A few months ago Eli Roth’s latest gag fest “”Hostel 2″ was release to piss poor reviews and even pissier, poorer box office returns. David Poland, who runs Movie City News, (a site I’m quite fond of) became entangled in a discussion of how much effect pirating of films has on box office gross. He managed to put himself squarely in the middle of the discussion by buying a pirated copy of “”Hostel 2,” watching it, (well, half or a quarter of it before becoming grossed out) and subsequently thrashing the film before alerting Lions Gate that he had easily acquired a pirated copy of their yet-to-be-released film.
Poland’s revelation split people squarely down the middle. There were those who wanted him driven out of town for supporting pirated films while others thought it was a keen move to point out how easily new releases can be acquired and that it was clearly Lions Gate (or “”The Studios”) not doing their jobs in terms of keeping their product in the proper hands. When the film came out and bombed, Roth went on record as saying people like David Poland were responsible for the film’s demise because he not only watched the film illegally, but he also bagged on it before it was even out.
Without getting into issues of how lame Roth’s claims are (make a good movie, people will pay to see it dude) one can hardly call “”Hostel 2″ a bomb. I don’t have the time or the inclination to look up specific numbers, but I’m fairly certain it broke even theatrically and will rake in the cash when it hits DVD in a few days. Sure, it wasn’t a monster money maker but Boo-freeking-Hoo”¦you didn’t make millions. Which brings me to my point.
It seems like the war against film piracy is being waged only when a film that everyone has heard about and is excited about gets pirated. I thought of this last night and immediately logged into some Bit Torrent sites to see what was being downloaded. As one might expect, big ole summer blockbusters were easily there for the pickings; movies that have grosses that can be spoke of in fractions of billions. But then I looked for some smaller fare such as “”Darjeeling Limited,” “”Once” and “”In the Valley of Elah.” There they were, little indie films that truly need your money, being pilfered for free. Granted, Poland’s “”Hostel 2 experiment” was a DVD copy, bought on the streets and I have no idea of the availability of small films from street merchants. But it’s even worse to see 295 some odd “”leechers” sucking the teet of “”Darjeeling Limited” from 98 seeders. How did that film even get pirated? Where and when did this happen?
Now, I have grown tired of the piracy discussion and don’t want to rehash it here. I will say I think movies need to be seen in theaters to be truly appreciated”¦or loathed. But the thing with illegal downloading is, I simply cannot believe the box office grosses for “”Transformers” or “”Ratatouille” would have increased substantially had piracy not been an issue. But when the cry of injustice goes out on pirated films, these are exactly the types of films leading the charge. Meanwhile tiny films who do really well on a smaller, per screen average never get to go wider because they aren’t phenomenally successful. They quietly die nationally before winding up on your DVD stores shelf.
I’d like to bounce my ideas for a remedy inside my head more before presenting them here, but I wanted to start by saying if studios and filmmakers are serious about stopping piracy, the little people are the ones who suffer most from this issue. I don’t feel the least bit sorry for Eli Roth but if a big stink was made by the filmmakers behind “”Once” or even a bigger wig like Paul Haggis in regards to “”In the Valley of Elah,” I think people might take notice. As it is, I liken the complaints stemming from movies who make triple digit millions similar to oil companies coming to us and saying they can’t afford to pay their C.E.O.’s what they were making before.