If Film is Your Religion, Then Streaming is Where You’ll Find The Word

Easy access to The Word is essential to winning over new souls.
By  · Published on September 8th, 2017

Easy access to The Word is essential to winning over new souls. Streaming Media is a gateway to winning new souls to the Church of Watch More Movies.

Souls. It’s all about souls. Wait, I mean the eyes are the windows to the soul. It’s about what the eyes see. Nevermind. All prophets steal their words anyway. Plato described music as a moral law that gave soul to the universe, wings to the mind, and flight to the imagination. That’s how I think about movies. Movies are The Word. We see ourselves and others up on the big screen, and for a moment or two, we understand what it is to think like someone else. Roger Ebert was channeling Plato when he talked about movies as empathy machines. Unfortunately, when you pitch people on investing their time and money, things like time and money turn out to be really big hurdles. Streaming media is a most excellent ice breaker in winning souls to the Church of Watch More Movies.

I’ve written before about theaters as Churches and movies as The Word. They are that important to me. We also talk quite a bit about streaming services in general. It’s changing how we consume film which makes it quite the topic. I’ve been thinking a lot about the benefit of streaming services. When I’m chatting about Church and the number of times a week I catch a sermon comes up, the most frequent question is: why would you spend your time like that? I digest so much of my experience in this world through the moving picture frame of a camera. Movies are every bit the equal of the novels, plays, and epic poems in that respect. It’s why I’m part of the Church of Watch More Movies. Not everybody consumes art like Plato and Ebert did. But, the world sure would be a lot cooler if they did.

Converting people to the Church of Watch More Movies ain’t as easy as it sounds, though. Through Film School Rejects, I have access to a great platform to celebrate the films and filmmakers that move me. But, that isn’t going to earn a new church member by itself. We’re building a church here, article by article. Still, it takes a tailored approach to get someone to watch a movie when they weren’t going to watch one at all. Especially one nobody is really talking about. Personal recommendations have to be bespoke. Ciara Wardlow pointed out in a piece on Netflix’s classic cinema problem that most folks don’t have “robe-wearing hipster dads to introduce them to the “best” films (a la Me and Earl and the Dying Girl).

She’s right, and it’s also an essential role in the process. I’m not saying folks couldn’t just start down the path, but I’m a dad and literally wearing a Yoda robe right now. Good recommendations come from an understanding of what the person consuming them digs. And here’s why. The idea is to open up people’s minds to the possibility of movies. The goal is not to open them up to your movies, though they aren’t mutually exclusive ends.

That takes time on two fronts. First, to acquire and watch the thing. Second, to consider what you watched. It’s one thing to watch more movies. It takes more time to analyze and frame what you’ve watched. If you want something more than a catalog of movies you’ve watched, you have to spend the time. That is never going to happen if the person doesn’t click with what they’re watching. Partly because nobody thinks about things to which they have no connection. Mostly because they’ll never have seen the thing in the first place if it didn’t thoroughly catch their interest.

I hate the idea of prescribing a history of films to appreciate where we are in Cinema. The idea that there are Important Films You Need To See To Understand just doesn’t hold water with me, outside of film school. Undeniably, there are innovative filmmakers pushing the bubble of what’s acceptable through seminal films that define a generation, a genre, or a technique. If you see a derivative work first, no matter what anyone else tells you, that will be The Word. Regardless of where that film sits in cinematic history, that one connection will open up your world to that uniqueness.

It’s a double-edged sword. If it only takes one movie that clicks to expand your horizons, it only takes one bad movie to turn someone off to a new project. One movie that doesn’t really click. Then it’s all about how there are other things to do anyway. The gym, grocery shopping, taxes, or whatever immediately looks more appealing. Keep in mind, most people might catch a movie a month. Most movie watchers might catch a movie a week. Just fifty movies all year. That’s just enough to revisit the films they remember nostalgically and catch the tentpole releases that interest them. Essentially, most folks spend their time in the movies most accessible to them.

The root of accessible is ‘access’, right? Without access, we can’t baby step anywhere. Streaming media is sort of like the Gideons. Okay, I’ll admit, that’s forcing the analogy a tad. Truthfully, though, the Gideons get the dilemma of access because they understand most folks who aren’t particularly religious won’t go out and buy a bible to think it over. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be receptive to the word, it just means they’re never going to overcome that hurdle of procuring one for themselves. The Gideons have taken that hurdle out of the equation.

If someone is watching tentpole flicks and childhood favorites (which is not at all wrong), I’m not going to reach them with my Death Spa pitch. If I knock on their door and ask if they’ve heard the good word about Gymkata? No. No, they haven’t. And, they won’t. That’s something you have to build up to. Baby steps, right? Baby steps to Blood Diner. Black and white cinema? Yup, baby steps. Baby steps to ultra-weird science fiction. Underappreciated flicks of decades past, like say, oh I don’t know, Hudson Hawk? Yup, baby steps!

We’ve covered time. People don’t take the time to check out something that doesn’t interest them personally. We’ve got our tailored recommendations in mind. Now comes money. I know you and I are down to invest our hard-earned cash money in an out-of-print hard-to-find VHS tape because someone mentioned the title as “radical” in a conversation we had a month ago. The reality, though, is most folks have to profoundly want to watch something to overcome even a rental fee.

All of this to say: streaming media is a world class ice breaker when it comes to overcoming the humdrum challenges of encouraging people to watch more movies. There’s a reason so many of us talk about what’s coming out on the major streaming services. Price, trust, complacency, and timing are all common challenges to recruiting someone. Streaming services help to overcome that.

I’m not Quentin Tarantino, which I’m sure is no shocker. What I mean to say is I’m not as cool as he is. I don’t have the industry cred he has. He is a tastemaker. If he brings up some out-of-print flick that never even made it to VHS and says it deserves a serious look, people listen. Someone will recognize the value of his taste, run down a print of the film, license the rights, and work out a physical media release. I also don’t run my own immensely popular boutique cinema. I can’t acquire a print of that film and throw it up on my screen to a bunch of other tastemakers to help spur the renaissance of that title.

That’s part of what drives the revitalization of older films. When a streaming service acquires an older title that I, in my own small way, think deserves more love, it’s so much easier for me to make my pitch. If I’m having a conversation with someone and get them hooked on the idea of watching this movie, it should inevitably conclude with the question: “where can I watch it?” That question is essential to closing the deal and getting them to check out whatever Word it is you’re discussing.

If you’ve got a great physical media collection, you can loan it to them. Otherwise, you’re going to need something cost effective. Especially if it’s one of the first recommendations you’re giving them that’s outside of their comfort zone. If they can’t watch the movie because there are no accessible versions of it, all you’ve done is demonstrate the extent of your own movie knowledge. Basically: cool story, bro. Thanks for the ten-minute lecture on how cool a movie is that I can’t see.

Don’t get me wrong. Film nerd rabbit holes are another fine manner of conversation. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of conversations about movies end with people asking where they can watch whatever title stuck out to them. So, in this case, if they can’t look at the movie, it becomes not only a waste of effort, but it degrades their trust in your recommendations.

If The Word is important, then we have an obligation to support the filmmakers who get it out there. I recognize there’s a more complicated conversation to have about the economics of streaming services and how that works both for and against indie filmmakers. For this conversation, streaming services serve as a friction-free entry point. Each successful recommendation you make to a person builds their trust, and so that trust makes it easier to recommend less accessible or more costly means of consumption.

Quentin Tarantino, knowledgeable film prophet that he is, dropped a quote in an interview that really connected with me. I think he was quoting someone else, but it came with his spin. What’s more QT than that? There are two kinds of movie lovers, people who love movies and people who love the movies they love. Despite there being nothing wrong with either category, I find that the more movies I watch, the easier it is to just love movies. Whatever they are. Even when I’m talking to a person who loves dearly the movies they love, I’m very cognizant of where I’m asking them to step out of their comfort zone on a new style of movie for them.

Build that trust carefully. And then pitch them on the more challenging stuff. Yes, you really need to spend $35 on this boutique production company’s special collector’s edition Blu Ray release. Or, yes, you really need to rent this the day it comes out. Also, yeah, you need to see this in the theater.

Get to know the people with whom you’re chatting. What do they already like? How does that stack up against what’s currently streaming? How much are they already watching? Pitch them on things that are only baby steps away from what they’re currently doing. Remember, the more movies they watch, especially of different types, the easier it becomes to pitch some of the more out-there versions of The Word. And, eventually, yeah. You can pitch them on The Greasy Strangler and a whole disgusting dive into trash cinema. These are just my goals. What do you think? How do you recommend movies to people?

Related Topics: , , , ,

Writer for Film School Rejects. He currently lives in Virginia, where he is very proud of his three kids, wife, and projector. Co-Dork on the In The Mouth of Dorkness podcast.