Arts & Entertainment, Film and TV, Pop Rhetoric

In Defense of the Cinema: why your local movie theatre matters more than ever

Sparks have been flying in the film industry lately—but not in the romantic sense.

Since May 2, thousands of screenwriters across the United States, represented by the Writers Guild of America (WGA), have declared a strike against major studios and streaming platforms.

The issue on the table? What they describe as an “existential crisis” for their craft amidst diminishing pay and the obsolescence of their role in the filmmaking process. 

The WGA has called out major streaming oligopolists, including Netflix, Amazon, and Paramount Plus as the primary culprits behind screenwriters’ shrinking weekly wages and poor working conditions. Their complaints are varied and include an ongoing reduction in series’ lengths—as shows are progressively cut down to eight or twelve episodes per season, compared to the once-typical twenty—and the mounting popularity of so-called “mini-rooms.” These new, smaller versions of typical writers’ rooms (often at sub-par pay) present a particular threat in how they exclude writers from the production team post-drafting. Notably, they prevent screenwriters from engaging in the rewriting and editing of scripts, building relationships with fellow creatives, and even learning the mechanics of sound mixing and set design. Instead of learning the ins and outs of production that come with a cohesive collaboration, writers are effectively barred from the practical knowledge and experience needed to execute their own projects in the future. In short, we may miss out on an entire sector of potential creators, fundamentally limiting the innovation of what we see on the screen and ultimately harming our viewing experience. 

Movie theatres, too, have been ringing alarm bells for their existence ever since the COVID-19 pandemic left many of them floundering for an audience—and for funding. Across the world, this precarious lack of support has killed independent movie theatres. With them go countless emerging filmmakers, individuals who carry the potential to craft unconventional and provocative narratives. Stories that, without the independent local film curator, would likely never see the light of day. While larger theatres have managed to recover their audiences more than expected, they have accomplished this success by screening popular blockbusters with massive budgets, avoiding smaller films in an attempt to appeal to the widest possible audience. The combined impact is alarming: Larger movie theatre chains are pushing out of sight both independent filmmakers and the independent cinemas that showcase their work.

Given this harrowing picture, it’s hard not to wonder whether audiences have forgotten the value of the cinema altogether. After all, with streaming services abounding, we have practically limitless access to hundreds of movies and series at a moment’s notice. If it necessitates nothing more than a quick monthly subscription and some stable wifi, why make the trek to the theatre when you already have ‘basically the same thing’ at home on your own computer? Movie-watching has never been so effortless. 

Maybe that’s precisely the problem. 

When you enter a theatre, you are making a choice. Forget mindlessly choosing a distraction from Netflix’s recommendations. You commute, you pay for this movie specifically, you hear the ticket being printed and ripped for you, you select a seat with care, and you silence your phone. All this attesting to the fact that what you are about to see is valuable enough to commit your time, presence, and rapt attention. And once the lights have dimmed, you settle in amongst strangers to surrender yourself into a space of collective reaction—strangers who by the end of the film are strangers no more, because you have been transformed by a common narrative. You are no longer an isolated viewer, but a public. 

This is the inherently social experience of the theatre that heightens a film—that does it justice. It magnifies the intimate experience of what lies on the other side of the camera, maybe even the other side of the world, to bring it to its fullest potential. But it is exactly the kind of unique experience we will lose unless we work to support and ultimately end these threats to filmmakers and theatres.

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