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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Might be legal, but it ain't regal

I was hoping to post something positive about being back in my hometown, but today one of those instances occurred that remind me that maybe, just maybe a matinee isn't just a matinee and the flavor of popcorn can't make up for douchebaggery of corporate scope.

No one would mistake "Colombiana" for great art. Luc Besson's covered this territory before but I think everyone should go see a movie by a director named Olivier Megaton. It's bound to be a blast. Okay, I'll stop. The movie was what I was looking for in a popcorn kind of way, particularly on another kind of warm day in the Big H; normally, I would have even enjoyed its preposterous action and Femme Nikita retread ways. However, having my bag searched by an usher is not the way to earn my repeat business. Seriously, it's not.

I admit that I should have acted immediately and told the young lady who took my ticket, "Nope, sorry, and can I speak to the manager" but my mind went on auto-pilot and instead, I picked up my popcorn and drink and headed into the cool of the theater. Like an idiot, I shouldn't have patronized the place. I watched the movie with a smattering of folks in from the heat and as I left the theater, I decided it was time to start doing some investigation, fire off some e-mails and make some phone calls.

Apparently, this sort of thing is happening around the country at Regal theaters (although this is the first time it's ever happened to me at one.) Here are some urls to check out:!/piracyhappens2/status/3820889657311232

I'm harping on Regal because they're the largest chain and this is the sort of thing that might need closer examination.

As it is, I've sent emails to the ACLU (yeah, yeah, I'm a card-carrying member) here in Houston and to Regal's corporate office. I'd like to chat with the theater manager, too, and if this is a corporate policy call for a national boycott. If it's just a theater by theater policy, then that should be addressed similarly. Heck, I posted on Yelp here to see what kind of feedback I get.

If you follow the piracyhappens tweet and go to Darren Todd's page, you'll find a post titled "Movie Searches Go To Far."

He notes, quite cogently,
"I understand that the rules of illegal search and seizure do not operate the same way in private establishments, but think about what acquiescing to a search means.

"The threat of someone sneaking in a camcorder is extremely low, but the possibility of patrons sneaking in candy and soda is rather high. Nearly ever dime a theater makes is from concession, hence the rise of popcorn prices coinciding with the rise of ticket prices: fewer customers because of high prices means they have to extract more profit from fewer people. So are theaters willing to “fight piracy” for movie studios only because it gives them carte blanche to eradicate outside concession? Likely. And this probably means a higher profit margin per head in the short term, since those who wouldn’t buy $7 popcorn or $4 Twizzlers can’t then bring in their own goodies from home. But the penalty for this sort of heavy-handed tactic can only end with fewer customers."
I, of course, acquiesced and now I really wish I'd said something at the moment. He finishes up his point with this:
"So while Hollywood has theaters checking for camcorders, several will be turned away for outside concession, and several others will decide they’re fed up with theaters altogether. No one likes being tacitly criminalized via a search after being raped on tickets 30 seconds earlier. Thus, this anti-piracy measure – like so many others – will fail miserably, blowing up in the faces of theaters who’ll lose customers (like me), and movie studios who’ll suffer from smaller ticket sales."

While I too understand that search and seizure rules differ in regard to private establishments/property, one can expand on this to the point at which other establishments initiate similar searches. It's hard to imagine that a restaurant or a retail store would look assign employees to search handbags ("we just need to make sure you're not bringing in your own silverware") but the most poignant point is, as Darren says, "no one likes being tacitly criminalized." 
Plus, neither reason for the policy is likely to win much sympathy. Whether you're searching a middle aged guy's book bag for recording equipment or as a potential popcorn/candy mule, this is doomed to create ill-will among moviegoers like myself who really don't want to see theaters vanish. However, I don't have to patronize specific theaters and I'm perfectly content to share my story with other people. Until I have a discussion with the manager of this particular theater, I'll give them the benefit of a doubt (let's be real, they're wage-slaves and do what they're told) but I suspect I won't be going back to that theater anytime soon.

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