Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Paranoia Reigns Supreme at Bruno Screenings?

Movie-company reps around Florida are actually going to take cellphones and other electronic devices from patrons at screenings of Bruno, rather than simply asking people to turn off those devices and keep them out of sight.

Paranoia over pirating runs amok? What gives?

Some background:

Movie companies, over the last 10 years or so, have become increasingly restrictive about allowing cell phones and electronics devices into advance screenings of movies.

And perhaps justifiably so, given the number of bootleg copies of movies that show up for sale on the streets and online here and internationally, sometimes even before the films have been released (or widely released). Piracy has been a real plague for an industry already suffering from losses due to audience dropoff and competition with various types of home-video options.

So at screenings, local reps of the advertising company hired to promote a film in a market tell moviegoers that cell phones are allowed into the theater, but they must not be used during the screening. If cell phones are seen or heard during the screening, the offending patron will be thrown out.

Perfectly reasonable policy, I guess, although a two-strikes-and-you're-out might be reasonable, too, to allow for exceptions: You know, like someone, stuck in the middle of a stultifying and overlong Transformers sequel, who might want to know how much long the torture will go on. Nobody wears watches anymore, as the time-telling function has all but been usurped by cells.

One odd thing about this policy is that it has also applied to critics-only screenings. Do movie companies really distrust critics that much? Are there cases of bootleg movies linked to critics screenings?

The latest and most extreme round in the cell-phone paranoia: Cell phones or electronic devices (oddly, including iPods) won't be allowed into theaters. They will actually be taken from moviegoers and kept until after the screening.

Here's the message I received from the advertising company representing Universal in several Florida markets:

"I have just been made aware that for next weeks screening of BR√úNO there is absolutely no cell phones or electronic devices allowed into the theaters.
Including you PRESS.
We will be having 3 security men there “bagging & tagging” all electronically devices so you can either leave them with security, in your car or easily just do not bring them.
This is going to be STRICTLY enforced."

My questions, which I've posed to the rep (and have yet to receive answers to), are these:

Why is this action being taken for this particular film?
Has Universal gone to this extreme for any other films? (I don't recall any company going this far. At least, not in the Tampa Bay area and Florida markets - I'm told that this is a reality for screenings in L.A.)

And my own questions and thoughts:

Is Universal so fearful of the various controversies swirling around the movie -- does Bruno poke fun at gays, or does the film satirize those who are anti-gay? Does it do both simultaneously? And can the average moviegoer make the distinction between the two? -- that it wants to keep things mum until the movie releases?

And if that's the reason, then why have public screenings at all?

Or maybe the marketing strategy is to make Bruno appear super-controversial, and the no-cellphones tactic is designed to boost that type of buzz.

If so, then maybe I'm playing right into their hands.

(On the other other hand, I'd be extremely happy if the no-cellphones policy were applied to all screenings of all movies, advance or otherwise. Rude people talking on cellphones are among the reasons that many people don't go to movies. Smart movie companies would take this concern seriously).

And speaking of Bruno, I just noticed that a film of that same name was released in 2000. It was a comedy/drama, directed by Shirley MacLaine, one of only two helmed by the actress.

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