Friday, April 25, 2014

Watching a Movie - Elite Eight Playoffs Edition

This week in my introduction to film studies course (COMM 1305 Film & Culture), I switched things up at the last minute and had my students conduct a playoff to determine the best way of watching a movie. The idea was to get them talking about how they like to watch movies and the advantages of different devices. The students (about 50) are not film majors, and only a few I would characterize as hardcore film fans. About 90% of them are 18-19 years old, with a few under the mark and a few over the mark.

I came up with this playoff bracket literally about 15 minutes before the start of class. The idea was that they would talk for a couple of minutes with their neighbors about the pros and cons of each pairing, then we would vote and discuss as a class. They loved this, and it was definitely successful at getting the students to talk about the different ways they watch movies and what they value in different ways of watching movies.

Here's a screen grab of the bracket I put together:

The big takeaway for me was that the students very, very much valued the traditional going-to-the-theatre way of watching movies much more than I anticipated. Even better, the kind of "movie watching" that probably elicited the most dramatic response was...wait for it...DRIVE-IN MOVIES. This blew me away. About half of the class had gone to the drive-in, and the other half expressed jealousy at not having the opportunity.

Game #1: At the theatre vs. on TV "live": this conversation got the basic dichotomy of movie watching out: the community, public "doing something" vs. the comfort and choice of personal viewing. Going to the theatre was the overwhelming favorite, with only 3-5 saying they preferred watching on TV live. By that I meant watching whatever movie might be on without the ability to fast-forward through commercials, etc.

Game #2: DVD vs. DVR. DVD was the big winner, with students saying they like the choice of being able to choose different versions and watch special features, but also the idea that this was portable: they could bring the DVDs to a friend's house, etc. Also, about 75% of the class said they still bought DVDs. I told them this would make the movie companies very happy.

Game #3: Phone vs. Tablet. Most of the class was outraged that anyone would choose phone over tablet, though there were a couple of passionate evangelists for the intimacy of watching a movie on a phone...that is, holding it close in bed, or surreptitiously when they should be doing something else. Only one person pointed out the greater ability to stream through the phone when not on Wifi. Tablet won, but pretty soon lost.

Game #4: Laptop vs. Desktop. I knew laptop would win but I needed eight "teams." This wasn't even a contest worth talking much about. Maybe "drive-in" ought to go here?

Game #5: Theatre vs. DVD: Theatre won. Knowing that they had laptop to cover personal screenings, there weren't too many siding with DVD. More and more they emphasized the quality of the "cinematic experience" of the theatre, referring to the better image and sound--what I would call it's more immersive qualities--in addition to the public components.

Game #6: Laptop vs. Tablet. The consensus was that the tablet was a luxury, and far less desirable than a laptop. With a laptop, you could multitask more easily. In both cases you could watch with friends, but viewing in general was more cumbersome than on a laptop. Also, you could download movies with a laptop--but this really came up at the very end when it came down to...

Game #7: Theatre vs. Laptop. By this point, it was obvious that we were talking about two very different kinds of movie-watching experiences (and class time was almost up!). The class was split, even when I said if they had to choose only one of these ways for the rest of their lives.

Bottom line, students love the activity of going to the movies more than watching a particular movie. They spoke highly about how going to the theatre could really be a great experience, but also how if it was dirty and lousy, it wasn't worthwhile. They want experiences, and it was clear to me they would keep paying to go to the theatre (or the drive-in!) rather than just stay at home.

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