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Film Piracy — or Why a Movie Is Like a Ripe Banana

Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of time and money fighting the symptom, spend some time and a whole lot less money researching the disease

I’ve lived most of my adult life in Manhattan, where every street corner offers clues to how the film industry can dramatically curtail, if not eliminate, the piracy of motion pictures.

New York City has a wealth of entertainment choices and some of the most stimulating are right out there in the open and free to enjoy. One of my favorites is standing on the sidewalk watching traffic. (Incessant horn blowing, ambulance sirens and car alarms notwithstanding.)
Here’s how it works. You watch intently as the knot of cars, trucks and taxis (the more taxis the better) advance down the avenue, all the while keeping a sharp eye on the traffic light. When the light changes from green to orange, your pulse quickens in anticipation. Then time begins to slow. Adrenaline courses through your veins until at last, the light turns red.
Not such a thrilling moment for you? Well here’s why it’s an enduring and captivating source of wonder for me: Every time the thing turns red (or maybe a heartbeat or two afterward), each one of those cars, trucks and taxis – yes, even the taxis – stops. Even in Times Square, arguably the most raucous and distracting crossroads on the planet, they stop. And you know why? Sure, it’s the law, and if they don’t stop there may be consequences. But the real reason is because they know that in a few moments, the light is going to change back to green and they’ll be free to move on with their lives.
Sometimes, though, the light doesn’t turn green. Some glitch in the system causes the damn thing to freeze at red. I’ve seen it happen. It’s happened to me. And do you know what those very same, law-abiding drivers do then? They wait impatiently for half a minute, maybe even a full minute, then they drive right through. Technically, they’ve broken the law, and somewhere in the back of their mind they’re thinking about potential legal consequences. In their frontal lobe, though, they’re thinking “this thing should be green by now and I therefore have the right to bust a move.” And a second later they do. They may have broken the law in that moment but by then they felt an obligation, a duty, to get on the other side of that light.
Starting to sound a little like the increasingly impatient appetite for movie consumption in the 21st century?
Here’s another example of free entertainment in the big city. Nearly every corner of Manhattan accommodates a deli, grocery or bodega. I don’t know about you, but I like bananas, and virtually all those corner businesses feature delicious-looking, perfectly formed, brightly colored and just-ripe bananas displayed on counters immediately outside their doors.
These delectable fruit are right out on the sidewalk enticing passersby to slow their step, admire and buy. Sometimes I’ll lean against a lamppost Harvey-style and watch as folks bow to the temptation. They pick one up, then another, weighing them in their hands, comparing each to the other intent on choosing only the best of the bunch. Once they’ve decided, they carry their prize to the checkout, lay down a quarter and happily exit with their delicious snack.
They actually walk inside and pay for it even though it’s right out there for the taking!
But what if that bunch of luscious bananas out on the sidewalk were just a come-on. What if you couldn’t simply choose among the bananas, pay your quarter, walk on down the street back to your office or to the park, unpeel the thing and instantly gratify your banana jones or take it home to indulge in later? Instead, what if you had to enter into the bowels of the establishment with your banana, walk into a room full of other banana lovers, sit side-by-side with them while you each unpeel your bananas together, in unison, taking bites at set intervals; some gnashing loudly and others, squirming in delight from the taste and no longer in control of their restless leg syndrome kicking the back of your seat incessantly while still others, so excited by the texture, can’t help but describe each and every bite out loud to friends and strangers alike?
If that were case, you may very well not want to buy one of those bananas at all. You might, instead, choose to simply wait until someone else offered you a banana that you could enjoy whenever and wherever you chose.
Here’s the point: Those bananas are screaming “EAT ME NOW,” but their legal consumption requires all manner of inconvenience. While most folks would simply walk away under such circumstances, there are others who’d see those luscious bananas on the sidewalk and grab one. They’d avoid the inconvenience and ignore the legal issue not because they were natural born criminals (at least not the vast majority of them) but because today, they have a wider variety of places to go and eat their fruit and all manner of ways to consume it.
Above all, their expectations about all fruit, not just bananas, have changed dramatically. Yet you’re insisting that they eat it your way and at your convenience. And at a price that keeps rising no matter the quality or freshness of the banana.
Like it or not, this is the 21st century and the rules have changed. If the light doesn’t turn green quickly enough and if you insist on enticing, exciting and inciting your customers with expertly packaged, perfectly yellow and delicious-looking bananas that appear within reach but are, in fact, just out of reach, you’re begging for piracy.
So here’s my suggestion. Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of time and money fighting the symptom (piracy), spend some time and a whole lot less money researching the disease (windows and a debilitating fear and ignorance of new technology). Yes, some in Hollywood are finally making moves to collapse windows, but that in and of itself won’t solve the problem. Do more. Understand the fast-changing world around you.
Embrace the revolution, don’t fear it. Because while the revolution is, indeed, being televised, you’re watching "Wheel of Fortune" instead of "Jeopardy."
Be the smart kid. Embrace your inner geek.

 

Mark Lipsky's Insight Cinema offers domestic and international distributors, producers and filmmakers advice on digital strategies and audience development among other issues. He blogs at InciteCinema, a plug-and-play solution for American independents and filmmakers around the globe who wish to either bypass or enhance traditional bricks-and-mortar release strategies.