“You Literally Represent Everything Wrong With The World”

Over the past 48 hours, movie enthusiasts stormed my front door with pitchforks, demanding my head. I responded to the first 100 comments to my post about rethinking the movie theater experience, but was then overwhelmed by another 300, not to mention the tweets. So. many. tweets. To catch folks up:

  • On Saturday I jotted a quick blog post about how for some movies, I’d love a theater experience that was separate from the traditional viewing experience and catered to people who wanted to talk, multitask, use the internet while watching.
  • I expected a few “awesomes” and a few “horribles” from the people who normally read my blog. Instead it got picked up by several sites and RTed with commentary by some film lovers and creative professionals. The result was 20k+ pageviews and strong feelings that were pretty unexpected in their intensity. I received a number of private messages – from friends, strangers and industry executives – in support but clearly those were dwarfed.
  • There were three categories of commentary, which I’ll summarize below as part of trying to understand the reaction.

1. This Shouldn’t Exist, You’ll Ruin My Movie Experience

To be honest, two days later, I still don’t understand this comment. I’m suggesting a separate theater within a multiplex that has an alternative viewing atmosphere for certain types of movies. If anything, this would get the rude people out of your theater and into mine. The traditional viewing experience – dark theater, no cell phone, no talking, no getting up in the middle of the movie, etc – I agree with that. I think I’d watch the majority of my movies that way too. So I don’t understand how a different, opt-in experiment ruins your experience. My best guess is that it became a flashpoint for frustration with behaviors people currently experience when they go to the movies, assuming I was the type of person who thinks it’s ok for me to do whatever I want in a theater.

Some folks made secondary arguments: that permitting this in some theaters would create new social norms in the existing ones. That it would be one less theater screen to exhibit films the traditional way despite there being thousands and thousands of screens already. Those are pretty nuanced assumptions.

Other folks told me to stay home and watch by myself where I can fully control the environment. The rise in home systems suggests this is a very popular option but it’s not a substitute for (a) first run movies that are (b) watched in a theater setting with a (c) critical mass of people. There’s a social, communal event that I still desire, not just to bend the way the world works to my will.

2. You Are Disrespectful to the Movie Industry

Let me start with a statement: I love movies and greatly value the creative professionals who work on them. I subscribed to Film Threat as a kid, am not embarrassed to go to the theater by myself, and frequently support film projects on Kickstarter (eg: Graffiti Rock, Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary).

So what happened – why did this post become about my hatred of movies instead my love of them? Two reasons:

  1. My post crossed over to an audience that doesn’t know me
  2. I wrote too glibly and put a portion of my foot in my mouth

First, the crossover. As I said in the intro, I expected my normal blog readership to weigh in and tell me whether this was a good idea. These folks mostly have context for who I am beyond this single post. If they think I’m wrong, they tell me, but generally don’t consider me the antichrist. However with social media, you can sometimes crossover to an audience unfamiliar with you. On Twitter, there was almost no mention of my post from the 500+ people I follow, but my @ tab was filled with people I didn’t know, wishing horrible things would befall me. On the internet, a statement becomes contextless, curated and summarized. So to thousands of people I became “an asshole investor taking a dump on the altar of film.”

With regards to the glibness – I didn’t make clear that I value the creative and physical sweat of making movies. And my very suggestion – one which I still stand by (more on that at the bottom) – broke movies into two classes of films: those ‘worth’ paying attention to and those ‘not worthy’ of my full attention. Some folks assumed that I would want to multitask during their favorite films – Chinatown being one example (saw it, loved it, would not want to watch it in a social theater). So I wish I was more clear about respecting the medium.

That said, I’ve always felt voting with your wallet is the best way to support the creative arts. Get painters, musicians, actors, filmmakers, etc PAID. My sentiment was “boy there are some films that I don’t watch today, which I’d love to pay for if they gave me a different way to view them.” I saw it no different than the windowing choice consumers make on theatrical vs VOD vs cable etc. Especially given the tentpole, highly commercial movies I was using as examples – with merch tie-ins, etc – I don’t think you can separate art + commerce.

3. You Literally Represent Everything Wrong With The World

Both with and without proper context my idea became a lightning rod for three larger issues:

  • Arts Being Commercialized: Sequels, 3D, tentpole movies, declining theater audience in the US, Spielberg/Lucas predicting the ‘implosion‘ of the movie industry — my experimental suggestion was another hack at an institution many people value and hold dear.
  • Attention Spans Shortening, Technology Controlling Our Lives: “If you can’t pay attention for two hours I feel sorry for you” – I heard this a lot. I’ve experimented with different types of attention modification, even going to a week long silent meditation retreat. For many the movie theater is a sanctuary where they can withdraw from connectivity and immerse themselves in an alternate reality. My suggestion was a pin to that bubble.
  • Technology Community Wants The World to Cater to Them: Especially in the posts which emphasized I am a Venture Capitalist, this was indicative of asshole techies being at best, out of touch with the rest of the world, and at worst, making the world more exclusionary. Not my intent. I believe the tech community actually needs to often get its head out of its ass and realize there are some things we think are problems that aren’t generally considered by others to be priorities.

I don’t expect this follow-up post to be read by nearly the # of people who read the original but the resulting reaction caused me to pause and consider my words. I’m sure some will still say “you just wrote another 1,000 words proving you’re an asshole.” So be it.

As for my idea about a separate, social, connected viewing experience – maybe something which feels like the modern day equivalent of the participatory midnight movie Rocky Horror showing – I still want to try it out. Maybe I’ll hate it. Maybe enough people won’t like it to make it commercially viable, but I’m really interested. So I’m looking for a place in San Francisco. Maybe sell tickets as a charitable donation to a film preservation society or digital divide organization like Ghetto Film School. Like most experiments, you don’t know until you try…..