FilmStruck Down: Corporate Greed, “Niche” Viewership & Building A Bigger Boat

On October 18th, I wrote a piece about the Asian streaming site DramaFever and how it had announced, very suddenly, that it would be shutting down.  In the week since then, the Kdrama and Asian television online community (centered within Facebook groups, Twitter and Reddit comments) have been wildly searching for other ways to access television content legally.

It looks like a site that previously only provided TV shows in Korean (OnDemandKorea) is stepping up to the plate, advertising one of the more popular shows in recent years, Strong Woman Do Bong-soon 힘쎈여자 도봉순 as “coming soon with English subtitles” along with other programs. So it’s clear that other streaming sites know that what AT&T called a “niche audience” and cast off like yesterday’s trash is worthy of attention. Which brings me to today’s topic: the devastating news of the loss of yet another streaming site owned by WarnerMedia and their corporate parent, AT&T- FilmStruck.

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If you think that this page looks similar to the one DramaFever had, you’re right. The biggest difference is that FilmStruck is giving their members a good month’s notice instead of, oh, like 24 hoursSo if you’re a FilmStruck-er, go and watch a shitload of movies RIGHT NOW. Or at least catalog your watch list and take advantage of the amazing ORIGINAL content that they created.

So let’s say for the sake of argument that you never had FilmStruck. Or that it didn’t work for you on your platform of choice. Or you didn’t don’t care for classic/arthouse cinema. And the same with DramaFever and its offerings of Asian cinema and television. OK, totally your choice. That saidthe way these channels were removed and why they were removed and the carelessness and thoughtlessness behind the process is unforgivable. We need to start examining the way these larger corporations are eating up smaller media-providing organizations because, in my mind, destroying them is just a “quick fix” so they don’t get accused of becoming a monopoly. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe the destruction of channels like DramaFever and FilmStruck solidifies their monopolistic practices.

paramount 1948

I just keep thinking about the Paramount Decree of 1948 and how that stopped the Hollywood Studio System from having total control over the films that were being shown and (equally as important, especially to the topic at hand) HOW THEY WERE BEING SHOWN. Block booking became illegal and many of the exhibition practices that the major Hollywood Studios were forcing on theaters all over the country were shown to be discriminatory towards independent theaters and were, essentially, bullying tactics.  This case…it’s still important. I feel like it’s useful here because I think AT&T is not-so-subtly removing independent media from viewer accessibility and establishing a dangerous monopolistic precedent only to jockey for first place with another corporate entity.

As I documented in my previous article, AT&T is looking to compete with Netflix. They are the parent company of WarnerMedia who, in turn, owns the streaming sites that have been dropped: Boomerang (a cartoon network) [EDIT: I read that Boomerang was going to be one of the losses in at *least* two different publications when DramaFever was axed- as of today, 10/26/2018, I could no longer find confirmation of that channel’s removal so this is an inaccuracy on my part- apologies!-AS], DramaFever (Asian television), and now FilmStruck (Classic/Arthouse Film). AT&T is chomping at the bit for what I see as “a bigger boat.” They want to create a Mega-Monster Streaming Channel with HBO at the helm (sorta as the selling point), and within the Monster Belly it will contain all the bobs and bits that have been swallowed up from the sites that they have killed in the building process.

As a media archivist I know that one of the trickiest things in our business is licensing.  Full transparency, these are only my thoughts and my musings so I haven’t done deep research on who has the streaming licenses for the films on FilmStruck but I know that there may be multiple bodies since the film content came from Warner Archive, Criterion and TCM. That said, I also know that Criterion still has content available to stream on Kanopy (a library-based media streaming site) so they may have multiple streaming licenses going (or they may have an educational license for that one?). My point with the licensing? Who has the contracts and for how long? Does AT&T own the streaming rights? Are they going to sit on those materials until they create their Monster Channel and then have a Special Classics/Arthouse section? That’s what they promised the DramaFever community.

The people in the DramaFever community have already moved on. We don’t wait for some über channel. We will find our TV shows and our community where ever and however we can. More importantly, we don’t like being treated like second-class citizens. We watch media that is high in emotion and it’s traditionally considered “trash media” since Western society is uncomfortable with the raw display of emotion. So…we’re a “niche” market.

niche meme

With FilmStruck, I hope that there can be an equal bounce back. What I would like to see happen is for Netflix, Amazon or Hulu to jump in. They could easily do it. Classic films, arthouse cinema, this community is analogous to the one I align myself with in the Korean Drama world. There are films that are high in emotion or extreme in some way- costume, language, make-up. Geez- no one talks like Katherine Hepburn anymore, amirite? And musicals? But FilmStruck has a MUCH higher draw than the dramas that I watch, and I will readily admit that.

The interesting thing about FilmStruck is that, unlike DramaFever, many (certainly not all) of the materials that are being streamed are available on DVD or Blu-ray which (of course) then begins the conversation (as usual) about viewers being “so glad” that they kept their physical media. I’ve seen the word “hoarding” being used a decent amount which…always makes me a little queasy but if that is how you want to refer to your media library, hey- who am I to stop you?
Obviously, this whole situation brings up ideas of access and economics and such. Streaming is far more economical (and thus accessible) for people who are on a lower budget which is more common in this not-so-awesome landscape right now. So it is something to keep in mind.

As an archivist, I will certainly advocate physical media 100%. But we need to look at all sides of streaming and accessibility and what digital might provide and who/what audiences it might welcome. Additionally, if AT&T is going to put all of this content behind an expensive cable paywall…that certainly doesn’t allow for the kind of openness that FilmStruck was known for.

FilmStruck-themes-500-copy

There is a great danger in not speaking up when these corporations swallow us whole. We simply don’t know what parts will be left. If they are holding the licenses to these films and we have to wait…which ones will they come back with? How long will we have to wait? Can we access only part of the package? I HAVE QUESTIONS.

To all of my wonderful friends and colleagues who have put so much work and love and goodness into FilmStruck: you are why we watch. You are why we will always watch.
I love you from the bottom of my sprocketed reel heart.

They Only Play Asian Stuff: Centering Korean Culture in LA & Regional Ignorance

Los Angeles is a funny place.
After my amazing ramen/movie night at CGV Cinemas, I went to read my Santa Cruz Noir book (OMGZ Susie, it’s SO GOOD! I’M DYING) & have a cocktail at Frank & Hank’s (thought of you, my beautiful love Michelle).

Some girl at the bar next to me asked about the book since I was having such visceral reactions to it, so I read her a passage over the pounding gangsta rap.
Girl: WOAH. THAT’S SOME BRUTAL SHIT GURL. And you’re laughing?
Me: Well, yeah. I recognize all the locations in the story and…it’s gory dark murdery stuff but…very brilliant!
*She took a picture of the book*
Girl: Imna have to get that.
Me: Oh you need to, 100%.
Girl: So what were you up to tonight?
Me: I was over at CGV down the street, watching a great movie.
Girl: The movie theater over there?!?!? *points towards the door* WHY??? THEY ONLY PLAY ASIAN STUFF. OH BUT LIKE HAVE YOU WATCHED ANY ASIAN HORROR.
Me: *having great difficulty not making life imitate art & make like one of the killers from Santa Cruz Noir*
Yeah. It was weird. And racist. And frustrating. CGV is a great theater. My favorite next to the New Beverly, actually.
I love K-town so very much. I am usually the only white person at the movies I go see and until a while back when I cut my hair into my current “punk rawk” look, I was given a lot of “What are you doing here?” expressions. I find it endlessly fascinating that my hairstyle has changed how I am treated but that’s a whole other conversation.
Back to CGV. I didn’t mind anyone looking at me with the “you don’t belong” expression. I knew that I was entering a non-white space. I belong from the perspective of being from LA and having grown up a few blocks away but…it is not my space. It is, however, the only location in LA that I can see these films and I desperately enjoy Korean cinema, from the soap operas to the gritty procedurals to the gruesome horror. I think the only genre I’m not into is the bubble-gum rom-com and even some of those I like!!! But when I go to CGV Cinemas in K-town I am very aware, as an Angeleno, that this may be my city but this is not my space.
The older Korean couples on date nights love me though. Maybe they think I’m a weirdo sitting alone with my concessions sighing and crying at that historical romcom with them. But I also think they appreciate having younger people in those movies (sometimes those films have a bit of an older draw). Maybe they just think I’m confused and I ended up in the wrong theater? I love seeing how many older couples do go to the movies together and enjoy the experience just like it was “the old days.” I feel like when I go to CGV, people there are really there for the experience and my heart soars.
I always feel really good in those theaters. Everyone there is going to the movies intentionally.
There’s a difference between going to the movies as something to do and going to the movies intentionally. You can do both (many do) but the people I see going in and out of CGV are people I want to go to the movies with. The audience for Believer last night was great. Maybe not super rambunctious like an average US action-movie audience, but they laughed loudly at funny lines and it certainly felt like a community. Which is what I need in a movie going experience and a movie theater.
CGV is really special because like many movie theaters that used to exist in Los Angeles, it offers culturally specific materials that cannot be accessed anywhere else. Korean films on the big screen. And not just on the big screen, but a REALLY DAMN BIG SCREEN. The seats are nice, the sound is great, they have 4 hours of free parking.
And, as I schooled Bar Girl, CGV doesn’t “just play Asian stuff.” More specifically, their focus is on the Asian community (the Korean community to be exact). White folks, or English-speaking anyones, are 100% secondary. But that doesn’t mean that they are not welcome or cannot attend. It just means that they are not the central audience for CGV and that is a breath of fresh air in this world. Yes, I am aware that CGV is a Korean company so obviously that is their focus but still. It’s really great to have this theater HERE IN LOS ANGELES.
Bar Girl was shocked when I told her that they are currently showing Deadpool 2 and I saw a trailer for the next Incredibles movie as well as the new Jurassic Park. She had completely tossed the theater to the side. Hi ignorance and total unwillingness to explore your own neighborhood (she said she lived in the area). Sure, these films have Korean subtitles, but that’s fucking great! This is something called ACCESS. Why shouldn’t everyone be able to see movies? And why shouldn’t we all be able to see as many amazing movies as we can? The fact that I was able to go and see Believer (Lee Hae-young, 2018), the remake of Johnnie To’s masterful Drug War from 2012 is so exciting to me! And by the way?
                      BOTH VERSIONS OF THIS MOVIE ARE AMAZING!!

They’re playing a comedy at CGV starting on June 22nd. The trailer looked INSANE. I cannot wait. So glad that they take MoviePass. I know that I sound like an ad for CGV (I don’t mind) but I’ve always said that it’s like the Korean Arclight but cheaper. And take a chance if you live in LA, come see a Korean movie with me. They are really great.

See how your calendar is looking for this beauty…. I’m excited AF.

I Miss Talking in the Dark: Cinema, Technological Change and the Personal

Last week I read an article that was being shuffled around my social media circles about the “death of the film camera.”

While I’ll admit I was saddened, I can’t say that I was shocked. I watched as the article made its way, slowly but surely, through all of my friends’ Twitterfeeds and Facebook pages. I considered the fact that a year ago I would have been devastated and that this year I don’t think that this article is the sign of the apocalypse, even if I do prefer cinema that is shot on film.

Today, on Panavision’s Facebook page, they announced that

   As a rental company, Panavision is committed to supporting our customers worldwide by providing them a wide range of camera equipment which includes film cameras. We continue to support our fleet of film cameras, and that includes ongoing major refurbishment, which in many cases means almost a complete rebuild of existing product. There is still significant demand for film equipment in many of our key markets, including studio feature film productions. So, while our ongoing focus is the transition to future products in the digital world, the implication that we’ve quit the film business isn’t accurate.

I guess the idea is to learn and to think critically. It is also to understand that film is changing, even if it not always for (perhaps) the best.

The responses to Panavision’s statement are somewhat more fascinating than the concept that there will never be another brand-new film camera made. Clearly the lack of new cameras will not be problematic. The world is chock-full of them for rent, and, as Panavision stated, they are more than willing to make sure that said-items continue to function at top capacity. So then my question is this- what does the film camera “death” really mean to people? What does it mean to me?

There are no rules in underground cinema, only edges.--Cecil B. Demented (John Waters, 2000)

The people who reacted to Panavision’s facebook “status” were of a few types: the vultures (are you selling any cameras? I’ll buy ’em if you are!), the denial-ists (of course you’ll still support REAL film!) and the realists (this is great news for all sides). My reaction? More on the real. The digital is here and getting bigger but there is no reason to reject our foreparents. In my mind, there is no reason why it cannot all coexist. But that’s another entry.

What this is really about is a kind of nostalgia and fear that most of us cinephiles have. We react to change about as well as a Mogwai does to a midnight snack, which is to say…not very well. We hear the word “digital” associated with the cinema and, many times, it sets off a horrific panic in our system.

Let’s be honest here. How many people do you know who view modern changes to projection, prints, restoration, or filmmaking as somehow a personal attack? Realistically, this is not always the most mature or thoughtful (let alone intelligent) critical approach to a medium that you love above all things. I AM GUILTY OF THIS. But I have started to reconsider my fan-girl-esque issues as they may not come from a place of knowledge, only a place of viscera. I believe that it is when we can connect the knowledge and visceral centers that we can have well-constructed analyses.

While it may seem that I have “sold out” and the The Man “got me” that is wholly untrue. I am just as much of a True Believer as ever, only in a different, more centered way. I cannot let nostalgia and personal engagement take precedence over certain elements of the filmic world due to the fact that I do love it so very much. I am in training to become an archivist, and while I completely disagree with one of my professors that Carolee Schneemann‘s work could be digitized and maintain its integrity and meaning, I have come to understand that the digital does have its place and space.

Do I understand the issues involved with why all the theaters have gone digital with the exception of the wonderful New Beverly Cinema, and 2 or 3 others? Yep. I do. Do I like it? No, I don’t. This is one of the areas that I know has nothing to do with nostalgia: I just like sitting in the dark with other people and watching movies on real film. And I do wish that more studios would be sympathetic to the few theaters that still participate in this semi-arcane practice, at this point. Don’t just suggest that we play a Blu-Ray. I know Blu-Rays look REALLY nice, but…they don’t have the visual warmth. Especially with an audience. Realistically, I am totally willing to take base scratches on a print over the pristine cold of a Blu-Ray if I’ve got film fans around me. Movies are always 50% about what’s on the screen and 50% about who’s looking at the screen for me.

But the film world is this marvelously organic breathing changing thing. It always has been. I expect it always will be. To expect it to stay the same is to desire stagnation. The methods we use to tell our stories change. The ways we communicate our film discussions change. We change. I suppose we cannot realistically get any angrier at the technologies now than when sound came in. It was a rocky beginning, but who knows? Maybe in a few years?

That said, my patience only goes so far. This would have to be where I draw the line: I am exceedingly impatient at anyone in the younger generation (or current generation, for that matter) that uses their phone in a movie theater. To text, to call, to take a picture/screen cap of the screen, any of that. That is the one thing that drives me completely up the wall, and I will NEVER be able to tolerate that change in our world and I find that aspect of technology exceedingly tiresome. I do not have the ability to cope with that and I’m ok with that Area of Crankiness.

I do not believe that the death of the film camera means the death of film itself. I have also started to come to terms with the fact that film is heading in a very different direction than it ever has before and I am looking forward to becoming part of that world and making sure that a strong bridge between the old and the new is maintained. I think what will be key to this maintenance will be the formulation of a mutually beneficial structure amongst all the cinefiles. I’m not entirely sure that is possible, as cinefiles are amongst the most opinionated, obsessive and fan-culture-iffic folks I’ve ever met, but I believe it is worth a try and I certainly plan on doing my part.