Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Long Live Bittorrent!

Recently, there was a huge flap over the unauthorized leak of a workprint copy of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" to the online bittorrent universe. The producers and stars expressed outrage and dismay, and vowed to find the source of the leak. Industry pundits speculated about how badly--not if--this unauthorized debut on March 31, 2009 would hurt the official release of the film on May 1, more than a month away.

"Wolverine" went on to enjoy an astounding $85 million opening weekend, placing it firmly in the summer blockbuster club occupied by previous "X-Men" films.*

It is my belief that this fracas represents a fundamental misunderstanding of today's movie going audience, and the rapidly evolving movie industry that it patronizes. The people who have the technical know how to utilize the bittorrent file sharing system--geeks, like me--also want to see these movies in the theater--if they're good. So why download and trade these films? Because we can. Geeks have huge egos, and nothing feeds that ego like being the first kid on the block with the newest toy, latest, greatest, highly-coveted gadget, or the unreleased movie. The hacker spirit runs through all geeks, whether they are actual hackers or not, and we all covet the forbidden fruit. We are fed by the rush of doing, seeing, or having that which we are not supposed to. Not because we want to hurt anyone or cause damage, but because we can.

But just because we get off on having something before everyone else doesn't mean that we don't enjoy other things, including the theater experience. No matter how good your theater setup is at home, you just can't duplicate the energy of sitting in a theater, smelling popcorn and cheering with a huge crowd. So what does it mean when "Wolverine" gets leaked a month early and still dominates the weekend with an $85 million opening? I'd say it means that most of those geeks who downloaded it early also went to the theater and saw it. I'd be willing to bet that those same geeks will end up purchasing the movie when it comes out on Blu-Ray.

So what's the MPAA's (Motion Picture Association of America) REAL "problem" with file-sharing?

The MPAA claims that they are just looking out for the rights of film artists; that file-sharing hurts copyright holders. The truth, however, is that it isn't the artists that the MPAA is looking to protect, but rather an archaic business model. What file-sharing REALLY hinders is a studio's ability to release substandard garbage and still make money off of it. What do I mean?

Many of the hacks who make films in Hollywood may not know that the product of their "vision" is total shit, but the people who market movies do. Like a hunter tracking an animal, movie marketers look for "sign." Multiple directors hired and fired, umpteen script re-writes by umpteen screenwriters, productions that are overbudget, or have dragged on long past their schedule--marketers read these signs just like the hunter sifting through animal poop, learning everything they need to know about their subject. They know when they have a huge bomb on their hands, and there's only one way to get rid of it and still do the most damage: by surprise.

No limited early release, no pre-screening events for the press, limited or no advertising--these are all signs that a movie is crap, the studio knows it, and the marketing team is trying to salvage it. It'll end up opening the same weekend as a huge blockbuster, in the hope of gathering an audience from the overflow of a more popular movie and recouping at least some of their investment. This is the scheme that file-sharing truly threatens. People can't be tricked into paying full admission price for a piece of shit if they have already seen it.

No one is saying that the producers, studios, etc., don't have every right to make money. Quite the contrary. The only way good movies--true blockbusters--can continue to be made is if they are profitable. No one is arguing that. But a night out at the movie theater is not an inexpensive prospect anymore, and you can't blame people for wanting to spend their entertainment dollar wisely. In this way, file sharing acts like a final measure of quality control. A good movie--like "Wolverine"--it will do just fine at the box office, leak or no. In fact, these leaks may even serve the film by generating pre-release excitement. A bad movie, well, frankly, shouldn't be made in the first place. Hopefully if a bad movie doesn't make money, it won't see a sequel.

File sharing doesn't hurt the ability of artists to make a living, it hurts the ability of mediocre hacks to make a living off of their mediocrity. Steven Spielberg and Jim Cameron are in no danger of losing their livelihood. Uwe Boll, on the other hand, could be in deep shit.

THAT is the truth that the MPAA doesn't want people to know about file sharing.

*(Opening weekends: "X-Men" (2000) $54 million; "X2" (2003) $85 million; "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006) $122 million.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

6 Rules of Basic Highway Courtesy

In an effort to keep basic courtesy alive as a human virtue--and to air out some of my deep-seated pet peeves on the road--I humbly offer these few simple guidelines for operating a motor vehicle as if you don't have your head wedged completely up your ass. Enjoy.


1. SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT

Remember when they used to have signs on the freeways that said this? Left lanes are for passing, right lanes are for slower traffic—period. It's a simple concept, but one that fewer and fewer people seem to grasp. It applies regardless of the speed limit. In fact, if you're doing 65 in the far left lane, you are probably creating a bottleneck. I know there are assholes out there thinking, “If I'm doing the speed limit, why should I move out of the way just so you can break the law?” Because it's none of your business. Let the CHP enforce the law; blocking the fast lane like some kind of freeway hall monitor doesn't make you a good citizen, it makes you an obnoxious douchebag.


2. DON'T PUNISH PEOPLE FOR SIGNALING

When someone is actually polite enough to signal a lane change (it's so rare these days), let them over. If they go too slow in front of you, you can always go around. Don't use their signal as a warning so you can speed up and cock-block them from making the switch.


3. LET THOSE WHO WOULD PASS, PASS.

I run into this scenario everyday on the freeway. I'm starting to close in on someone going slower, so I move out from behind them to go around. Only as soon as I make my move, the person I was about to pass speeds up to try to prevent me from passing. A guy who was perfectly comfortable cruising along at 60mph two seconds ago is now willing to push his Prius to 110 to stop me from going around. WHY?!? If you want to putter along at 60, good for you. Knock yourself out. Provided that you're in the right hand lane, I have no problem with that. But if you don't want to go any faster, why try to prevent me from going around you? I'm not challenging your manhood, I'm just trying to get to work. Not everyone who tries to pass you is intent on initiating a street race, moron.


4. THE RIGHT LANE IS WIDER FOR A REASON

On the surface (non-freeway) streets in most of California, the rightmost lane is wider than those to the left. This is to facilitate making right turns without obstructing the flow of traffic in that lane. This means that when making a right turn, get over as far as you can to the right to make a turn.

This wider lane also allows cars to continue turning right at an intersection where all other traffic is stopped at a red light. That is, unless some moron is sitting square in the middle of the lane blocking everybody. Don't be that moron. If you're in the right lane when stopping for a red light, and you don't intend to turn right, then pull over to the left half of the lane, away from the curb, so that those who wish to turn right at that intersection can still do so. You would want them to do it for you.

That said, even if the person going straight has done the courteous thing and pulled as far left as he/she can, sometimes there still just isn't enough room to get by. If the car ahead would have to pull through the crosswalk and halfway into the intersection, give it up. Chill out, stop beeping your horn, and wait for the light to change.


5. TO GET ONTO THE FREEWAY, MOVE AT FREEWAY SPEED

The long, straight stretch of on ramp that merges with freeway traffic lanes is called the “acceleration lane.” As the name suggests, you use this stretch to accelerate to freeway speed so you can merge with traffic. So MOVE YOUR ASS! You can NOT merge with traffic doing 65-75 when you're doing 45, not without causing a huge cluster fuck.


6. MAKE LANE CHANGES AT THE SPEED OF TRAFFIC

There should be little to no braking involved in changing lanes. Know where you have to be and plan accordingly. If you have to bring your entire lane to a halt to squeeze into the next lane, or because you weren't paying attention and nearly passed up your exit, you are practically inviting a freeway shooting.

Basically, it all boils down to paying attention to what's going on around you, and having the courtesy to try not to obstruct others. Apparently, that's too much to ask.