In case you are missing them elsewhere, I have been reviewing movies at Cannes for Filmmaker Magazine. If you go to my author page there, you can follow them in reverse chronological order. Planning one or two more posts, including a festival recap, over the next few days.
The announcement from John Fithian, the president of the National Organization of Theater Owners, at this year’s CinemaCon confirmed what was pretty much already universally acknowledged in the
film movie industry: 35mm film distribution will cease in just a few months, to be replaced by digital distribution in theaters. According to The Hollywood Reporter, 85 percent of North American screens and 67 percent of European screen have already converted to digital, making film stock an “endangered species.” But this is just one of many transitions that are taking place in reshaping how we access and watch movies.
These shifts can be measured by two stories about Fayetteville, North Carolina, the city where I work and where I lived for several years. First, Fayetteville’s Cameo Art House Theater is bidding good-bye to the film projectors they’ve used since the theater opened in 1998 by hosting a special screening of Cinema Paradiso, Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1988 love letter to film projection. To me, this good-bye is bittersweet. Although I appreciate the aesthetics of film projection, I’m happy that the Cameo will be able to remain open using digital projectors and that the city will continue to have at least one option for seeing art house movies on the big screen.
The second story makes me feel more nostalgic than I would have expected. According to the Fayetteville Observer, the last two Blockbuster Video stores in Fayetteville will soon be closing, their last DVDs to be sold in a liquidation sale. Unless I’m missing something, that means the last remaining (non-adult) bricks-and-mortar video stores in Fayetteville will soon be closed. Although I can barely remember the last time I rented a movie in a video store, this seems like a significant shift, one that is consistent with all of the contradictions associated with an emergent on-demand culture. Movies are available at the click of a mouse or remote. But we may find ourselves having less access to some titles than we might expect.
I’d imagine that most cities are undergoing similar transitions. Some independent video stores may be better prepared to weather the competition with streaming video. Other art houses may be unable to navigate the shift to digital projection. But these changes are happening fast, and it’s well worth asking what they mean for all aspects of movie culture.
There is a moment in 42, the new biopic about Jackie Robinson, that I had always believed to be true. It takes place during Robinson’s rookie season in 1947 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, just across the Mason-Dixon line from Kentucky, the home state of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ All-Star shortstop and Kentucky native Pee Wee Reese. Early in a contest between the Dodgers and Reds, Robinson became the subject of boos and racist taunts from fans. To silence Robinson’s critics, Reese reportedly walked over to his teammate and put his hand on Robinson’s shoulder, communicating clearly that he would stand with his teammate. It’s a powerful gesture, a statement of support from one ballplayer to another in the face of almost universal opposition, given that many of Robinson’s teammates even opposed his presence on the team. Unfortunately for historians of the game and for those of us seeking a little extra humanity in the face of violence, it’s also most likely not true. But given the emotional punch of such a scene–Robinson is finally embraced in public by his team’s leader–it provides a nice bit of drama for the film. But it also illustrates the difficulty of making a biographical film about the one major league baseball player who has moved beyond fame into something closer to canonization.
Wesley Morris’s review of 42 for Grantland captures some of these complications way better than I could, describing the dramatic challenges of depicting a character (or characters, if you count Robinson’s ever patient and supportive wife, Rachel, played by Nicole Beharie) who doesn’t change over the course of the film. Instead, Robinson must, in some sense, remain steady, unchanging, even when faced with a barrage of racist insults and abuse, as he was by Phillies manager Ben Chapman. He must, in some sense, remain virtually perfect. As Morris implies, Robinson’s story–and I cannot deny his bravery–essentially places him in “bubble wrap,” making it difficult to view the story with anything other than reverence. It’s possible that we don’t have enough historical distance from the events in 42, especially given that Major League Baseball continues to worry about reaching out to African-American audiences, but I think it’s also possible that Robinson’s story, like so many others, is caught in the process of mythmaking that is so central to the history of baseball. Even when we recognize the faults of some of the great early players–Cobb’s racism and violent anger, Ruth’s drunkenness, the gambling scandals–we still have so many stories that define players via heroic narratives.
42 seems somewhat conscious of this problem, and as a result, places near its center the writer who covered Robinson and traveled with him early in his career, Wendell Smith. But rather than reflecting on Smith’s role in shaping Robinson’s story, Smith becomes Robinson’s driver and faithful assistant. In many ways, the film’s most vivid character was actually the Dodgers’ general manager, Branch Rickey (played by a scowling and growling Harrison Ford), a move that seems to place Robinson somewhat on the margins. That said, the film gives us some small measure of Robinson’s heroism and the challenges he faced during his early career. It also provides a pretty vivid sense of the speed of baseball in a way that many sports movies fail to do. 42 shows Jackie dancing on the base paths, challenging pitchers with his tremendous quickness. We get a clear sense of Robinson’s amazing reflexes in the field and the excitement he generated for the many fans who came to idolize him. I’m not suggesting that we would have been better served by a movie that showed Robinson as flawed. And there is little question that his story should be remembered. But I would have valued a film that could have provided us with a better sense of the challenges that Robinson faced and the role of people like Wendell Smith in making Robinson’s story possible in the first place.
I’ve been fascinated by the recent controversy over technology reporter Jenna Wortham’s “confession” in the New York Times that she uses shared passwords to access subscription video services such as Netflix and HBO Go. In particular, Wortham mentions that she and a group of friends rely on a single user’s HBO Go password to watch the popular show, Game of Thrones (which also happens to be the most pirated show on TV). As Wortham’s comments suggest, the act of password sharing is relatively commonplace, so much so that I imagine Wortham gave very little thought to describing her friends’ behavior on the pages of a national newspaper. Of course, as Mike Masnick of Tech Dirt reports, Wortham’s behavior is also, strictly speaking, illegal, a violation of both the Digital Millennial Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), and her actions could be punished by up to a year in prison. As Masnick describes it, her actions specifically violate the anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA becuase she is engaging in activity that allows her to work around a technical protection measure.
But as Masnick also observes, these acts often criminalize behavior that many people do every day, often without thinking about it. In this sense, password sharing is, as David Thier argues, a “legalish” activity, easy to do and difficult to police. With that distinction in mind, when I first heard about the discussion of Wortham’s column, my initial reaction was to compare password sharing to speeding on an interstate highway. Almost everyone speeds on interstates, as opposed to, say, school zones, where the policing is tighter and the consequences of negligent behavior are potentially far more devastating. And as long as you are within a reasonable distance of the posted limit, police are likely to leave you alone. And when police have set up speed traps, other drivers typically alert each other by flashing headlights or tapping their brakes. Further, when we know we’re being watched, such as speed zones where the police have set up cameras or other automatic detection equipment, we play by the rules. Most people feel little guilt for slightly exceeding the speed limit and some even take pride in reaching their destination in a shorter time.
This isn’t a perfect metaphor, however, given that speeding drivers don’t affect the value of the highway on which they are driving. While we can make some judgments about which shows are most likely to be pirated, it’s a little more difficult to tell how much password sharing is taking place (although my own research suggests that it’s pretty rampant, at least on college campuses). The next closest metaphor I could come up with compared password sharing to something like taking from a soda fountain at a fast food restaurant. Although probably less common, it’s possible to imagine someone using their own cup (rather than paying 99 cents for a cup at the counter) and helping oneself to some diet soda or root beer. It’s possible that the same person could share their soda with someone else or several people and even go back up for refills. Each of these actions result in “lost” revenue for the restaurant. Instead of selling three large sodas, they’ve sold one or none. But the production costs of that soda (i.e., the contents of the fluid, the cup itself, etc) are often relatively minimal, especially compared to the production costs of a movie or TV show. So obviously, there are some ethical and legal issues at stake here, but as Thier and others have suggested, that blurry area where behavior becomes “legalish” raises some interesting challenges for content providers and consumers. No one is likely to send the copyright police to knock on Wortham’s door. And many of the VOD services, including Netflix, even allow for some flexibility regarding password sharing.
The ethical (and business) implications of many of these issues were addressed in a New York Times public editor column. One observer bluntly suggested that Wortham’s actions were essentially “stealing,” while others likened her actions to “piracy.” And given that the New York Times is itself attempting to adjust to a digital business model by limiting non-subscribers to ten or so free articles per month, Wortham’s actions might be read as a form of hypocrisy. How are her actions different than those readers who might try to work around the Times‘ own pay wall? Wortham admits to being somewhat “conflicted” about her practice of password sharing, and thus far, many VOD services have taken a somewhat casual approach to enforcement. Rather than stopping people from drinking soda from the same cup, most providers have allowed some sharing, although Wortham does mention that Amazon blocks people from watching the same show at the same time on two different devices while using the same account.
But as Wortham’s article points out, the focus on policing password sharing–or piracy for that matter–might prevent us from acknowledging the role of password sharing as a means of creating a shared social experience around a television series. By watching Game of Thrones or Friday Night Lights “together,” even if we are not in the same shared space, it is a form of collective activity. In turn, the Netflix “family accounts,” which allow limited password sharing may even open up a redefinition of what counts as a family unit (an issue I addressed in my article for Screen and that I discuss in my forthcoming book). In turn, Wortham points to the efforts of services such as GetGlue and the more recent Vdio that promote forms of simultaneous or near-simultaneous viewing. And I think this is where activities such as binge watching shows like House of Cards come into play. Many television fans are seeking to be part of a shared experience and seek out opportunities to discuss, dissect, blog, and tweet their favorite shows. Many of these viewers may be outliers compared to the casual fans who watch when they can, but each of these modes of watching and many others are enabled in our on-demand culture. And Wortham’s column gets at the complexities of these issues in a pretty powerful way.
In case you missed it elsewhere, I’ve been covering Full Frame this year for Filmmaker Magazine. My first report, focusing on Gideon’s Army, Citizen Koch, and American Promise went up yesterday. All three films come highly recommended, but I wanted to add here that American Promise, which follows the paths of two African-American males from age five through their senior year of high school, has continued to resonate for me. In addition to raising questions about the black male education achievement gap (an issue that has become especially pertinent for me given my work at an HBCU), the film powerfully conveys the challenges of parenting and growing up that many of us face. In particular, I appreciated the film’s honesty in depicting the college application process–and the potentially demoralizing effects of being rejected to the colleges you have identified as your top choices. It’s a film that has the potential to open up a powerful dialogue about any number of important questions.
Update: Here’s part two of my Full Frame dispatches, which focuses on Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children; Good ol’ Freda; and First Cousin Once Removed.
I was fascinated to learn about the innovative distribution pattern for the indie film, Girl Rising, which tells the stories of nine young women from across the globe as they seek to improve their circumstances through obtaining an education. Each segment in the film is narrated by a famous actress, including Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, and Selena Gomez, and the website offers a powerful opportunity to explore how the subjects of the film are faring, providing a nice afterlife for the documentary.
But in addition to offering an intriguing story, Girl Rising is notable for its use of the website Gathr to generate interest in the film and to encourage people to “demand” screenings of the film in their community. Gathr–a tool I discuss very briefly in my forthcoming book, On-Demand Culture–allows people to request screenings in their city, and if enough people request the film, it will play at a theater in the area. In fact, enough people have requested tickets for the film that it will be playing in a suburb of Raleigh on Monday, April 8 (go to the website for more details). Supporters of the film have made (as of Deadline’s report) more than 17,000 screening requests and more than 65,000 people have reserved tickets for the film, and as a result of this demand, Regal Cinemas has decided to schedule a one-week theatrical run for the film on over 150 screens across the country, an impressive achievement for an independent film.
To be sure, Girl Rising has a number of advantages over other indie films such as an all-star cast, politically important subject matter, and a collection of non-profit partners who are all promoting the film, but the success of this use of an on-demand model may provide a template for other filmmakers in the future.
Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers follows the exploits of four bored coeds as they embark on a dream trip to Florida, where they hope to escape their dull and confining lives. They arrive in Tampa to discover a world of debauchery, drinking, and drugs set against a backdrop of brightly-colored bikinis and sunny beaches and pumping hiphop and techno score that seems to fulfill their fantasies of escape and transformation, even while it visualizes the nightmares of any parent with teenagers who are worried about the behavior of kids today.
This plot description initially would seem to set the stage either for a film that exploits its female protagonists or one that functions as an implicit critique of a materialistic, excessive, and shallow youth culture bent on its own self-destruction. Add the fact that three of the Spring Breakers in question are tween stars Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez, and Vanessa Hudgens, and such readings (like Jackie Cooper’s complaint that Korine is celebrating the excesses of Spring Break) are even more tempting.
But these readings place too little emphasis–or seem confused by–the second half of the girl’s journey when they are arrested in a drug raid when they are doing cocaine during a hotel party. During the trial, they are bailed out by a cartoonishly excessive white, corn-rowed, drug-dealing hip-hopper who goes by the name of Alien (played by James Franco). The image of the girls, standing in front of the judge handcuffed, still wearing their day-glo bikinis visually emphasizes their vulnerability and the recognition that their utopian fantasies of transformation have been disrupted. And here, the film begins to take unexpected turns. Alien show sympathy for the girls’ plights, even while his excesses frighten the more religious Faith (Gomez). But the other spring breakers find themselves embracing and emulating Alien’s bravado, even to the point of engaging in some gunplay themselves.
These readings also seem to be unsure of how to engage with Korine’s playful engagement with the culture of images. Like Stephanie Zacharek, I do think that Korine’s depiction of the excesses of Spring Break have an air of superiority about them, even while relishing the ability to indulge in that depiction. But it’s the film’s fascination with guns (and their relationship with phallic power) that seems oddly crucial to the girls’ fantasies. This motif is recurrent throughout the movie. During the opening scene–in a college lecture hall, with seemingly hundreds students sitting bored behind laptops–two of the spring breakers draw pictures, one with a heart with the message “I love penis” inside it and another with a crudely drawn penis.
Later, these same girls commit their first crime, a robbery of a local chicken shack where they use squirt guns to frighten the customers and workers into giving up their money. Eventually, the girls pick up some of Alien’s incredible arsenal of guns, pushing these connections to absurd lengths. Instead of girls gone wild, it’s something closer to girl power gone wild. Like Glenn Kenny, I was fascinated by the “gendered role-reversal” here, but I’m still not convinced that Korine completely sustains any fully meaningful observations here. I’d also agree with Kenny that the set piece involving Franco’s Alien singing Britney Spears’ “Everytime,” while playing a white, poolside piano, the spring breakers dancing alongside, seems a bit too obviously “critic bait.” Still, Korine’s consciousness about the culture of images–especially as they are shaped by the personas of its young stars–makes it hard for me to dismiss the film completely.
Alongside of this critique, Spring Breakers also seems to be about the desire for transformation. Faith seems to be trying to break free from a restrictive religious culture, and the other girls also imagine that their spring break trip will allow them to reinvent themselves. In that sense, I think Korine is not engaging in a generation critique of kids today but tapping into or exploring how these fantasies of transformation operate and contribute to the culture of excess depicted in the fim.
Update: I think Michael Chaiken’s review brings together the multiple threads Korine is weaving together–the cultures of excess and materialism and the fantasies of power and materialism–in a pretty insightful way.
I’m still working out a few of the details, but this spring I’ll be celebrating the end of another school year by attending the Cannes Film Festival. With that in mind, I’m going to indulge a bit and point to the super-stylish poster celebrating this year’s festival featuring an image of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward kissing. Meanwhile Anne Thompson also mentions that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the American pavilion and offers some background about her role in its founding.
Yet another shift in the world of entertainment: HBO is now considering a deal that would allow consumers to drop their full cable subscription to pay for a package that would combine a $50 monthly Internet bill with a $10-15 monthly subscription to HBO that would also allow consumers to use their HBO Go mobile service. HBO will not go to an Internet-only subscription, but this is seen, in part, as a movie to reduce the piracy of popular HBO shows such as Game of Thrones.
Just poking my head up from a big pile of grading (don’t worry–it’s all online, so no trees were harmed) to point out this poster that ted Striphas found at the Indiana University library. The positioning of Netflix as the “bad guy” reminds me of the anti-Blockbuster campaigns back in the late 1990s, by playing off some of the perceived weaknesses of the streaming video service while reminding us about all of the benefits of checking out movies and TV shows from the library, such as their great (and free) selection of titles.
Although it was hardly unexpected news, I’m intrigued by news that Redbox has launched a subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service to compete with Netflix, Redbox Instant, in collaboration with Verizon. Like Netflix, the service will cost $8 per month, but the selection for the streaming service, at least for now, is slightly smaller at 4,600 titles, although that also includes the right to rent four DVDs per month from the company’s ubiquitous kiosks. In addition, consumers can rent or buy up to 4,000 titles from the website, providing users with a fairly wide variety of choices when it comes to accessing content.
Redbox’s selections in both their kiosks and on streaming heavily favor movie titles, and they continue to have access to movies that are not yet available through Netflix. The public release took place after a beta test saw tens of thousands of participants continuing their membership after the first month, when their free access to the service ended. So how might this news shape the evolving SVOD landscape? I have a few tentative hunches.
First, like the Consumer Reports reviewer, I think Redbox Instant will have to be made available on more devices before it achieves widespread popularity. Although the service supports Apple and iOS users, you currently cannot access Redbox Instant through a Roku player (although I imagine that will happen soon). But that’s a minor technological or logistical hurdle, for the most part.
More crucially, I think Redbox Instant provides a further illustration of our a la carte, menu-driven future when it comes to media consumption. Due to the fact that streaming services are competing for (often exclusive) streaming rights to movies and TV shows, my hunch is that this launch will contribute to the practice of combining multiple streaming accounts, turning Redbox Intant into something like another cable channel alongside of Netflix, Hulu Plus, and regular channels such as HBO or Comedy Central. As Redbox Instant CEO Shawn Strickland confirmed in the New Tee Vee article, “We think that the over-the-top space will evolve very similarly to the cable and network space,” although unlike Netflix, it’s worth noting that Redbox continues to report that they have no plans to invest in original content, and given the popularity of their existing model, I don’t see a particularly strong incentive for them to change directions on that.
Access to multiple SVOD services could contribute to slight increases in cord cutting, although given the popularity of live sports in particular, my hunch is that cord cutting will remain a somewhat limited phenomenon. And instead of a single “celestial multiplex” as Chris Anderson described it, in his discussion of the long tail, we will have instead–a series of competing, but often complementary, “cloud miniplexes” where we can go in different situations depending on the content we want to see at any given time.
Yesterday, I mentioned the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter project and suggested that it would likely get funding. I didn’t quite expect it to reach its $2 million funding goal in less than 24 hours. But I think the fact that the show had a comparatively large (as opposed to the many relatively unknown independent artists who use the site) and incredibly enthusiastic fan base shows that crowdfunding can work incredibly well for the right kind of project. As James Poniewozik suggests, Kickstarter may be a means for creators to “monetize depth, not breadth, of interest,” allowing fans to put their money where their fandom is. In my previous post, I briefly addressed the idea that crowdfunding could function somewhat similarly to the way in which “foreign pre-sales” were used to guarantee funding for independent films, and I’m trying to work through that comparison a little further. Like foreign pre-sales, crowdfunding provides money that will help get the film made, as well as a guaranteed audience that will watch the film (if you “donate” to get the movie made, you’re also likely to pony up to pay for a movie ticket down the road). There are obvious differences: the foreign pre-sales helped provide up to 20-30% of an indie budget, but the buyers were essentially paying for distribution rights before the film was released. Crowdfunders aren’t investing for the sake of profit; they are doing so simply because tehy want a project to get made.
This leads Richard Lawson of the Atlantic to complain about the ethos of Kickstarter, suggesting that it really isn’t a “donor” system because the people who are asking for money on the site don’t “really need it.” He goes on to add that donating to support professional artists and creators–he also singles out Amanda Palmer’s $1.2 million campaign to finance a folk album–ignores other charities that really deserve or need our money. Certainly, there is a reasonable point here about the needs to address global poverty, the importance of supporting political causes we find valuable, and so on, but I wonder if people who give to Kickstarter campaigns are doing so out of charitable impulses or if they are seeing it as a kind of “investment” in the entertainment they want to see. If tossing ten bucks in a hat to get a Veronica Mars movie made (and to get a couple of perks that will have collectible and, arguably, emotional value) is necessary, I think many people are willing to pay that price in the same way that we all make decisions about what concerts to attend, what DVDs to buy, and whether to pony up for a premium cable channel like HBO.
Sure, in some cases, creators make a pitch that appeals to the donor ethos, but I didn’t detect that in the Veronica Mars pitch. Instead I saw an appeal to the enjoyment that many people had–references to the show’s narrative and visual style and to the ability to spend at least a few more hours “hanging out” with these characters. I do have some concern that this will become a more standard technique in funding “independent” projects down the road, especially since Warner will eventually be involved in making the movie. What does it mean that we are paying in to support these projects–and to be fair, I’ve only donated to one Kickstarter project–to provide studios with a way to protect themselves from facing as much financial risk?
I’m skeptical about Lawson’s other contention that Kickstarter fundraising is essentially a “passive” activity. Yes, the Veronica Mars crew had to do very little during their campaign (which was funded in a day or so), perhaps, but they did spend several years developing the characters that clearly meant something to thousands of enthusiastic backers. I do think that we need better theories of what it means to crowdfund, especially in an evolving and complex media ecosystem, one in which “independence” is also a highly ambiguous term, but I think that dismissing it because it fails to adhere to an idealized notion of a “donor” system misses out on what might motivate people to support a project financially.
Update: Kieran Masterton, who worked on the distribution platform OpenIndie (among many other endeavors) has some nice reflections about this topic, addressing whether the Veronica Mars campaign is in the spirit of Kickstarter’s donor model. A point that I’d skipped earlier is the question of transparency and whether the Veronica Mars team was fully honest about their intentions for the project, and I agree with Kieran that they were. They clearly disclose their relationship with Warner and make clear that the campaign is meant to demonstrate to Warner that there is a deep interest in the film. Given how many people supported the project financially (now over 45,000), I’d also be curious to know the metrics of what that would translate into in terms of an estimated opening weekend audience, given that many thousands of people did not support the project financially but would see the film.
Update 2: Immediately after I published this, S.T. Van Airsdale answers some of my questions about the financial implications, and many, many others. If you’re interested in the math of this–including the substantial costs of the perks for donating, this post is well worth reading.
Update 3: Last one, I promise. But I’m intrigued by Josh Wolk’s reading of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter frenzy in terms of nostalgia. Of course, it’s not surprising that fans would rally around a cult show that was perceived to have ended too early, but I wonder if Wolk is correct in surmising that it’s less about wanting the show itself (although obviously fans want that) than it is about being “back at the time when you enjoyed it,” a return fantasy. Wolk is also explicit (in a way that I should have been) about the connections between Kickstarter and on-demand culture, about our desires to get even more of our favorite shows, movies, and characters, long after widespread demand for them is exhausted. Wolk’s argument builds upon an old column by Matt Zoller Seitz that admonishes fans for attempting to resuscitate dead shows.
I just learned via Facebook friends about the launch of a new Kickstarter fundraising effort to crowdfund a Veronica Mars movie. The fundraising effort is asking fans of the critically acclaimed show, which ran from 2004-2007, to donate $2 million to support film production, which would begin over the summer if the producers reach their goal. Watching the Kickstarter page this morning, I’m pretty optimistic that the project will happen. In just about twenty minutes, the total amount pledged has increased by something like $30,000, and the number of donors has also gone up considerably (by at least 800 or so). Given that this project launched only in the last day or so, I suspect that word-of-mouth (including commentaries in the tech and entertainment press) will only increase donors’ awareness exponentially, even if the show had a relatively small fan base when it first aired.
The fundraising pitch itself is pretty savvy, using some of the self-aware techniques that fans enjoyed during Veronica’s initial broadcast run, gently mocking the characters’ personalities and making references to the show’s storytelling style. The technique also helps to establish that many of the major actors (Kristen Bell, etc) are already signed on to do the movie, as well. The perks offer a range of collectibles, and for the biggest donors, opportunities to interact with cast members (including the opportunity to have Bell or one of the other actors record a voice mail greeting) or even to appear in the film and have a speaking part (sorry, that one’s already taken).
But in watching this project unfold, it raises a few questions for me about how to think about Kickstarter. First, I don’t think that high-profile projects like the Veronica Mars movie will necessarily prevent smaller projects from happening. If anything, these projects may bring further attention to the site, encourage people to view themselves as donors, and in turn to consider funding other projects. Still, I think we may need a new term to describe the massive crowdfunding practices to contrast them from smaller scale projects that ask for only a few thousand dollars.
In fact, since I typed my original paragraph on the show, probably another 200 or so donors have chipped in. This project could open up new ways of thinking about how fan cultures can serve as a new version of the “pre-sale” model that independent studios have used to finance low-budget films in the recent past.
Here’s the Veronica Mars Kickstarter pitch:
Netflix finally has its Facebook integration in the United States. Just a few weeks after the last legal obstacle was eliminated, the subscription video-on-demand service has launched Netflix Social, the app that will allow users to share their viewing histories with their Facebook friends. The app–as I understand it from the launch video–allows two levels of sharing, one that will appear on your Netflix interface and another that will allow you to post your viewing history directly onto Facebook. While users don’t have to use the integration, if you opt in, the default sharing takes place only on Netflix, and you have to check an additional box to share your viewing history on Facebook. Users can opt not to share a specific title by clicking a box as the episode is starting or later by removing it from their social viewing history.
Once you integrate, Netflix will create two new rows to your interface. The first is called “friends’ favorites” and lists all videos that your friends have rated four stars or higher. The second, “Watched by Your Friends,” allows you to scroll through your lists of friends to see everything they’ve watched (or at least everything they’ll admit to watching). As far as I can tell from the video, the system only allows you to connect one Facebook account per Netflix account, which means I likely won’t be using Netflix Social, in part because it will be too burdensome for me to differentiate what I watch from what others in my family watch, although I’d imagine that Netflix will eventually focus on that issue.
I still wonder how widely this feature will be used, though. Many years ago, I mentioned or discussed “Nefflix Friends,” a sharing tool that I actually had used. The tool allowed you to view others’ queues and ratings for movies and TV shows. At the time, I was single and my viewing profile probably reflected my tastes more successfully. I was also somewhat less concerned about privacy and felt little need to worry about others seeing what I’d watched. Now, I’m a little less enthusiastic. When we see the video demo, it’s a little creepy to see someone looking into a friend’s queue to find that she has “been watching a lot of TED talks.”
I’ve obviously been thinking about these issues for a while, as my recent SCMS talk demonstrates, but it will be fascinating to get a sense of how people integrate this feature into their viewing practices, if they do so at all.
Update: Forgot to include an embed of the video announcing the launch:
If you count the original version of my blog on Blogger, I’ve been blogging for ten years (although the original posts no longer seem to be easily accessible). These kinds of milestones always invite some form of reflection and nostalgia and they certainly have inspired me to consider how my blogging practices have changed over the years.