Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Criticwire Survey: Screener Privilege

Features
June 17, 2014 10:48 AM
4 Comments
  • |
Buffer

Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, "What is the best film in theaters right now?" can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.


Q: Movies and TV are increasingly being sent to critics in the form of online screeners, viewable only through a studio or a network's website or via a variety of third-party platforms. What fraction of your professional viewing occurs through streaming, and has it increased over the last several years? How does watching something via streaming affect your relationship to the material you're reviewing, and what (if any) steps do you take to optimize the viewing experience? What steps can studios and networks take to improve the process in future?

Eric Kohn, Indiewire


More and more, I've gotten into the habit of asking for "screener links" rather than "screeners" when I don't have time or am otherwise unable to attend a screening. This is a blessing and a curse: Extra DVDs tend to lie around and gather dust, while the ease of sharing links makes it even more likely that they will pile up in my inbox. However, I find that as a whole the streaming process is a positive development for journalists who might otherwise not pay attention a wide spectrum of new releases in any other fashion. If anything, any distributor in the specialty release business unwilling to share access to their library with journalists interested in covering it is doing a disservice to their product. They're also doing a disservice to the product by placing massive watermarks in the center of the image -- which happens more often than I can count. Surely there's a better way to track your material than to ruin it.

Do I have a different relationship to a movie when I view it online? Maybe. Certainly when my internet cuts out. But if something demands to be seen on the big screen, the onus is on the distributor/filmmaker to make that clear to the media. Otherwise, if we can't see it online, we might never see it all. That's just the reality of an increasingly dense marketplace.

Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly

Streaming "screeners" are absolutely on the rise -- I'm guessing it's close to 40 percent now of independent films I review, compared to maybe 10 percent just a couple of years ago -- and from a business standpoint it's obvious why it makes sense in reducing the cost of producing and mailing physical media screeners. And, personally, I kind of despise it. The image quality from streaming screeners is satisfactory at best, and that's saying nothing of certain distributors' proprietary/preferred platforms that crap out at random intervals and/or stutter and jitter through the entire film. Distributors seem not really concerned about the idea that while average viewers might not be quite as choosy about a streaming experience that's still, relatively speaking, in its technological infancy, professionals reviewing a film really do want to experience the work in its optimal presentation, in order to evaluate fairly. And streaming almost *never* offers that presentation. If it really mattered to distributors that critics saw their movies in the best conditions, they'd send physical media Blu-ray disks -- but I suspect it doesn't matter, and will matter less and less with every passing year. If every filmmaker had to watch movies exactly the way professional critics watch *their* movies, many of them would never stop vomiting in horror.

Mike D'Angelo, the Dissolve, Las Vegas Weekly

I almost never review studio films, so most of my viewing happens at home these days. A year ago, it was about 70 percent physical screeners and 30 percent streaming links. Today, it's about 80 percent links and 20 percent screeners, with the latter dwindling fast. Can't imagine they'll be sent out much longer, except maybe for year-end FYC campaigns.

If the film is streaming high-def, there's essentially no difference between that experience and a DVD. (Neither compares to a theater, of course, which is why I still travel to film festivals even though I generally lose money doing so.) What baffles me are the companies -- including some pretty high-profile ones (hi, IFC!) -- that host files that aren't even DVD quality. Why they would want critics viewing their films under such sub-optimal conditions is beyond my comprehension. Weirder still, in many cases the film in question, if it was made outside of the U.S., has already been released on Blu-ray elsewhere in the world. As I write this, I am downloading a foreign Blu of a film I'm reviewing next week, even though its distributor has provided me with a cruddy-looking stream. My conscience is literally 100 percent clear about doing this. It can only help the film, to which I've been given professional access anyway.

Vimeo is the gold standard here, distribs. You click on the link, you enter a password, you watch a (hopefully hi-def) file. Simple and clean. No, watching a tiny file in fullscreen mode is not the same thing. And please stop with the links/passwords that expire after like 72 hours. I've lost count of how many times I've had to go to the hassle of requesting a new link because my editor assigned the film long before I was prepared to sit down and watch it.

Joanna Langfield, the Movie Minute

I love getting screeners and will sit through the worst streaming link on the planet. I may not be happy about it, but, in most cases (unless, for instance, the film really relies on special digital effects), I think it's a professional critic's job to muddle through the extraneous and get down to the business of the film itself. That's why we get paid the big bucks, right? 

I have streamed through iPad, desktop and my high-def, audio-enhanced home theater system. And while I always enjoy going out to screenings and seeing my fellow travelers there, the unfettered joy I feel of accessing a film 24/7, cuddling up on the couch and getting to see the piece without the hassle of tracking down a screening, juggling umpteen other screenings to schedule that screening, traveling to said screening, standing on a stupid line to get my ticket, hand over my phone, and get wanded by security is pretty delicious. Especially when there are now so many releases, it's important and a pleasure to be able to see and support a quality, often small budget picture that might otherwise languish as it gets lost in the straight to public streaming shuffle. If I have to suffer a few buffering blips along the way right now, so be it.

Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger

First off, I still try to see as many films as possible in a theater -- although I suppose for films which are going to be watched by audiences via video-on-demand services anyway, this is not quite as essential. A small part -- maybe 20 percent -- of the films I review I see at home. An even smaller portion of that I see via streaming.

Personally, despite the convenience, I don't even like screeners -- seeing a film on your TV or laptop, alone, at home, in no way approximates the experience of seeing it with other people in a dark theater. And no matter how good your intentions, it's very hard not to be distracted -- by the doorbell, the phone, your dog having to go out.

And streaming is even worse. Although I imagine there is some difference between the various services -- I guess I've found Vimeo to be the least awful -- the process is cumbersome at best. Many studios offer passwords which expire before you find the time to watch the film; often the experience itself is stalled, or beset by audio issues, or poor image quality.

I understand that many studios prefer streaming because of piracy issues (and cost). But it's not just my least favorite way of seeing, and judging, a director's work; it's the least fair to them.

Alonso Duralde, TheWrap, Linoleum Knife podcast

Streaming has been on the rise if only because it's a relatively recent phenomenon -- if I reviewed more arthouse fare and fewer wide-release titles, I'm sure it would be a staple of my viewing existence, but at the moment, I probably stream at least one or two movies a month. And yes, it's always preferable to watch movies on the big screen, but since my other hat is that of festival programmer and pre-screener, I've gotten pretty good over the years of taking a movie seriously on my TV or on my laptop. If I could ask for improvements in the process, it would be a) for movies to load up to completion even with my merely-OK home internet capabilities and b) having films sent out in a way that I could watch them through my TiVo on my monitor rather than on my laptop. (e.g., on YouTube or Hulu, with a password) For sheer convenience, if I'm reviewing a theatrical release that goes on VOD first, I'll skip the press screenings and shell out the ten or so bucks to watch it at home.

Richard Brody, the New Yorker

The ideal isn't a space or a medium, it's openness, generosity, and vulnerability, and in that regard, an on-line screener is certainly no worse than my parents' black-and-white TV.

A screening of a vintage 35mm print is the ideal way to watch a movie (at the Cinémathèque in Paris, I saw an original Technicolor print of "Vertigo," and it was like seeing an oil painting in motion); everything else, from a new restoration to an on-line screener, is an ersatz that nonetheless distills and delivers something essential of the work and the experience. But the variables of experience -- extending to the temperature of the screening room and one's own moods -- are so crucial to receptivity as well, that it's pointless to dream of the pristine critical viewing-laboratory. The ideal isn't a space or a medium, it's openness, generosity, and vulnerability -- the readiness to be changed -- and in that regard, an on-line screener is certainly no worse than my parents' black-and-white TV, on which I saw "The Last Laugh." That said, there are practicalities; one involves a cable that cost me about seven dollars, and that connects my computer to my (fairly large-screen) television; the angle of vision that the computer screen fills, from close up, may be wider, but the filling of space -- the sense of looking at an image that's out there, not right here -- isn't the same. But that epicurean fine point is, for the most part, beside the point, which is the one contained in the title of this week's survey: "screener privilege." Getting DVD screeners, linking to on-line screeners, going to screenings, are all privileges that, as such, confer responsibilities -- mainly, that of getting into the right state of mind (and body) to extract full artistic benefit. In any case, the history of criticism proves that it's as easy to make bad use of a screening held in optimal circumstances.

Jake Howell, Movie City News

I typically only stream films on Vimeo or other platforms when a film festival rolls around, and the amount of films that are available online during festival season has dramatically increased over the years. It's a double-edged sword: when you have the film available to watch online, there's something that cheapens the experience or devalues what may have been an awesome premiere at Sundance, for example. Similarly: when digital media begins to accrue and a backlog of screeners hits your inbox, it can begin to feel like a slush pile.

Of course, the flip-side is that you may not have been able to see the film regardless, so the online screener is certainly a boon in that regard. And to be fair, my laptop computer is 17 inches, so if I turn off my phone and kill the lights and treat the stream as if it were a normal movie-going experience, I can retain much of the immersion that a normal screening provides. Streaming typically occurs at home, though, and there's approximately one million different things that could distract you, so going into hermit-mode to watch a Vimeo link is not always possible. As for how studios can improve this process: a local screening is always preferred, but for whatever reason there's something I value more over a tactile, hard-copy DVD screener than the Vimeo facsimile. Maybe it's because the physical object is staring at me on my desk, reminding me to watch it. Or maybe it's because there was more effort made to get that disc in my hands. But who knows?

Josh Spiegel, Movie Mezzanine

I'd say roughly a third, if not more, of the movies I review are done via online screener, which is far more than was the case over the last few years. But then, so it goes for any kind of streaming, whether it's on Netflix, Amazon, or the like. I don't do much on my end to optimize the online-screener viewing experience, because frequently, there is no optimal viewing experience regarding online screeners. What would need to happen, and almost certainly never will, is for all the studios and distributors to use the exact same platform, and for that platform to be Vimeo, or any kind of video site that isn't consistently terrible. (See: most of the video sites used by studios and distributors for online screening purposes.) The movies themselves, even the bad ones, suffer because the choice given to critics isn't as ideal as a DVD or theatrical presentation; the videos load slowly, when they load, and the image is cluttered with multiple watermarks to make sure critics don't pirate the movies. (And, as we all know, critics are among the most common video pirates.) I acknowledge that it is a privilege to watch movies for free and before they're released to the public; however, the manner in which this is occurring as of late feels like studios and distributors are either unaware of the problems inherent in online presentations or they just don't care.

Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times

For a long time and, indeed, until relatively recently, I watched television, for recreational and professional purposes, on a 21-inch, low-definition cathode-ray-tube television; it worked, as things no longer do, for something like 30 years and I was not about to reward such service by replacement. (Also: money.) For much of this time, of course, there was no easy alternative. Big TVs were expensive room dominators; you couldn't hang them up or back them up against a wall, like the modestly large 37-inch flat screen I now own. Still, my slow adoption of the new tech seemed laggardly enough that I wrote a whole piece about it once, my ultimate point being that merit or the lack of it is evident no matter what the size or image quality; and though I will admit that there are great delights in getting the full effect of TV's new visual excellence, as the digital cameras get better and the photography more ambitiously artistic -- I'm thinking particularly of some shots in "Top of the Lake," taking in immense landscapes in which action is also taking place in some small corner, as in a Baroque painting -- I still believe the essentials come through no matter what the platform.

So, yes, we get a lot of screeners online nowadays, and more all the time; at the beginning, the systems (a different one from every provider, seemingly) could be problematic, but I rarely encounter any issues in delivery nowadays. The truth is, the computer screen I watch them on is bigger and clearer than the television screen I used to have, and it fits the current reigning aspect ratio (and I sit closer to it anyway). Paying attention is what matters most, and I can do that as well in an office, looking at the same screen I'm using to write these words, as I can on a couch in a living room; better, possibly.

Practically speaking, I like the convenience of knowing that I can go to a network's site to see what's around, or contact a publicist to get a last-minute link to a show that isn't pitched for review; and, I like not having to consign DVDs, once reviewed, or deemed never-to-be-reviewed, to the trash heap. Not all networks have equally good libraries or delivery systems, but things are improving overall (at least for desktop screening; I can't speak to the mobile apps -- another tech in which I lag behind.)

I can see how this might be a problem for film reviewers taking the measure of some effects-heavy summer superhero/monster blockbuster; though without the audiovisual pummeling it also might make those films' weaknesses easier to discern. In TV, given to eleventh-hour delivery schedules, we're used to seeing things in an incomplete state anyway, sometimes with unfinished special effects, or temp music, or dialogue spoken by editors. You learn to make the proper compensatory calculations. (Television, since it potentially goes on and on, may also be said to be in a permanently unfinished state in any case; we are always compensating for that.)

Sam Fragoso, Movie Mezzanine, RogerEbert.com

On behalf of all film critics who responded to this survey, I'd like to formally apologize. Prepared to be inundated with first-world kvetching of the highest order. 

Part I: Lately, a good bulk of my viewing (for review purposes) occurs via screeners, either online or physical. It's clear that over time more and more studios are going this route -- it's the economical choice. Sending a link to watch a movie on their server, or a third part network, is much cheaper than hosting a screening of their film in a theater. 

Part II: I've noticed that I'm more critical of a film when I have at my fingertips. Whether I watch the movie more than once, or go back to reevaluate a certain shot or jot down a line of dialogue to use in a piece, my criticism seems to be more precise when given a screener. 

Part III: Please, abandon Dax, which I'm convinced was produced in a laboratory by Satan. The quality of in house networks vary depending on the studio. Lionsgate, for example, has your email floating around the screen throughout your viewing experience. This would be extremely helpful if one suffered from severe memory loss and couldn't recall the name of their email address, but otherwise it's disrespectful to the individuals who worked tirelessly on each frame of the film. Moving forward? If a screening or physical screener can't be arranged, go with Vimeo. Then again, I'm sending this answer in while waiting for a film to buffer on Vimeo. 

Jordan Hoffman, ScreenCrush, New York Daily News

It's gotta be on your TV. You can't watch it on your computer/laptop. It's just impossible.

At least 50 percent of what I see is at home.  I don't mind it, under the right circumstances. Given the reality of the job market right now, to see everything at a screening room (or rented theater) just "wouldn't scale" for me. Straight reviews make up a significant percentage of my income stream, but not all of it. Even though I live really close to the midtown Manhattan screening rooms/theaters, the act of getting away from my desk and other projects and onto the N train eats away precious time. The big studios can make these demands on me -- the smaller titles, who know they need to fight for space in my outlets to begin with, understand it won't always work this way. It may not be fair and I may not like it, but pragmatism is a big part of this business. Plus, so many of these titles are VOD titles anyway, so seeing them at home feels less and less like a crime. In a perfect world I'd go to the screening, and I always try. It *is* better that way, it's undeniable. If what I'm reviewing is a shot-on-video documentary with a lot of talking heads, I don't feel so bad. If it is a more "immersive cinematic experience," I make an effort to go. Really, I do.

But not all at-home experiences are the same! DVDs are still best, naturally. (And since we're going inside baseball on this, allow me to take a moment to salute one of the finest publicists on the scene: the tireless Adam Walker at Film Forum, who bends over backwards to facilitate with in-theater screenings and will always urge distributers/filmmakers to provide him with physical discs. He is a champion.)

DVDs are costly; streaming is not. And when it comes to streaming, V IS FOR VICTORY!

Directors, Producers, Distributors: Lend Me Your Ears! Please, for the love of God, read this and read it well: VIMEO VIMEO VIMEO.

Password-protected Vimeo is the ***BEST*** way to make a critic's life easier. It is simple and it looks great. And it works on an iPad. What I do is then take an HDMI cable out from my iPad and into my TV. I'm sure other tablets/methods can get Vimeo on to your TV, too.

That's the key. It's gotta be on your TV. You can't watch it on your computer/laptop. It's just impossible. Email is always flying in and the temptation to check is great. You want I should lie? I consider myself a fairly focused individual -- but if I am watching a middling found footage horror movie and I know that I have emails building up, I'll have that urge to make a quick check. It's not fair, but it's reality. With a Vimeo link, I can put my computer and phone in the next room and watch like a mensch for 90 minutes.

You'd think all links would come with this functionality, but they don't. Sometimes you are doomed to watch something on a lesser format. The worst is DAX.

Directors, Producers, Distributors: Lend Me Your Ears A Second Time: Do not let your publicist send out a DAX link! Imagine inviting a critic to come to a theater to watch your film, then telling that critic they have to sit in the seat with a spike thrust through it.

DAX is the worst platform imaginable. I hope someone forwards this to them so they can know their shame. It is a ceaseless loop of signing up for new usernames and passwords; it is a tiny, ugly box of video off to the side of your computer and it is not compatible for iPad. It's a disaster.

There's another miserable experience out there called GoScreenings. They're just as bad as DAX (but don't insult Trills with their name.) GoScreenings look like junk and are incompatible with iPads, but at least you don't have fill out for a new password every time. But I think you have a timed window on this one that begins when you go to check to see if the link is working. Man, that's burned me a few times.

On the rare occasion I've had to use a streaming link with one of the bigger studios it's been a better affair. 

Screening at home is a necessity in the current marketplace for films and for critics. I don't know why some distributers are hesitant to use Vimeo -- maybe it's a security thing. If that is the case, though, there is an opportunity for someone at Vimeo to make better advancements with the mid-level and smaller distributers.

Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye For Film

Online screeners are a poor substitute -- a film should be projected in a theater or screening room to maximize the quality. Streaming does not affect my relationship to the material because I do not watch a film online that I am reviewing.

Peter Howell, Toronto Star: 

The good news about digital streaming is that it makes it a lot easier to see more movies. That's also the bad news. Many films that might otherwise have gone straight to DVD or VOD suddenly become economically feasible for a "Hail Mary" release at smaller theaters, greatly increasing the number of films for review -- I counted 24 (!) new openers in New York a couple of weeks ago and Toronto is also seeing many more new releases. This is not an ideal situation in terms of reviewing workloads or box office receipts, but as long as the streaming works properly (never a sure thing), I don't think it materially affects how critics engage with the work, any more than if they were watching it on a DVD. My advice to studios and networks would be to make streaming easier and more reliable, and also to be more judicious about the number and timing of releases.

Neil Young, Jigsaw Lounge, Tribune

Less than 5 percent of the films I see for review purposes are seen from online screeners. I still see most of my "professional viewing" in a cinema, as the vast bulk of said viewing takes place at film-festivals: I'm old-fashioned enough to think that a film made to be seen on a big screen should be seen on a big screen wherever possible. Call me old-fashioned, Luddite, stick-in-the-mud (just so long as you call me). Online screeners are handy as a last resort, I suppose, especially for film-festival selection purposes (I'm a programmer as well as a reviewer, and in that realm the percentage is closer to 22 percent nowadays). But I don't really trust them (yet) and for home viewing I still instinctively prefer DVD. Maybe things would be different if I had a faster internet connection and/or a big flat screen telly and/or the necessary cables and/or the necessary cabling to connect my laptop to said telly. I don't have any of those, however, and so I stubbornly beat on, a boat against the current, borne forward ceaselessly into the future.

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing

At this point in my career, I'd say at least one in five movies viewed in a given week or so come via screener/streaming link, which is definitely an uptick in quantity over the past few years. In almost all cases, it's an inferior viewing experience, but sometimes it's a necessity due to time commitments or something of that sort. Setting up shop in a quiet or comfortable area with your computer for a screening link is ideal, but it honestly doesn't help too much. Frankly, I'm not sure what steps the studios can take to help with this, especially when links are replacing screener DVDs in many cases. It's just a sad reality that a good portion of independent films are made available to us in this way. I hardly can complain, given the alternative of dropping 13-14 bucks on a theatrical experience, but it's still hardly ideal.

Robert Levin, amNewYork

There's more to filmmaking than story and characters. The dozens, hundreds or thousands of craftspeople who have worked on the movie deserve to have their work appreciated too.

I always ask for DVD screeners over links whenever possible because the difference in quality is considerable and I'm perhaps forced to rely on screeners more than many colleagues because I have other responsibilities at amNewYork that keep me there past six o'clock, which is when many movies are screened. There has been a significant increase in online streaming for professional viewing over the past several years and with it has come a series of nightmares: poor quality, awful buffer speeds, huge watermarks and more. At the same time, I couldn't do the job without viewing links, oftentimes the quality is perfectly fine and I have mastered the art of shutting out these distractions when they do arise to focus on the film at hand (having a high-quality home viewing set-up helps). The best way to optimize this process is to for links providers to be mindful of the fact that there's more to filmmaking than story and characters and that the dozens, hundreds or thousands of craftspeople who have worked on the movie deserve to have their work appreciated too. I'm not an expert in the best ways to optimize the experience so that it's less frustrating and the quality is better but I'm sure someone out there has some ideas.

Greg Cwik, Indiewire, Wall St Cheat Sheet

Since I'm between apartments until August and living on the eastern half of Long Island, where culture is limited to rocky beaches and mini-van-driving moms, I rely on screeners. I always prefer seeing a movie in theaters because it eliminates the temptation to pause and go make some food, or to use my phone to peruse Wikipedia, but also because a real theater is more immersive, louder, and smaller details just don't work as well on, say, an iPad mini. That being said, I haven't been able to get to press screenings the last couple months, and distributors who don't have any sort of digital screener, period, frustrate me. There are a handful of movies I've been dying to see that didn't play within three hours of me, but apparently Vimeo screeners weren't worth the effort for distributors, so I have to wait until they come out on Blu-ray or streaming. On the bright side, I find it easier to notice composition and framing when watching on TV or a device, since I'm seeing the whole picture at once without having to move my eyes, so that's cool.

Jeff Berg, Las Cruces Bulletin, ABQ Free Press

About 50 percent of what I view now comes from some sort of streaming source, which is a huge increase. In the past -- well, in the way past -- I was able to nab VHS screeners from a venue that screened much of what I wrote about (films only), having only to sign out for them and return same. That evolved to my contacting various distributors and being invited to the occasional advance or press screening, which evolved to DVD's if requested, always with some kind of security marking. I took pride in returning everything promptly and still do.

Now with streaming, I still receive them but do request DVDs if possible. If I'm too lazy to hook up my laptop to the HTML cable, I find that it is often a more difficult to pay attention to the movie. I don't like streaming and I don't do it even for movies that I watch for pleasure. Size matters. It doesn't effect the review per se, but I find it takes me longer to get through stuff that I have to watch online.

The process probably can't be improved since this is where everything is heading and apparently streaming offers better security for distributors and studios. I don't like it much, but in some ways we've brought it upon ourselves by being too lazy or by thinking that it didn't matter if we returned screeners or not. That is a better question.... what can be done to get reviewers and others to return screeners that are still on DVD? 

Edwin Arnaudin, Asheville Citizen-Times, Ashvegas

Around 15-20 percent of what I review is through streaming. I haven't been in the business for that long, but even in that relatively short amount of time, more and more films are sent to me for online viewing.

Clean and clear as my MacBook Pro's 13" screen is, it's still a 13" screen and watching a film there with so-so built-in speakers isn't exactly how the filmmaker intended his or her work to be seen. My 40" TV is also no match for the theater experience, but it's a step forward and makes it easier to envision the film as audiences will see it. As such, I light up whenever the online screener sent my way is a Vimeo link because I can save it to my "Watch Later" list and then view it on the TV via the AppleTV app. For non-Vimeo links, beaming the film onto the TV from my laptop via the AirPlay feature has proved choppy at best, though I've yet to try an HDMI connection to see if that would help.

The more studios that offer work-arounds like Vimeo's, the better, though that still (falsely) assumes each critic owns a compatible device. I realize that press screenings at theaters (the best option) don't always make sense, especially for mid-level markets like the one I'm in, but DVD screeners still seem like an inexpensive enough middle ground that's an improvement over a computer screen. 

Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second 

While there has been a growth in the number of screeners I'm now privy to, thanks to digital streaming, ironically I'm less likely to actually view them due to the technology proving problematic on many an occasion. This is no doubt a temporary issue though, and one that will be solved as the technology develops further. On a related note, I'm not keen on how it pushes the film critic further to the fringes of the cinema-going experience, with the solitary viewing of a screener via laptop far from that of viewing it with an audience (even if said audience is a room full of fellow critics). There are plus-points though, with international walls broken down in some cases, leaving me able to deal with PR folk outside of my own country, which is especially handy for films with dramatically staggered international release dates. 

John Keefer, 51 Deep

I prefer screeners sent out on kinetoscope.

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing

At this point in my career, I'd say at least one in five movies viewed in a given week or so come via screener/streaming link, which is definitely an uptick in quantity over the past few years. In almost all cases, it's an inferior viewing experience, but sometimes it's a necessity due to time commitments or something of that sort. Setting up shop in a quiet or comfortable area with your computer for a screening link is ideal, but it honestly doesn't help too much. Frankly, I'm not sure what steps the studios can take to help with this, especially when links are replacing screener DVDs in many cases. It's just a sad reality that a good portion of independent films are made available to us in this way. I hardly can complain, given the alternative of dropping 13-14 bucks on a theatrical experience, but it's still hardly ideal.

Sean Chavel, Flick Minute

I see several films a year at home, and it certainly has saved on gas money. I think all film critics' TVs are bigger than they once were, and we all have our own personal shrine set-ups to maximize our home viewing experience. Still, as good as we can make it for ourselves at home, viewing a first time movie still loses a little bit of the concentration (and power) of a screening room where movies impress us best. On the other hand, of my ten favorite films of all time, six of them I first saw on home video anyway.

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket

A couple years ago, I made the conscious decision to increase the number of independent/VOD releases I review, so at this point a full half of my professional viewing comes from streaming. I've developed good working relationships with a number of PR reps who are eager to provide streaming links for movies they're promoting. Watching a movie this way doesn't really have a huge negative impact in terms of the film itself. A good movie is a good movie in any format, and I've also got my home theater system set up so that I can stream to my TV. The real problem with watching via streaming, as I'm certain will be stated again and again in this survey, is that the services used by studios and distributors often sucks. I've watched films with as many as three separate watermarks cluttering up the screen. Stop-and-start buffering is a frequent problem, and the picture quality on some streaming services is poor, at best. A certain company, who shall remain nameless, continually feeds me movies through a service that shrinks the low-definition picture so that it's a small, blurry rectangle within my screen. Studios need to get a lot better about this. Filmmakers would be pissed if they knew the lousy presentation their films were often getting when being reviewed. It can be difficult to pay attention when a number of these issues present themselves simultaneously. I've had the best luck with Vimeo, which usually works for me. Others sometimes prove to be headache inducing. Bottom line: if the studios are going to present films for us to review, they really need to get their acts together and make sure we're watching them under the best circumstances possible.

Nell Minow, Beliefnet, the Movie Mom

The number is small, maybe ten percent, but increasing quickly. At this rate, it could be up to a quarter of the films I watch by the end of the year. I am very grateful for the flexibility in scheduling and the chance to see films I would otherwise miss but I still vastly prefer the opportunity to see a movie in a theater, as the filmmakers intended. Even beyond the technical glitches, it is impossible to eliminate the distractions that are inherent to watching a movie at home. No matter how many times I see a film later, the experience of the film is always diminished from seeing it on a computer or television for the first time. 

Jump St

Q: What is the best movie in theaters?

A: "22 Jump Street"

Other movies receiving multiple votes: "Ida," "The Fault in Our Stars"


Features
  • |

More: Criticwire Survey

4 Comments

  • Bill (or Dave) | June 27, 2014 4:54 PMReply

    Get used to it, bottom feeders. We don't care about you.

    HAW HAW HAW! (and so forth)

  • Armak | June 17, 2014 7:14 PMReply

    As a filmmaker, this was an eye-opening (and more than a little alarming) look into the life of film critics. Cheers to everyone who named names.

  • David Klein | June 17, 2014 2:47 PMReply

    No, no. Jordan Hoffman's answer is a champion.

  • Asher Gelzer-Govatos | June 17, 2014 11:06 AMReply

    As someone who does 90% of my review viewing at home, I've grown accustomed to the hit and miss nature of streaming links. Recently I was unfortunate enough to have my first experience with DAX, and it was...

    Wow, was it awful. I feel like it was designed by some cabal of Satanist 3 year olds, optimized to give the absolute worst viewing experience possible. Ugh ugh ugh.

Email Updates