An Open Letter to Sony and Film Distributors

The recent hack of five unreleased films should force executives to reconsider their ethos in regards to piracy and film consumption. I propose that the fight against piracy relocate its battlefield. The fight should be waged not against the pirates, i.e., online, but oddly enough, in the cinema.

Timothy Spall in Mr Turner

At least in the press, film distributors have neglected the very spaces in which their films are featured. One possible way to combat piracy is to make the films available for consumption at the cinema (what a strange idea!). This means fighting the multiplex (in Ontario, Cineplex). Consider one of the hacked films, Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner (2014). Is there a crime when, for a large percentage of Ontarians, there is nothing to steal? By nothing I mean that for mid-sized cities one cannot steal Mr. Turner because, according to IMDB, on December 19th it will receive only a limited release. A number of film-goers cannot actually see the film in the cinema, thus there is nothing stolen if individuals decide to download lower quality rips. To combat piracy, then, film distributors need to take their grievances to Cineplex. As a further example, there is something deeply unsettling about the chain’s programming schedule, for instance, Let’s be Cops (2014) holding its place in the theater for 2-3 months while Birdman (2014) and Boyhood (2014) had two weeks.

So, first, switch the terrain of the fight. Next, we might want to ask if the film distributors would prefer their films to be consumed illegally or not at all. A flop like Fury (2014) might not be watched en masse if it were not for current and future illegal downloads. The illegal consumption of David Ayer’s film, and of the images of the actors therein, reinforces viewers’ interest in something like autuerism, whether with Ayer’s oeuvre or our fascinations with Brad Pitt and other A-list stars: e.g., by illegally consuming Fury, viewers may attend the next Pitt film in the theaters. Downloading fosters community and culture; film distributors combating piracy, at this stage in film consumption, is a shot in the foot.

Claiming that the production of “good movies” will save film companies is unnecessary elitism. I believe spectators decide what films are to be produced (or by previous attendance numbers, companies produce films that spectators will watch). The success of Birdman and Boyhood suggests that spectators are also ready to watch serious films in the theater (note: serious doesn’t necessarily mean “good”). Film distributors need to inform multiplexes of this fact. Piracy will continue but a strong community of film-goers should maintain or increase theater attendance.

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