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.
Here, below the fold, is the rough transcript of my talk from this year’s SCMS conference. I’ve left out some of the links to articles cited in the paper, but they are available in my previous blog post where I discuss the Netflix Flixies and some of the “big data” issues associated with interfaces. There were a number of very helpful questions that came up during discussion, including observations about how German streaming video providers address kids. By coincidence, another panelist mentioned the Brazilian streaming video service Netmovies, which prominently features not only a kids section but also prominently displays characters associated primarily with American films targeted to younger viewers. Finally, I did want to confirm that President Obama has signed the bill that amended the Video Privacy Protection Act to allow users to share automatically the movies they watch on streaming services such as Netflix, which means that a Netflix Facebook app is likely to happen in the near future.
It’s almost impossible to know where to start with Netflix’s latest publicity gambit, the Flixies, a series of awards in categories that are meant to mock the conventions of watching movies and TV shows on streaming video. The most obvious is complete astonishment at whoever thought that a category called “Best PMS Drama” would actually be considered funny. Or you know, not offensive. Compare that to the more masculine “Best Bromance” category, and it’s hard not to miss the fact that gender stereotypes about media viewing are permeating into the realm of streaming video. As many of my Twitter friends have observed, Netflix has just made everyone’s next unit on gender studies that much easier to teach. The PMS category is so silly that it’s not difficult to imagine Reed Hastings throwing together a hastily produced apology video, much like his poolside mea culpa after the Qwikster announcement.
Even so, some of the choices of categories–and the films included in them–demand further analysis, in part to see what Netflix is implying about how we use these VOD services, how they fit into gender dynamics, how they fit into family life, and how they fill time during our daily schedules. I’ll admit that I’m perplexed by the inclusion of Friday Night Lights and First Wives Club as nominees in the PMS category, in particular. Friday Night Lights doesn’t seem, to my mind, to be specifically coded as female, and First Wives Club seems like a film that wouldn’t attract a lot of attention given that it was a moderate hit something like 20 years ago. Meanwhile, many of the “Bromance” films don’t seem to fit that category (which I normally associate with movies like Point Break or pretty much anything by Judd Apatow) at all.
But what seems most notable about many of the categories is that they seem to engage with the time frames that shape how and when we watch. Most obviously categories like “TV Marathon” (Notably the Netflix-produced House of Cards is included here) reflect our habits of binge watching, while Best Commute Shrtner (and yes, they omitted the “o”) depicts the idea of using VOD to fill empty time during subway or bus commutes–and also, notably, includes shows that seem geared primarily to male audiences. But even a category like “Best Hangover Cure” (which scandalously failed to include The Big Lebowski) implies lazy weekend viewing. Less directly related to the idea of time is the category Best Tantrum Tamer, which focuses on TV shows and movies that help entertain impatient or bored children, underscoring Netflix’s status as the latest in a long line of electronic babysitters.
The Flixies crossed my radar just a few hours after I discovered a couple of Netflix television advertisements that have apparently begun playing in the last few days (which also seem to have their own gender issues). the first, “Miss Know It All” features an oblivious woman who goes around spoiling television series before her friends and acquaintances before they have a chance to watch. “Spoilers” have become easy villains in the era of complex TV narratives, but this ad, which urges us to “watch responsibly” makes out the practices of binge watching to be a social norm. Similarly “Preparation” depicts a bromantic trip to the local bulk food store to stock up on supplies so that the guys can watch six consecutive seasons of a favorite show. In both cases, Netflix is promoted as enabling our most obsessive traits as media consumers.
So while it would be easy to focus solely on the silly genre categories, I also wonder what else Netflix is telling us about the way we use streaming video. Given Netflix’s extensive and well-documented use of “big data,” it seems unlikely that these categories were chosen completely on a whim. Instead, many of these categories (and the films contained within them) are likely being drawn from existing practices, even while they help to reinforce actions such as binge viewing, spoiler antipathy, and distracting bored children. After engaging viewers by producing and promoting its original programming, Netflix now seems determined to participate more deeply in the process or redefining spectatorship in the era of streaming video.
Like many other observers, I’ve been fascinated by the rise of techniques such as crowdsourcing and crowdfunding in the world of independent film. Both of these techniques seemed to emerge in response to the widely discussed independent film “crisis” of 2008, which saw several major studios shut down their specialty or indie divisions, as Mark Gill famously documented in his 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival keynote address, which warned that “the sky [was] falling” when it came to the financing and distribution of independent film. Gill’s speech was part of what appears to be a moment of transition, one that was shaped not only by the collapse of more traditional financing models–such as the pre-sales described by Edward Jay Epstein–but also by the ongoing shift from DVD sales and rentals to streaming video and on-demand distribution, among other issues. In this context, a number of filmmakers began experimenting with do-it-yourself approaches to filmmaking that sought to get the audience involved in the making of a movie from the very beginning, whether through involvement in the production, financing, or promotion. These filmmakers, however fairly, were often defined directly against the so-called studio indies or “dependies” distributed by Miramax and others, raising questions once again about what it means to be an independent filmmaker.
For this reason, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the crowdfunding project being proposed by the longtime production company, Troma Entertainment, the company responsible for a wide range of low-budget genre films, including The Toxic Adventure and The Class of Nuke ‘Em High. Their proposed project is a documentary they are calling Occupy Cannes, which would depict their efforts to rent a theater in Cannes where they would attempt to sell their latest title, Return to Nuke ‘Em High. Their campaign has received an impressive level of attention from Time Magazine, where Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman reports that he hopes to show how film festivals have been “perverted,” a shift that Kaufman attributes in part to the return to business models based on vertical integration. It’s a fascinating idea and the Troma proposal asks for a relatively meager sum of $50,000 to finance the project, while also incorporating some basic crowdsourcing aspects, in which they invite supporters to choose which movie poster design they prefer for Occupy Cannes.
But what fascinates me about this project is how Troma works to define themselves as a more truly independent production company, while also highlighting their long history of making movies. During their crowdfunding video pitch, a woman takes us into Troma’s “vaults,” where we are introduced to several prominent actors–including Marisa Tomei and Samuel L. Jackson–who appeared in Troma films early in their careers. More crucially, however, we are reminded of the fact that Troma not only funds all of its films independently but also pays for and produces all of its own publicity materials (one example of this for Return to Nuke ‘Em High is a Tumblr blog ostensibly by one of the characters in the film). as you might expect, Troma is attentive to the fact that crowdfunding techniques are not viable for most independent filmmakers, especially for those who don’t have long industry careers or large fan bases to build upon. No matter what, I’ll be curious to see how Troma–a company that is very attentive to creative marketing techniques and to playing with (and parodying) Hollywood imagery–engages with this new indie economy and culture.
Taking a quick break from a big batch of grading to compile some more articles about the production history and distribution narratives surrounding Netflix’s House of Cards launch:
- IndieWire interviewed Modi Wiczyk from Media Rights Capital, the company that produced the series and sold it to Netflix. A few key details: David Fincher, who directed the first two episodes, was originally slated to serve only as the series’ executive producer but he later became more involved creatively. MRC developed the series before shopping it around, and the series was originally intended to be sold to a television network, which would have been the primary window before the show got a second run via Netflix.
- John Vanderhoef of the Carsey-Wolf Center has a solid overview of many of the articles reporting on Netflix’s recent TV and movie distribution strategies. The CWC also has an interview with Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos.
- Derek Thompson of The Atlantic argues that the success of House of Cards is further indication that increasing competition is creating a “golden age of television.”
Just a quick pointer to a Dallas Observer article on Netflix’s distribution strategy for House of Cards with a couple of quotes from yours truly. One of the reasons I was excited to do this interview is that Welch seemed to be challenging some of the uncritical assumptions about the novelty of binge-viewing. I do think that it is significant that Netflix is moving into producing, rather than simply licensing, content, but the basic practices of binge viewing have been with us for a long time.
This week, my wife and I have been binge viewing season one of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes’ amazing drama set in the early 1900s, which depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and the servants who work for them. As fans of the show will know, the characters are beautifully drawn, and the show powerfully captures a pivotal historical era, beginning with the sinking of the Titanic but making reference to World War I and other historical events along the way. Much of the show’s drama hinges on issues of social mobility–the family struggles to navigate British inheritance laws that prevent daughters from inheriting property, while many of the servants reflect on desires for different work opportunities–a focus that has proven to be intellectual catnip for both of us (and obviously many, many others). But what has enabled us to become so engaged with the show so quickly is our ability to binge watch season one on Netflix, and we’ll finish the entire first season in four days (and then move to Hulu for season two).
For consumers like us, this is a great deal. We probably won’t catch up with the episodes in time to follow season three “live,” but it’s a nice way of watching, especially given our inconsistent schedules that might make live viewing difficult. There’s nothing new there, of course. DVD box sets started serving this function years ago, and people have been talking about on-demand TV and movies for a while now. It’s also not a bad deal for Netflix and Hulu to make this licensed programming available. I’ve binge watched a few other shows via Netflix, in particular, and there are usually enough movie selections to keep me engaged. But as Andrew Wallenstein and Alyssa Rosenberg point out, in a couple of sharp analyses, Netflix’s strategy of promoting binge watching may not be as successful or effective when it comes to their original programming. Although Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has touted the ability of streaming services to escape from the boundaries of linear TV programming, both Rosenberg and Wallenstein imply that the plan to release all 13 episodes of House of Cards simultaneously may work against getting maximum value for the show.
Wallenstein, in particular, highlights the dangers of “too much, too quickly” when it comes to Netflix. He points out that the goal of producing original programming (like House of Cards and the revival of Arrested Development) is to entice new subscribers into joining the service. Wallenstein then speculates that by dropping all thirteen episodes at once, Netflix may actually be encouraging people to join the service for one month, binge watch the original shows, and then cancel their subscription until a new show comes along that they want to watch. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. I suspect that, to some extent, Wallenstein is right. In an era of one-click, on-demand culture, people can walk away from delivery services like Netflix or Hulu simply and easily. Starting or quuitting a subscription service takes just a few minutes, and if House of Cards is all that somebody wants to watch, then it’s pretty simple to do that.
Rosenberg, drawing from reporting by Deadline Hollywood Daily, adds that Netflix is financing these productions, in part through the use of debt that will (obviously) eventually have to be paid down. Along with Netflix’s plans to expand overseas, this has led Moody’s to classify Netflix as a “risky investment,” and leaves Rosenberg to speculate that Netflix may have to increase its subscription rates to subsidize these costs and to keep investors happy. To avoid these problems, Wallenstein offers a somewhat compelling solution: instead of releasing all episodes of its original programs simultaneously, Netflix should adopt something closer to a linear programming model, in which it would release 3-4 new episodes of a show per month. Thus, users could engage in limited binge viewing, but they would be compelled to maintain their subscriptions for several months to follow an entire season of an original show (my hunch is that such a strategy would be less relevant for licensed shows like Downton Abbey). Wallenstein also makes the point that extending the show’s run over several months would also extend its social media presence over several months and that people who learn about the show late (as my wife and I did with Downton) could learn about the show from Twitter and Facebook posts and could catch up quickly in order to be in-the-know when the next set of episodes drops.
I have some doubts about whether Wallenstein’s proposal makes sense. If binge viewing is the primary mode through which consumers encounter Netflix, then alienating these audiences through artificially producing temporary scarcity seems uncool. In addition, I wonder how many people have the energy to start and quit Netflix every time the distributor introduces a new or original show. I’d imagine that Netflix hopes that people will be drawn in initially by an original show unavailable elsewhere and that the practice of binge watching that will keep them coming back for more. Like Wallenstein, I also wonder about the “casual viewer” who may not binge watch a specific show. It’s practice that I mention in passing in my chapter on Redbox in On-Demand Culture, but I suspect that it needs even more attention.My hunch is that the scarcity techniques will have less impact on these more casual practices. People can pick up or return to a show whenever it is convenient. More than anything, this discussion shows that there are still a number of questions that we can still ask about the viewing norms and protocols that will develop in an era of digital delivery. Binge watching is obviously the most visible form of this practice–especially when Netflix automatically redirects you to the next episode of a TV series–but this practice may eventually be subject to other issues such as changing distribution practices and limited libraries and data caps.
I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing elsewhere this month, so in case you missed them:
- I have a blog post for ProHacker that discusses a strategy that I developed to create and post podcasts for my online course. I’ve been using the same workflow for several weeks now, and it’s continuing to work well for me.
- I have an article in the upcoming (Winter 2013) print issue of Filmmaker Magazine that addresses some of the issues in my forthcoming book, On-Demand Culture. the new issue isn’t up yet on the Filmmaker Magazine website, but it looks fantastic, and I’m delighted to be included in some incredibly good company. In the article, I tried to unpack some of the complicated issues that are shaping movie distribution, while also discussing how independent filmmakers have been incredibly resourceful in creating their own tools–Kickstarter, etc–to find an audience (and funding) for their work.
- I recently wrote a blog post for Antenna on the politics of representing torture in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. My ultimate conclusion is that even if it never directly states that torture led to the intelligence that allowed us to find bin Laden, the film feels as if torture helped. That being said, I also think the film leaves us with some ambivalence about how that search was conducted, making Zero Dark Thirty a much more subtle film than its many critics have suggested.