Twitter, Second Screens, Piracy, and Why I’ll Never Be A Good Movie Blogger

TextingTheaters

If you pay attention to the insular, yet oddly connected, lives of movie bloggers then you’re as pathetic as I am on Twitter. These people are like my celebrities. I skim right past whatever Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, and Olivia Wilde are saying. Instead I pay close attention to the the latest snark from Devin Faraci (@devincf). I stop my quick scroll for Frosty Weintraub’s (@colliderfrosty) reductive thoughts on whatever screening he just emerged from. Or I roll my eyes at whatever asinine comment Alex Billington (@firstshowing) has committed to internet ephemera. Oh, and God forbid you attempt to distract me while I’m reading the latest brilliance from Film Crit Hulk (@FILMCRITHULK).

These are the people I pay attention do. To me celebrities feel often distant, despite the possibility of instant communication. They’re walled off by fame, fortune, and the barrage of tweets they must receive by the hour. Film bloggers, on the other hand, are reachable. Hulk will actually ‘favorite’ most of his follower’s kind words (mine included, and I’m stupidly happy about that). Devin Faraci often engages his followers in discussion, and berates the dumb ones when they need it (and when they don’t). Frosty will take your questions to his interviews, giving you a different kind of access to directors and actors. They’re big enough to be worth following, but small enough to still connect with.

Which is a round about way of getting to the fact that Devin and I held a ‘conversation’ the other night on Twitter, and I totally blew it.

Which is a round about way of getting to the fact that Alex Billington, while at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), called 911 on an audience member he suspected of committing an act of piracy.

Twitter was a ball earlier this week. Billington, riding a wave of righteousness, crusaded against those lowlives that insist on using their cell phones in the holy temple of the cinema. This is something he’ll tweet about frequently, and has made clear his no tolerance policy. I’ve been in theaters where people have checked their phones, which, yes, is annoying, but it is momentary. At TIFF, I think, Billington and his colleagues are witnessing audience members using their phones for prolonged periods of time. Movies that premiere and play at TIFF are on the market, they can be bought and get distribution deals, the nuances of which escape my tiny brain. The people in the audience aren’t always disciples of the flickering image. Plenty of them are businessmen, that need to be in touch with whoever for whatever at all times. Which is absurd, but we’re talking about the type of asshole that walks around with bluetooth headset in its ear every minute of its waking hours. Which is a reductive thing to say; look at me making sweeping generalizations.

Cell phone use in the cinema isn’t new. In fact it’s grown up. Every time I tune in to Breaking Bad I’m reminded to check into AMCTV.com for a ‘second screen’ experience. Which just, frankly, baffles me. Why would I want a second screen distracting me from that perfect show? Behind the scenes information are like nuggets of gold to film nerds. But why would I want to know them as I’m experiencing the story for the first time? That stuff is best for the DVD/Blu-Ray. The commentaries, and the pop-up facts. They can be insightful or banal, but for some reason they’re always kinda fun.

As someone who can appreciate the intensity of the work done by the countless professionals in Hollywood, I find cell phone use, second screen experiences, to be an insult to the creators. I understand where Billington is coming from. He believes that he’s fighting the good fight. He’s standing up for artists, protecting how we consume their product. Which is….admirable? I guess. I appreciate his intent. But he’s kind of a moron about it. Calling 911 is reserved for emergencies. Burning buildings. An intruder in your house. You don’t need these examples, you had the lectures in elementary school. To treat potential piracy (never confirmed as far as I can tell, the asshat with the phone was probably just checking his email) as an emergency is just dumb. Moronic.

Piracy is a problem. It is rampant. I have committed it. In fact I commit it most Sunday nights. Without a cable hook up in my apartment anymore I cannot watch Breaking Bad at my leisure. I’ll watch it illegally online, rationalizing that if I don’t it’ll be spoiled at work the next day. And that’s sort of piracy in a nutshell: it’s selfish. Artists don’t owe us anything, and we owe them everything. To quote Yann Martel:

If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.

– Author’s Note from The Life of Pi

Piracy is one of the best damn ways to not support artistry in the visual and musical mediums. Sure, you’re still consuming the product, but you are not supporting the artist who created it. I don’t know what the outcome of extended piracy is, but it can’t be good. With corporations cracking down they’re putting stricter controls on how artists can distribute their work and how we can consume it. Corporate control is an enemy of artistic integrity. Just pay for the damn song, movie, TV show. It’ll be worth it in the long run.

I’m sure there are nuances to this discussion that I’m not informed on, and yes, I’m a hypocrite. I’ve contributed to this problem. I realize it. So let’s work to be better consumers of art together, shall we?

This all awkwardly culminates to this twitter conversation between me and Devin Faraci of the estimable Badass Digest with regards to that now infamous 911 call.

Wow, what insightful, and worthwhile comments I made there. What an engaging and thoughtful conversation I held with one of the loudest, most intelligent, and worthwhile movie bloggers on the internet.

I left that exchange realizing one thing. My internet personality, the way I engage you faceless masses (ok, yeah, I know most of you who would actually get this far) is too seated in an attempted air of objectivity and my desire to appear knowledgable. Beyond that, I just want to be likable. Devin Faraci is very successful as a blogger and journalist of films and Hollywood news, and he downright drives people up the wall. From his author’s bio:

A ten year veteran of writing for the web, Devin has built a reputation as a loud, uncompromising and honest voice – sometimes to the chagrin of his readers, but usually to their delight.

I used to hate this guy. I followed him on twitter for a few months and I couldn’t take his snark in his tweets. I unfollowed him and enjoyed a Devinless twitter feed for a few more months. In the interim period I spent more and more time reading Film Crit Hulk’s pieces, which are posted at Badass Digest. Which led me to contact with Devin’s writing more and more. I don’t know what changed, but I went from dismissing his opinions to valuing them. I don’t always agree with him, I don’t always appreciate his language (he can be abrasive), but I began to see the worth in his writings.

Differences of opinions are important for art. If we don’t challenge each other on what’s good, and what’s crap, then we’re not progressing to better art. The conversation is constantly evolving and adapting to the constantly changing culture we live in. We need people to clash, to disagree, and to voice what they think loudly, but more important than that they need to do it constructively. Amidst the film blogging world, Devin might be one of the most successful at this endeavor. He has been able to give me pause on movies I thought were perfect. He’s illuminated issues of theme on movies I didn’t get. And he’s made me understand movies I hated. I won’t always agree with him, but I’ll always read his thoughts.

I don’t know if I can ever be like that. I too desperately want to be read and to be liked through what I write. I’m too concerned with alienating people by having too strong of an opinion, of coming off as pretentious and snobby. But if I’m going to be a successful writer on film I need to cast off these crutches and just say whatever the hell I think. I probably never will, but I should.

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