I hear X-Men Origins was leaked. So now copies are spreading about the internet like wildfire. And the studio is squealing like a stuck pig. I even saw one pundit (I don’t remember where) who tried to tell me that illegally downloading movies takes food off the tables of all the poor schmucks who work in the industry (in a word: Bullshit. I used to work in the industry – there are obscene sums of money involved in even low-budget films. We don’t have to worry about the paychecks of the working class of the film industry. Especially because their jobs are well over and paid for long before there’s any kind of product to be ‘pirated’). But the studios want us all to sympathize with their pain. Want us to see the ‘problems’ that internet ‘piracy’ causes. Their argument, in a nutshell, is that people who download movies are stealing from the studios because if they (the ‘pirates’) couldn’t download the movies, they would purchase them instead. Setting aside all the inherent flaws in this argument, let’s take a quick look at the legal process of purchasing a movie. Our case study will be the Disney film Bolt, my two-year-old’s current favorite movie.
First off, we have to pay the studio just to find out whether or not we like the movie (there was a day, you know, when record stores would let you listen to an album before buying it. Really). In this particular case, the question isn’t whether we like the film, but rather whether our son does. We are careful and conscientious parents, so we don’t let our boy watch movies until we’ve seen them first. So it’s off to the in-laws’ so the boy will be well taken care of while we check out the show. Thirty-five to forty dollars later, my wife and I have learned that the movie is fine for the boy to watch. Cost breakdown: $20 for our tickets, $15 to $20 for refreshments (when it’s just the two of us, we ALWAYS get refreshments, because we love them so, but also because refreshment sales is the only real profit our local cinema makes. You DO know that the overwhelming majority of ticket sales goes to the studios, right?).
Now we can move to the next step, which is finding out whether our son likes the film. This time we go to a matinee, and we bring some of our own snacks (no theater sells any form of snack food we’re willing to feed our son), so we spend less money. Let’s say 15 to 20 dollars. When it’s all said and done, we find out that our son does, indeed, like the movie. And it’s only cost us somewhere in the area of fifty to sixty dollars to learn this. Let’s call it $55.
Since we’ve learned that the boy likes the movie (loves it, actually. He’d watch it 5 times a day if we’d let him) we now have to buy the DVD, to the tune of $25. This brings us to the nice round figure of $80 invested in this movie.
Then, my wife reads an article about marketing in movies, and she tells me about it over dinner. So the next time we watch Bolt, I watch with a more discerning eye. I notice that, during the course of the movie, we repeatedly see a U-Haul truck. Not a made-up company, but U-Haul. And I realize that this is happening because U-Haul gave Disney a great deal of money for it to happen. I also realize that this particular marketing campaign is not directed at me, but rather at the two-year-old sitting next to me.
A smart and long-term investment on U-Haul’s part, actually. Someday – years from now – my son is going to move somewhere. And when he does so, he’s going to rent a U-Haul. He won’t do so because they offer a better product than anyone else, or better customer support, or better prices. He’ll do so simply because he feels kindly disposed toward them. Because during this formative time of his life, those trucks and that company are becoming intricately associated with things (and people) that he loves dearly.
And when he moves again, he’ll rent from U-Haul again, even if his previous encounter with them entails sub-standard equipment, half-assed customer service and over-inflated prices. And he’ll have no idea why he’s doing so.
In a nutshell, Disney got paid a lot of money to program my son. And many, many other children. Even worse, I paid eighty dollars to have this occur. And my family is just one of tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands? Millions?) of families affected just by this one studio and this one film.
And the studios want us to believe that someone else is the bad guy.