I was recently asked to write something for an online magazine about the new trailer by Universal, encouraging respect of copyright. I have written something and sent it off, but I couldn't let it go and I had to write a perhaps less kind, but more honest version of what I wanted to say. So here is the 15 rated version of what I wrote.
There is nothing quite like going to watch a great film at the cinema. This is what Universal is trying to tell us with their new trailer, Moments Worth Paying For. Using action heavy shots from their upcoming release Battleship combined with reactions shots of film viewers, Universal make the point that certain films should be watched at the cinema.
No one could advocate this creed more passionately than I, and I do all the time. I love going to the cinema, even with the problems today’s cinema experience may present, I am still a strong supporter of this cause. It’s not about the sound and picture quality, though there is something to be said for experiencing the film the way the filmmaker intended it, and it’s not even about supporting the film industry, though it is most important. No, for me it’s about the communal experience, and that something that indeed is worth paying for. The best of films becomes even better when the house is full of people creating an atmosphere to go with it.
Watching films at the cinema demands collective commitment from its audience. True occasionally you come across those who disrespect it, interrupt and ruin the film for everyone, but when a film is truly great, and I have witnessed it in some of the most notorious places for bad audiences, it will capture even the most disruptive of audiences, and they will laugh together, cry together, gasp and get emotionally involved with the film. When that happens the cinema experience becomes what it was always for me: magic.
As passionate as I am about watching films at the cinema, it is getting harder and harder to make the argument on their behalf. People wonder how much exactly do these moments really worth paying for, and regardless to my own preferences, I can’t say I blame them. When cinema ticket prices constantly go up, in the West End they are almost as much as theatre tickets, the cinemas really have to work hard to justify this kind of expense and more often than not, they can’t.
For a while it seemed like 3D has become, unfortunately, the card cinemas waved around in an attempt to bring audiences to cinemas. However, the overuse of 3D, and in most cases without good reason, is what I consider a misguided mean towards the end they are trying to achieve and it will hopefully fade away, or else take over the home entertainment industry and cinemas will once again find themselves empty and in danger of dying out. What cinemas should offer is not technology, but an adventure.
This is when money comes back into the picture and it is an unpleasant one to look at. What people don’t realise is that cinemas, in the UK, but I am sure in many other places in the world, hardly make any money out of the tickets they sell. This is why the food and drinks at the cinemas are so expensive. This is not all, cinemas have very little if any control on what films they are showing, how long for and in some cases which screens they are shown. In the world of film industry the voice of cinemas hardly exists and those cinemas that are not funded by charities or the government have to invent new ways to make money not from films, just so they can keep going. There is nothing more depressing than an empty 2000 seat, magnificent cinema, forced to show the same awful film for weeks after even the mice has given up on it, just so they can get the next big box office hit. To say it like it is: cinemas are distribution companies’ bitch, and the bigger the film the less money goes to the cinemas. Those who don’t give in pay the price.
Therefore, whilst I think people should go to the cinema in droves, it is hard for me to even convince myself sometimes that so much of the ridiculous prices I sometimes pay for the privilege of watching a film, goes to the wrong hands and not to make my experience better.
I once had a dream of opening a cinema; I even had my eye on a place. In my cinema people will not be allowed in with mobile phones or anything that may take away from their concentration of the film, there will be film events like in the Prince Charles and BFI cinemas and most importantly it would be a communal and engaging. After working as a cinema manager in top cinemas in the west end and realising how very little control even those high profile cinemas have on their own cinema, with an aching heart I abandoned the idea.
In today’s world of ideas exchange and file sharing, it is time to rethink the copyright law, and take or at least limit the kind of power that distribution companies have over the cinemas. A campaign to encourage film going should educate for film watching. A part of the film industry budget should go to cinemas so they can truly create those moments worth paying for.