The Deal Hollywood Made With You and Hopes You’ll Forget
June 7, 2017: Sony Studios makes a grand announcement that family-friendly versions of two-dozen of their movies will be made available for sale.
June 14, 2017: Sony Studios makes a grand retraction that family-friendly versions of two-dozen of their movies will not be made available for sale.
Aside from being a bit of a corporate embarrassment (Sony says the idea got shelved after directors complained, leaving me wondering why that phone call wasn’t made earlier) it also offers a hint of the push-back companies with plans for filtering services can expect. Just a few evenings ago, the front runner of the filtering-as-you-like-it group, VidAngel, made a their own grand plans known through a live Facebook video that they are back in the filtering business. The announcement was watched by well over 100 thousand viewers, attesting to the interest, and profit potential, of being able to filter movies to meet personal tastes. It also sends a signal to the real power people in Hollywood, the directors and creators, that they can continue to push against the rights of consumers to choose how they consume entertainment.
This is the result of a power struggle in Hollywood that has grown over the past few decades. Studios used to own creators. Directors and writers worked for the studio. Now independent filmmakers have begun making movies and using studios as a sort of hybrid marketing and distribution platform. Directors are creators, and most creators love their art and don’t want it messed with. Studios are businesses and don’t care if they are making profits from steamy NC-17 indie flics or cheesy talking dog movies. Whatever sells is the darling of the weekend.
The truth is, for the most part, movies with less restrictive ratings (PG-13 has long been the moneymaking sweet spot) bring in bigger dollars. Yet most “serious” artisans desire to create films with darker stories. Or they simply seem to believe that no one will take their work seriously if it doesn’t contain six-dozen f-bombs and a few other spicy moments. What doesn’t work is to tell a director she or he will make more money if those bad words are cut out and nine-year-olds can see the movie. It seems by the time directors have reached the level of mainstream Hollywood status, money isn’t a big draw. You can’t help but admire their dedication to the art, but you also may wish a few more people would step up to the plate and make quality films that tell serious/fun/entertaining stories without the usually unnecessary profanities, etc..
As we watch this little tiff unfold, with many directors undoubtedly willing to fight to the end credits for their right to keep minions like you and I from filtering their movies, they obviously have forgotten or are unaware of a little deal that got made way back in 2005. During that time the big worry in Hollywood focused on those now ubiquitous devices we all carry around with cameras built into them. People began recording movies in theaters and a plague of pirated DVD discs began appearing around the world along with fuzzy versions of new releases being uploaded to the Internet. Catching these sly videographers was difficult, and if you did, your main recourse was to launch an expensive and time consuming civil lawsuit. So Mr. Studio Exec went to Washington and told the government the industry must have legislation in place to stop this practice from happening. That would make it much easier to penalize a pirate—kind of like a big speeding ticket.
The government of the day looked at the idea and recognized this was a problem. The film industry is a huge contributor to GDP in America. However, they also knew another storm was brewing. Little startups, mainly in Utah, were copying movies and editing out the raunchy parts and then selling the copy (with the original disc) to customers. Hollywood didn’t like this either (a point on which I wrote about years ago), but I suspect it was a much lesser problem than the legions of pirated movies criss-crossing the globe on an ever faster Internet. Recognizing that many citizens wanted the right to see movies filtered in a way that met their expectations, the government decided to put two legislative acts into one package.
The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 offered something to consumers and entertainment industry leaders. It prescribed serious fines and imprisonment for illegally filming and copying movies. In exchange it promised immunity from the law for any company or individual that wanted to develop and profit from a process whereby a movie could be filtered on-the-fly while maintaining the original artistic work intact. Not long after the act came into force we started seeing stories like this in the news. Yet the dream of having a variety of movie services with easy to use filtering controls still seems far off.
Members of the DGA, take note that this agreement was made to protect our indigenous film industry. Now it’s payback time. If the film industry continues to push against on-the-fly filtering services, we must see the courts step in and protect the consumer. This isn’t about censorship. Everyone is free to create the movie of their wildest imagination. What this is about is consumer choice and fulfilling a legal agreement that is over a decade old and overdue for implementation.
In reality, this horse left the barn when the first Betamax hit store shelves. For the first time people had a fast-forward button and could selectively choose what they wanted to see. Frankly, Sony’s sad little selection of 24 movies isn’t really an issue. I’d rather be in control of what I want to see or not see in a movie than leaving it to someone who is cutting out scenes to fit an unknown specification or agenda. But if this is the beginning of an overt attempt to bury an important piece of legislation, supporters of the Family Movie Act (namely you and I) need to send a prompt reminder to our politicians, legislators and the industry that this is a promise bound by law that cannot be broken.