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1 INTRODUCTION In June 2007, two stories in the entertainment press underscored the ways in which film culture has been redefined by digital cinema. First, Lionsgate and the Weinstein Company made the decision to release documentary raconteur Michael Moore’s exposé of the health care industry, Sicko, one week earlier than planned because of the threat of rampant internet piracy. A pirated version of Sicko had been leaked briefly to the video sharing site YouTube, and eager bloggers were weighing in with their readings of the film several days before movie critics and political pundits were slated to see and review the movie. While many bloggers enthusiastically endorsed or challenged Moore’s political views, the decision to move forward the film’s release date suggested that studio accountants were perhaps less concerned about changing people’s minds about the U.S. health care system than they were about protecting their opening week box office. The renewed focus on piracy prompted a diversity of responses, with at least one critic arguing that leaking Moore’s film would actually help it financially by providing it with additional exposure.1 Significantly, Moore’s complaints about the film being pirated emphasized not only the potential for lost profits but also the concern that audiences would be unable to get the optimum experience of seeing the movie in a theater, with the filmmaker telling the Hollywood Reporter, “Every filmmaker intends for his film to be seen on the big screen.”2 While any real impact on Sicko’s box office and critical reception would be difficult to 2 R E I N V E N T I N G C I N E M A determine, the brief cycle focusing on piracy illustrated the challenges the Weinstein Company faced in shaping the popular buzz surrounding the film and ensuring the film’s profitability.3 However, the debate over Sicko also provoked a number of questions about the role of film distribution in shaping reception and the role of newly powerful audiences in helping to shape the meaning of a film. During the same week, Susan Buice and Arin Crumley became the first filmmakers to make the deliberate decision to self-distribute an entire feature-length movie on YouTube. Their film, Four Eyed Monsters, had gained an enthusiastic audience through festival screenings and a four-walling tour organized online, but most important through video podcasts produced by Buice and Crumley that described the making of their self-financed film while building suspense about their dating relationship . This YouTube distribution was tied to a promotion for the movie-oriented social networking web site, with Spout agreeing to pay one dollar toward Buice and Crumley’s substantial credit-card debt for every member who joined the site through the link to Four Eyed Monsters’ page. While the piracy of Sicko was seen as illustrating the need for better policing of illegal file sharing, Buice and Crumley believed that in a competitive independent film distribution market their film would benefit more from being available online for free, in order to generate interest that would lead to increased DVD sales. Their use of YouTube has become a frequently cited model that other do-it-yourself (DIY) filmmakers have emulated with the hope of achieving broader success. While the two films I describe here come from vastly different film cultures—a Hollywood indie originally financed by Disney’s Miramax versus a movie assembled in a small apartment in Brooklyn and paid for using credit cards—both movies illustrate the degree to which film culture is being redefined by digital media. In fact, in both cases, the computer is seen as a primary means by which many audiences will encounter both films, at least initially. In addition, both histories depict the ability of networked movie audiences to shape the reception of a movie, with blogging and social networking serving as key tools, either for sharing a film illegally or for using word-of-mouth to create an audience . Digital cinema, therefore, offers a significant departure from film, particularly when it comes to the distribution, exhibition, and reception of movies. In fact, these dramatic changes have prompted a number of observers to describe what is happening as a paradigm shift. Emerging Pictures CEO Ira Deutchman echoed the sentiments of many of his colleagues when he argued, in February 2008, that movies are in “the I N T R...


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MARC Record
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