Aug 16 2009

I must just have a bootleggy face

Nadine and I trade each other a night a week for doing whatever. She usually uses it for getting her craft on, or having a cocktail with a pal. I use it to load up on happy hour margaritas and a movie with Michael. We've been going to the same theater every week for about a year and a half now, usually directly from work. Unless there is nothing left to select from, we usually go even if there isn't a movie we're aching to see -- it's just fun to go to a nice theater, and ripping apart a bad movie can sometimes be as enjoyable as watching a good one.

We're programmers for LAIKA, and as such, we carry around company laptops. Going to a movie from work means we'll have laptop bags with us. Stressing this point: these aren't our laptops. They belong to LAIKA, and they contain keys into the internal network, along with various bits of intellectual property and privileged data.

So if I go to the theater, and as I walk in I'm quietly pulled aside and asked to turn my bag in to a 16 year old minimum wage theater worker for "safe keeping", my answer will be an emphatic no.

My answer earned us a conversation with the Regal manager on duty last week, who hard-lined us for a solid 5 minutes before ultimately relenting, and offering us some comment cards to air our grievances. More likely than not, they'll be filtered into the trash can. She also apparently placed us on some sort of Regal movies terrorist list, which we realized this week as we returned to the theater (laptops in tow), and were 'identified' immediately after our ticket purchase.

We were asked to stop for a chat with the BridgePort Regal General Manager. As we calmly refuted each assertion she made regarding Regal's policy, she too relented and let us into our movie. She quickly assumed a tactic of "it's not MY policy, I'm just doing what I'm told", which we were sympathetic to. I don't want to give the false impression that we hold any sway because we work at a movie studio, but I suggested that we could open a dialog with Regal corporate to help adjust their policy moving forward. Coraline was pirated too, after all.

Of course, Coraline wasn't leaked from a theater at all, but rather the DVD distributor. Presumably, that's because of all the hard work the theaters are doing to prevent bootlegging.

I'll save you the mundane play-by-play of our conversation, but here are the highlights.

  • "We don't allow bags into the theater." (As two women walked by us with purses.)
  • "Well, it's not bags per se, but electronic devices." (As someone across the hall is talking loudly on his cell.)
  • "Can you leave your bags at home?" (We go straight from work, and it would be a 35 mile trip for Michael to attend their theater if he went home first.)
  • "Can you leave your bags in the car?" (Can you guarantee they'll be there when we return? Of course not. Not to mention the laptop is worth -more- than my car.)

I'm not blaming Kim (the General Manager) personally. She was, after all, just doing what she was told. Though she didn't give us a direct contact to have this conversation with for Regal corporate, she seemed a reasonable person. So what's a reasonable compromise here? We've spent a good deal of money on tickets in the last year and a half, and I don't want to feel discriminated against because I have what appears to be a laptop. I also don't want to stop going to the movies after work. How can we avoid having this conversation every week? How can Regal feel they are doing their part to stop movie piracy and not giving us special treatment, while we're simultaneously not punished for being a loyal patrons that happen to own some technology?

Short term? Take any one of your workers. Let's be generous and say they make $10/hr. Have them come into the theater during the movie, and see if anyone is bootlegging! If you see me with my laptop open during the film, turned away from me, illuminating the chairs in front of me... oh man, yeah. Kick me the hell out. Ban me. Call the police. Even better because you've made an example out of someone for other would-be-bootleggers. You have 18 theaters, so worst case scenario when all of them are showing movies -- if it takes 3 minutes to do a sweep per theater -- will cost you about $9 for a full check. I'm fairly certain that will be significantly cheaper than confiscating all bags and/or electronic equipment that flow through your doors. You aren't a coat check, you aren't handing out ID tags for which device belongs to which person... because that's unrealistic and expensive.

You already disallow cell phones from being used during the movie. It isn't unreasonable to extend that to all electronic devices, and then enforce it. That pretty well solves the problem completely and cheaply. It's also fair. I don't want to watch a film while some douchebag next to me is text messaging, or has an open laptop on Facebook. (I've never actually witnessed the latter.) Don't search people and don't confiscate. Just ask that when the lights do down, the devices turn off.

Long term? Fix your policy. It is aged, and when it punishes regular customers instead of catching real problems, it's time to change it. It makes Regal look stupid when they honestly believe that a laptop is a device capable of making a decent bootleg.

Film Theft:

No recording devices (cameras, video recorders, sound recorders, etc.)
are permitted to be used within any Regal Entertainment Group facility.

Personal Communication Devices:

In consideration of all our guests, Regal Entertainment group asks that
you please refrain from using cell phones, pagers, or any other personal
communication device while in the auditorium.

The real problem is that they are making a distinction between devices that "record" and devices that "communicate". I've got news for you, Regal. They are one and the same. That iPhone is a better recording device than my laptop. Real camcorders are smaller than my hand and fit in my pocket! You're living in the future! Welcome to the age of tomorrow!

For anyone that has seen "telesync" downloadable movies (aka: "cam" movies, named for the fact that they are recorded with a camcorder), I think we can all agree that they are generally -horrible- quality. Once in awhile, one looks halfway decent though. The sound is fairly clean. There isn't coughing, no jerking back and forth, and it is absent of any focus problems. Guess why? It was recorded from the projectionist booth, not the audience. For an audience member to make a copy that wouldn't be utter garbage, they'd need to set up in the center of the theater. With a tripod. And a good camcorder. And not get caught. Fortunately, they'd be caught when that employee came through to check during the film... right?

The only significant source of piracy equating to tangible loss of revenue isn't shitty cam movies causing moviegoers to stay home. It's all the hands that DVD creation and distribution go through, causing potential DVD buyers not to purchase. To reiterate: piracy affects DVD sales, NOT box office.

Then again, maybe I can put up with a horrible telesync copy of a movie, if it means I can watch it without being being forced into a weekly debate.