Imperil More Than Theatre-Studio Relations
by G. Kendrick Macdowell
NATO General Counsel &
Director of Government Affairs
“Several of the movie industry’s
top executives said Wednesday that piracy is forcing them
to think about radically shortening the time between when
a film hits theaters and when it is released on DVD.
“ Warner Bros.
Entertainment chairman and CEO Barry Meyer said he envisions
a day when some major movies, not just
animated family fare, debut on DVD simultaneously with
their theatrical release.
Your premiere will be in Wal-Mart,’ he said.”
April 21, 2005
Excuse me? Well, you can imagine my
surprise. Credit to Mr. Meyer for an otherwise disturbing
did make me think more deeply about this vexing issue of
video windows, and what it really means for our industry.
So as long as we’re “envisioning,” let
me look through a glass darkly.
“Piracy” Made Us Do It. The
notion that movie theft leaves no viable alternative to
shorter windows deserves a closer look. It is a dangerous
It threatens to unravel what has heretofore been a close and constructive relationship
between studios and theatres in combating movie theft at its most common source.
Movie theft is a serious and direct bottom-line
threat to the studios. Less directly for theatres. We do
not see the same impact on ticket sales as studios
do on their revenue streams. Nevertheless, it is theatre employees on the
front lines of the fight against movie theft. It is theatre
employees urged to be
vigilant for the telltale signs of movie theft. It is theatre employees exhorted
and trained to intervene, detain the thief, seize the illegal recording,
and call the police. In short, it is theatre employees
who are the Marines against
And frankly, we do it because it is the
right thing to do. Movie theft is wrong. And we know it
is bad for the industry. Any individual theatre owner
be hard-pressed to quantify a direct financial impact from any specific
instance of camcorder theft (other than the incidental
irony that the thief is a paying
patron). But theatre owners are men and women of good faith and robust
commitment to this industry. And so we do the right thing.
To come full circle, then, you can imagine
my surprise. A studio executive is saying that “piracy” may
force them to bypass the theatrical experience? That this
scourge that theatre employees fight in such good faith
is now the excuse for relegating theatres to the Wal-Mart platform?
Would studios really jettison our rich cultural
tradition of extended theatre openings because they surmise
that people determined to steal
steal if they can pay sooner?
I should be clear. When I say “studios,” I am obviously not talking
about a monolithic sensibility. In fact, I have heard distribution executives
speak lovingly of theatres and the theatrical experience in terms just as passionate
as theatre owners. Many studio executives appreciate the sensitivity of this
issue, and couch their observations with genuine respect for the vital role
of theatres in our industry and our larger culture. I know many people in our
larger family value the theatrical experience. Which leads me to my really
Brave New World. I tread very carefully
here because I know some of our members will strenuously
me when I say that shrinking windows would probably not
destroy our industry. To be sure, for some, shrinking windows
probably would spell doom. But our industry, as I have
witnessed in the past few months, is a savvy, surviving,
and passionate group of theatre-loving men and women. Yes,
they’ll by and large survive. But Hollywood itself,
ironically, might become a vastly lesser thing in this
windowless world vision.
Put simply, if Hollywood will not
honor the theatrical experience, then theatres will not
honor Hollywood. If
that sounds a bit petulant, forgive me and let me explain.
America’s great national conversation about our great
movies is a function of the cinematic magnet. Large numbers
of people come to see the same movie when it opens all
over the country, and then they talk about it with family
and friends in the following days. That movie – that
new piece of our cultural heritage – then becomes
enshrined in our common parlance.
Thereafter, tens of thousands of conversations
and written columns reference movie moments, great and
that most Americans will appreciate the reference.
In short, we enjoy a common cultural language. It happens
theatres occupy a kind of temple status for the telling
of new stories. Strip that temple of its privilege,
the storyteller – Hollywood – becomes just
another peddler of sensation, competing with countless
other peddlers in a radio-like smorgasbord of 10,000
No longer national story-temples,
theatres owners would,
I predict, turn to television producers, sports producers,
concert producers, local celebrities – storytellers
as wonderfully diverse as America itself. Yes, theatres
will survive. But Hollywood would become a lesser
Indulge my dark vision a little further.
brave new windowless world, what are the “Academy Awards”?
How would Wal-Mart openings mutate these awards and their
grand show – now so firmly anchored in the first
experience and following revelations of the theatrical
run? I have a vision.
I’m watching the All-New Academy Awards Extravaganza
(on a start-up cable channel), driven to nostalgia
by the frequent wistful tributes to the Golden Age (late
and early 21st centuries), and frankly saddened
by a spectacle that reminds me of garishly painted gods
in the twilight of an ancient, tired civilization.
Nobody really cares anymore. Not like they used to.
But my local theatre thrives. It has
become a diverse digital entertainment and cultural mecca.
is one vendor
among many – rather like California wines
in a richly stocked liquor store.
Yes, I have abundant faith in theatres.
Corporate storytellers? Well, that depends on their business
models. I think