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C'mon Hollywood: Why Hall H bootlegs suck and how to deal with them

07.21.2015

You’ve waited for more than 24 hours, sitting amongst fellow fans under a tent, on the concrete, in the grass, in a sleeping bag, soaked in the elements, hoping to secure entry into the coveted Hall H at Comic Con to catch a glimpse of a hotly-anticipated film/TV show. You braved the Internet storm to get tickets, then again to get a hotel, and the journey comes to fruition with your entry into Hall H Valhalla to have your senses overloaded with something new, never-before-seen, and exclusive to you. You finally make it inside (or don’t, depending on your timing) and it’s amazing. It’s glorious. It’s more than you had hoped for (hopefully). It was all worth it. Every second. Hours later, after you’ve finally showered and gotten some decent food, you log onto the net to share the news of what you saw with friends.

And, they’ve already seen it. It was shaky-cam video with half the screen and shit for audio, but they've seen it and suddenly it all feels cheapened and you can’t help but feel that the experience has been soured.

You sit there, trying to justify that it was still worth it, but that sting is still there and you ask yourself; If I knew it would be online in less than 24 hours would I still have waited? I’m willing to bet a lot of people would opt out. And who could blame them? At this point, the studios are basically being bullied by piracy to put up official versions, as was the case with SUICIDE SQUAD last week. The biggest irony of it all is that it was one of those same people that waited in line that bootlegged the whole damn thing. Way to Internet, Internet.

Now, some may feel that since they can’t make it to Comic Con or simply have no desire to go to Comic Con that it renders the journey of those who do mute. They’re just a bunch of suckers, right? Overzealous fanboys who should know that we live in an age where everything leaks and there are no more secrets. They should just accept it and move on. Step out of line and refresh their Twitter feed for that eventual half-assed, law-breaking, shit-quality bootleg to get a glimpse (and I do mean “glimpse”) of footage that was meant to be part of something else entirely.

Tears for the nerds, right? Boo-hoo.

The thing is, bootlegs like this affect everyone. Sure, bootlegs provide a chance to see something new without putting in the time, energy, or money to go to Comic Con and, for many, they simply don’t think or care enough about it; it’s the Internet. What’s the big deal, right? Well, the big deal is that the more you sully an experience like that, the less those experiences will take place again in the future. The incentive and the excitement are gone. Beyond that, you’re experiencing it in a way that was never meant to be. For many, this simply doesn't matter. Seeing it behind a keyboard is fine, regardless of quality. For those that want to experience things like this either in person or, at the very least, in a format that’s optimal (read: official) it does matter and if you think about it, the more accepting we are of garbage bootlegs, then the more we devalue the medium and the culture as a whole. No one prefers bootlegs, so why settle for them?

If you’ve never been to Hall H and never experienced the truly epic audio/visual experience of a particularly excellent presentation then you really don’t have any basis for how special the experience can be. The sound literally rattles your clothes and the visuals hit you with a dizzying punch. It’s unlike any theatrical experience I’ve ever had, due largely to the raw excitement; the cheers of like-minded geeks that turns the Hall into the Nerd Superbowl. When done right, Hall H can be a magical place that provides a true movie geek experience unlike any other in the world. That’s not hyperbole (okay, maybe a little), it’s the truth (it is).

It’s easy to scoff at anyone that would complain about a bootleg being leaked. It is the “Now” generation after all. There are no boundaries anymore, just the IV hookup of information streaming into our veins so that we don’t miss a single Tweet, Status Update, SnapChat, Instagram, or anything hashtagged of importance. Patience is being written out of the dictionary about as fast as flags are being erased from old TV shows. We’re monkeys in a cage hitting the refresh button for a new treat as fast as they can be dispensed. So, screw anything or anyone that wants to be part of an exclusive experience. How dare they? Exclusivity is dead, replaced with the thought that if you’re a fan of anything that would be shown to either a small or large group, then you are just as entitled as they are to see it.

Except you’re not. None of us are.

And, full disclosure; Yes, I have watched bootlegs. I will watch bootlegs again, I’m sure. I also run a movie news website, so…not like I can switch that off completely.  But I sure as hell don’t like them, even if I’ve given in and clicked for curiosity's sake before. I’ve also chosen not to click, so there’s that, too. During Christmas in 2003, while deployed to Afghanistan, I paid five bucks for a bootlegged DVD of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING and I was happy to get a nibble, especially under those circumstances.  But, trust me, watching that movie on a tiny, shitty portable DVD player after it was filmed with a camcorder, was not my idea of an optimal movie-watching experience. I was a movie geek that needed his fix and I settled. And that sucks.

Bootlegs are piracy, plain and simple. And you know what? The pirates have won! That’s right. They rule the high seas known as the Internet and there’s no amount of FBI, CIA, SHIELD, MEN IN BLACK or any other agency, real or imagined, that will crack it once and for all. It most definitely won’t be the “security” in Hall H, either. Like drugs and alcohol, there will always be people who are willing to go the distance to peddle the latest forbidden addiction known as “new content”. Does that make it right? Absolutely not. But, there are a lot of things that aren’t right in the world. That doesn’t mean they don’t still happen. It’s unfortunate, it’s ugly, it’s bogus, it’s unfair, and it exists.

And, it’s not like people have to wait for all the content to hit the net. The BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, The Walking Dead, and Ash vs. Evil Dead footage was online directly after the panels, giving the whole world a big, chewy treat to munch on. But, they couldn’t stop there. Nope, they want all of it and they want it now. Much like the AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON trailer from earlier this year, the Internet responded in kind when told that they’d have to wait for it to hit. The Scurvy Dogs of the ‘Net pulled out their keyboard swords and plundered the booty, tossing it out to the masses like a modern day Robin Hood. Steal from those dastardly studios who keep the man down with…y’know, teasers of kickass movies and stuff.  Those greedy bastards!

But, there’s another side to this whole thing. Look at the case of DEADPOOL. This is a movie that had struggled to get made for more than a decade and was getting nowhere. After some test footage was made, it sat chained to a computer until it was mysteriously leaked and set loose upon the masses. The result? A greenlight for the film to be made. One could easily surmise that in that instance, piracy actually did some good, although you could also argue the case that it was a “leak” and not a “bootleg” technically. That said, it’s a very rare case, but there’s certainly the consideration that a studio can benefit from good word-of-mouth, even from a bootleg. However, that still doesn't make it okay nor does it make a case for that being the rule when it comes to getting a film made. Most of the time, this would work in the opposite direction.

Recently, while visiting the set of X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, we spoke to producer Hutch Parker, who addressed the issue of bootlegs from Comic Con, specifically the theory that studios actually want the footage to be bootlegged as a marketing strategy: "The problem with the theory about the marketing is, I don’t actually think it’s good marketing. Leaking footage a year in advance of a movie’s release is not such a good thing. The reason you don’t see footage out that far is you run the risk of it getting stale. Generally speaking, and I can’t speak for other studios -- I can’t even speak for Fox any more -- but I don’t believe their intention is [for footage to be leaked]. I think their intention is to get the most important opinions and opinion-makers in this community engaged in the promise of what’s coming."

So, while the Hall H crowd gets the shaft and those that didn’t get in get rewarded (albeit in shit quality), how do you find a compromise in the face of the information age? Well, there’re a couple of things the studios can do. One, they can simply release the official version after the panel (or at least within 24 hours), making it available to everyone, thereby devaluing the experience in Hall H as an “exclusive” one, but also potentially giving the incentive to bootleggers to wait for the incoming official version rather than recording it with their phone. This is already done for a lot of the material, so it's kind of already in practice, albeit not for everything. Would attendance drop? Would lines grow shorter? Only one way to find out.

The other option is something that’s already commonly done, but not enough; Swag. On occasion the studio will hand out tickets to everyone in attendance at Hall H for their panel, which entitles them to whatever cool swag they may have in store (t-shirts, posters, etc.). It’s most certainly something that only the attendees would get as you’d have to physically be there to get a ticket. It could very well be a good enough reason for folks to break out the camping chairs and sleeping bags and suck up that line. Sure, the trailer will be online afterwards, but they’ll get the experience and a cool hat or some such shit. For your everyday moviegoer that may not mean much, but for those of us that are immersed in the collector culture (and yes, I am one of them) then that could be a hell of an incentive. In fact, I’ve got a really sweet GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY poster framed and hanging on my wall, which I got from the Marvel panel two years ago (More full disclosure: Yes, sometimes the press get passes to Hall H, but not always. It's a crapshoot and everyone waits in line at Comic Con eventually. Except maybe Stan Lee.)

The other aspect that could take the focus off the inevitable piracy is the presentation itself. Sometimes the presentations suck. Plain and simple. Sometimes they’re kind of tossed together and not really worth the wait. The cast can’t say much or have little to say, nothing’s complete enough to show, etc. It can be a bore. So, perhaps putting a little more effort in the showmanship (of which Marvel is currently the master of) would make it feel worthwhile. Case in point: the STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS panel. Sure, that BTS footage hit the net right away, but unless you were in that hall you weren’t given a beer and a lightsaber and treated to an outside concert. That’s an experience, not a download.

There will always be two sides to this debate and I think many will remain split or indifferent. Those that have never experienced Hall H will likely not give two shits whether or not the sanctity of it is protected. And, I get it. It’s hard to want to defend something that you have not and may never experience yourself. Of course, we’re always quick to jump to our own defense when it comes to something we DO care about, so there’s that. When does it matter enough? Maybe it’s about respect, but, like patience, that’s another one that’s fading faster than the Declaration of Independence. I imagine the studios, particularly those with leaks, are evaluating ways to proceed in the future at Comic Con at this point. After all, many studios opted out this year anyway, and probably many of them are glad they did. Why have to deal with more piracy, anyway? Not like they don’t have enough of it to contend with everywhere else.

I get why people would watch bootlegs. Believe me, I really do, but I’ll never condone it and I’ll never say that we should just piss on a tradition because someone’s going to bootleg it anyway, be it Hall H or any other screening venue. I think we lose a part of our geek culture when we do that and it just makes it all feel so…sleazy. Bootlegs are here to stay, no doubt, but instead of letting them compromise something special like Hall H (or D23, SXSW, Cinemacon, TIFF, Cannes, etc.) we should support the studios and venues in finding a  a solution that keeps it special, rather than let bootleg culture ruin it by looting everything in its path and leaving us with nothing sacred.

One of the coolest things to come out of Hall H Comic Con in 2013: The AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON title announcement trailer. It's just a taste of what you can see there and was shared via official channels shortly after it debuted in Hall H.

Extra Tidbit: What do you think about bootleg trailers? Should we just accept them and move on? Should we try to find a better means of preserving exclusive experiences? The floor is yours below...
Source: JoBlo.com

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