'Looper' Director Offers Downloadable 'In-Theater' Commentary Track

from the connecting-with-fans-via-mp3-mindmeld dept

As home theater systems advance in quality, many people are wondering why anyone would bother heading to the theater at all. Theater owners are aware of this issue and many have been improving the quality of the “theater experience” by offering larger, comfier seats and moving beyond snack bar staples into craft beers and brick oven pizzas.

There's still the undeniable draw of being the “first” to see a new film, showing up at a midnight showing or on opening day. There's also somewhat of a communal experience that can't be easily duplicated at home, unless your living room has seating for a couple hundred friends.

Rian Johnson, the director of the recently released “Looper,” is offering a rather unusual incentive for repeat theatrical viewing: a downloadable commentary track to enjoy along with the 2nd-X viewing(s) of his latest film.

I recorded a commentary track to be downloaded, put on an ipod and listened to in the theater as you’re watching Looper. This is an odd thing I tried with Bloom, and have gotten a few requests for it again, so here it is. It is totally different from the commentary track that will be on the Blu/DVD, a bit more technical and detailed. Needless to say, this is NOT to be listened to on a first viewing, or before you’ve seen the film. Also, please work it so that a glowing screening is never out of your pocket during the movie.

This is a great way to connect with fans and get them to shell out for first run tickets multiple times. Johnson is a cinema fanatic who's managed to turn his love of the silver screen into a career making movies that appeal to other movie buffs. This move makes perfect sense. After a viewing or two of “Looper,” any true cinema freak would love to run through another viewing while having every aspect of the film broken down by someone as deeply in love with the art form as he or she is.

Plus, as Johnson mentioned, this isn't simply version 0.9 of the DVD commentary, but a more technical and detailed breakdown of the film. “Totally different.” He's obviously got more knowledge, information and energy than he knows what to do with, considering he's done this before. This offering will put the director and fan together for a film-length geekout. This connection puts them back into the theater (selling scarcity) and primes them for the eventual DVD/Blu-ray release (another scarcity). Throwing thoughtful freebies to your fans tends to make them happier to open their wallets later.

[Quick postscript: It should be noted that Johnson's “in-theater” commentary track isn't without precedent. As Mike pointed out to me while I was putting this post together, film buff/maverick/motormouth Kevin Smith attempted to do this back in 2006, during the theatrical run of “Clerks 2.” Unfortunately, theater owners felt this would be a bad thing and threatened to pull the film if the promotion continued:

Turns out that exhibitors (folks that own the theaters) weren't too keen on the idea of people showing up to the movies with iPods. They felt it was going to be too distracting (or something) for other people in the theater who weren't wearing iPods for the show – like the commentary-listeners would be laughing when nobody else was laughing, and that'd create some kind of problem. Based on that, they suggested that if Weinstein Co. went through with the commentary track promotion, they'd start pulling the flick from screens. So the commentary track promotion has been tabled until we're at a very low theater count.

No rumbling from theater owners on Johnson's actions has been detected yet, but one wonders why exhibitors would be so willing to sacrifice repeat viewings in order to protect single viewings from possible offense. If this had been promoted rather than buried, who knows how many films would have experienced a boost in box office sales thanks to a multi-viewing incentive.]

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Comments on “'Looper' Director Offers Downloadable 'In-Theater' Commentary Track”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

why the heck would i listen to a commentary track when i could listen to the movie?

you have to think how many people this would actually affect. what % of the population is that interested that they would listen to a commentary track in the theatre. 1%?

way to bring in the money, the only scarcity here is the potential revenue from this idea

johnjac (profile) says:

Redletter Media & Star Wars Episode 1

I saw Star Wars Episode 1 in 3D for no other reason than to listen along with a commentary track ripping it appart.

My wife an I made sure to sit in the back, so we wouldn’t disturb anyone else, should caught laughing at the movie or have our iphones out.

RobShaver (profile) says:

iPod Shuffle

My iPod shuffle has no glowing screen at all. I pretty much wear it all the time and have worn it to moves. I listen to podcasts instead of the pre-movie advertising.

So I think I might try this out. Think they’ll let me stay to watch it twice on one ticket? If not then I’ll just wait until it’s out on disk and rent it at a RedBox for $1.20. Of course they will have stripped the bonus features, but I’ll have it on my iPod.

Darren Aronofsky put a downloadable audio commentary file out on the Internet to go with “The Fountain”. He said he didn’t have time to get it onto the DVD so he was putting it out later.

“The Fountain” is one of about a half dozen DVDs I own and I did listen to it with his commentary track. I loved it.

gojomo (profile) says:

Taking 'rewards multiple viewings' to all-new levels

Another embellishment that could work really well for a twisty time-travel film like Looper: have slightly-alternate versions of the movie replace it during its run, ideally in secret.

The post-viewing discussions would then be delightfully confusing, and perhaps only by seeing them all would you get the full, full story.

(The ‘Clue’ movie way-back-when had three alternate endings in theaters.)

Even if not for narrative innovation, can we be very far from A/B Tested movie cuts, where on opening night every theater has a unique variant and after audience reactions some cuts are discarded while others proliferate?

Aaron *Head* Moss says:

Re: Taking 'rewards multiple viewings' to all-new levels

If I’m not mistaken I had heard that an earlier comic book movie (maybe X-Men 3 or X-Men Origins: Wolverine) had two or three different bonus scenes, and it depended on which theater you saw the movie in, was the extra scene you saw.

Not sure, but I heard that somewhere…

Also, what’s to stop you from downloading the track and listening to it at home (either from a pirated version or when it comes out on DVD)?

Anonymous Coward says:

This is an awful idea.

AC#7 and AC#8 make good points. What percentage of people would actually think there’s something so important in this commentary track to pay the not-insignificant sum to go see it again? Especially when (I suspect) if this commentary does have some revelatory bit of info, the mp3 will be pirated/traded/passed between friends who will just play it along on their home system when the dvd comes out.

But also- what about syncing? Will it be easy for the listener to start the mp3 at the exact time so the commentary syncs up with the film? Or will it be a hassle to fast-forward the mp3 to the correct spot in the movie, or to pause it until the movie catches up to the mp3?

And then there’s the issue of the other theatre patrons who are there to watch the movie as conventional movie-goers without the silly additional commentary. Because I know if I’m sitting close to somebody listening to anything on headphones, even at a moderate volume, I’ll hear the bleed and I won’t stand for it.

Not to be 100% negative, I’m trying to think of some way to incorporate something like this, but I’m coming up with nothing. Outside of maybe releasing a standard edition dvd and a special edition with the extra commentary track. Otherwise, I say destroy this idea immediately.

That One Guy (profile) says:

To all the naysayers:

You make some good points, that is a pretty pricy cost to essentially just listen to the commentary, and so on the surface the idea seems to be completely insane.

However, unless someone really wanted to watch a movie on the big screen again, what reason do they currently have to pay the ticket price to see a movie in the theater again, rather than just wait until it comes out on DVD/redbox/whatever?

Given that theaters can really only gain off of something like this, why not try and give people a reason to see a given movie at the theater more than once? What exactly is there to lose?

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: To all the naysayers:

However, unless someone really wanted to watch a movie on the big screen again, what reason do they currently have to pay the ticket price to see a movie in the theater again, rather than just wait until it comes out on DVD/redbox/whatever?

There has only been one movie this last year that I wanted to see in theaters, and amazingly, it is a movie that after watching the first time, I wanted to see it again in theaters. I hate watching movies in theaters (because of the constant distractions,) but this movie had caught me. Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. I prefer going to niche movies in the theaters, mainly because the teeny-boppers with their cell phones miss those shows, but those don’t make much money and thus don’t last very long (if they ever show up there to begin with.)

However, had Wes Anderson made the commentary available, I would have downloaded it and waited for the DVD to come out. (As it was, I wanted to see it a second time in the theater, but never did.)

The only way someone is going to get me in the theater the second time is to come up with a movie with a good story, and quite frankly, no movie released in recent years has had that quality. The only movie I saw twice in the theaters in recent years was Phantom Menace (watched it first in the theaters in 1999, and then again when it came to 3D in 2012, and that was only because I had a free ticket, time on my hands, and I could relive the experience of being disappointed with it the first time, but this time in 3D.) Sadly, I actually enjoyed it in 3D more than the original.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is one of those things that might be best done at certain times or with certain showings, or perhaps after the film has been in theaters a while. A nice boost for maybe the “last week in major release”.

I do agree though with the theater owners. I could picture people listening to the commentary track either laughing when it’s not appropriate, or even talking between themselves during the movie. Picture a couple of nerds with their ipod on, talking way too loudly to each other because they have headphones on, blissfully unaware that they are bugging everyone else in the theater… then you have the idea.

It might be a selling point for CERTAIN showings, but I don’t think it’s something useful for every showing.

PaulT (profile) says:

Cool. Now, as someone who wants to see the movie and listen to the commentary but isn’t anywhere near a cinema playing it, where can I buy the DVD? Oh, you’re withholding that for a few months? Never mind…

Yes, I’m sure that the studio/theatres are the ones stopping that, but gimmicks like this are actually part of the problem in some ways. If you’re very good at promoting the theatrical screenings but people can’t attend one, just either piss people off or drive them to look for an illegal copy. I understand what he’s trying to do, but it’s just trying to get more of a smaller part of the pie than he could by simply releasing a copy for people to rent or buy, IMHO. Cool for those who can use it as intended, not so cool for others…

Anonymous Coward says:

I can't believe so many are against this....

Look, would I do this? Nah, I saw it in the theater once, that was enough for me. If someone is a huge fan of the movie? Maybe they would be into it.

And I’m guessing the cost involved in this was a couple of hours of time for the director, already-owned/borrowed recording equipment, and hosting (or torrent? I didn’t really look how it’s being distributed, but torrent would mean even less hosting costs).

So, if even a relatively small handful of people take advantage of this (say, a few hundred across the world), that’s a pretty nice bump in people going to see a movie a 2nd or 3rd time, for relatively little, possibly even getting a few people to go see the movie the first time in the theater, so they can then do it a second time with this track.

Is it going to make millions? No, of course not. Is it a kinda cool and interesting idea? Yea, it really is. So stop being so damn negative and be happy people like this guy are trying new(ish) things.

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