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by Bryce J. Renninger
August 8, 2013 11:12 AM
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Venture Capitalist Who Suggested There Should Be Texting in Movie Theaters Writes "Another 1000 Words Proving [He's] an Asshole"

Or so that's what Hunter Walk, of the Silicon Valley venture firm Homebrew and formerly of Google and YouTube, thinks we might say about his screed that defended his brief suggestion that people who don't go to movies because they want to be able to text during them should be able to have their own screenings.

The original post on August 3 started, "In my 20s I went to a lot of movies. Now, not so much. Over the past two years becoming a parent has been the main cause but really my lack of interest in the theater experience started way before that. Some people dislike going to the movies because of price or crowds, but for me it was more of a lifestyle decision. Increasingly I wanted my media experiences plugged in and with the ability to multitask."  He goes on to list a number of things he might want to do -- visit IMDb, chat with others, or do work -- during a film like "Superman" or "Pacific Rim."

But before you get all up in arms, he doesn't want to ruin your experience.  "Instead of driving people like me away from the theater, why not just segregate us into environments which meet our needs."

Walker should know that his idea is not new.  The Grand Poobah of the anti-texting-in-theaters set, the Alamo Drafthouse's Tim League, wrote a long post discrediting people like Walk in 2012.  Midnight screenings at Regal of the so-bad-it's-good "Sharknado" encourage tweeting, making it a real-life Mystery Science Theater 3000.

People online already gave Walk a hard time for his proposal.  In an August 5 post defending himself, called "You Literally Represent Everything Wrong with the World," he groups the backlash into three categories:

"This shouldn't exist, you'll ruin my movie experience."  

"You are disrespectful to the movie industry."  

"You literally represent everything wrong with the world."

After saying he's being misunderstood (thinking like this is just what venture capitalists do!), he defends the first attack by reiterating that he wants to segregate movie audiences into people addicted to their Twitter feed and, well, people who can go two hours without a tweet.

The second and third attacks, though, he ends up defending his "community," Silicon Valley folks glued to their phone, and takes down Hollywood.

While he might be forced to reconsider now, Walk's impulse that he could disrupt the movie industry comes from the fact that Hollywood's in trouble.  But what he points out in his defense is that as many people are becoming more drawn to working, socializing, and playing on their mobile phones, Hollywood is using enhanced technology to make vapid films that are all spectacle.  Spectacle, in fact, that isn't very imaginative.  

Walk's post begs the question:  Will Hollywood studios seek for solutions to problems that aren't there -- to disrupt the moviegoing experience with the ability to text during screenings or any number of other gimmicks -- or will it just concentrate on making better content.  Just as Hollywood is having a terrible summer, Woody Allen's having his best summer ever.  Films like "Mud," "Spring Breakers" and other smaller titles have been huge break out hits.

Maybe having film screenings with enhanced wifi and the no-cell-phones ban lifted would be good for this guy and his friends, but don't think that's the solution, Hollywood.  The fact that ticket purchases haven't absolutely plummeted proves that there's still an audience out there eager for good storytelling; the fact that the Hollywood fare is tanking also proves that there's still an audience out there eager for good storytelling.

Walk's not giving up, though.  Confident that he's onto something, that he's (can I say it one more time?) disrupt the moviegoing experience, he tweeted on August 6, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you all watch Ghostbusters together w WiFi."

After which League offered to debate or spar, to which Walk said he'd rather just meet up, perhaps in San Francisco if League's in town for the Alamo launch there.
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3 Comments

  • hunter walk | August 9, 2013 1:14 AMReply

    Hi! Not seeking to 'disrupt' any industry - not sure why you suggest that. What I was asking for was a separate theater where there's wifi so I might get to go to matinees and still get work done (i've got a baby and new company so i don't get to go out much at night). I'm also interested in how these connected theaters might be used for other types of social viewings - hence my joke Ghostbusters tweet paraphrasing Ghandi.

    The theater experience I describe wouldn't be one I'd select all the time but wondering why folks are so opposed to the option even being available. That's what I tried to summarize in the follow-up post.

    thx.

  • Glen Risdon | August 8, 2013 5:48 PMReply

    Even non-subtitled films which are not 150% action require full attention to try to absorb all the
    characters and details.

  • Vin | August 8, 2013 12:29 PMReply

    I'm not sure what the big deal is.

    I loathe people who pull out their phones in a theater - whether to text or simply to check the time. I even get annoyed when someone walks into the theater after the start of the film. Once I'm immersed in a movie, I hate it when anything or anyone takes me out.

    Having said that, the reality is that we increasingly live in a world of plugged in automatons who are so soul-dead they don't think twice about checking in on work during a film, dinner, etc. This Walk guy sounds like just the type. Work. Work. Work. And - especially in big cities - theaters full of texting teens are rule, not the exception....and most of the time, theater staffers (who are largely teens working for peanuts) don't care all that much.

    So I say yeah, give them their own screening room. Leave those of us with the attention span to immerse ourselves into a two hour-long story do so in peace. Leave those of us who aren't slaves to our office enjoy a film without some drone typing an email to his client on the next row.

    As far as Hollywood goes - if they think the decrease in theatergoers has anything to do with people not being able to text in movies, then they've got their heads father up their bums than I'd imagined.