to build an interactive rating/review system to let perusing viewers know what new movies are worth their time and money. Once the consumer adapts to the new digital model (i.e., learns where to go to find out about movies), you can spend less, more effectively, to reach them.
At the end of the day, trying to stop the times from a changin’ is like trying to hold onto a hand full of sand in the middle of a thunderstorm – all your going to end up with is a messy hand and no sand left to hold. The movie biz should learn from the mistakes of the music biz: Make it easy for your consumers to get what they want, how they want, when they want, and they will pay for the comfort and convenience.
To quote 80s Gen X punks, “I want my SDOD/DD!”