View Full Version : Pirating movies by videoing from the audience

Spectre of Pithecanthropus
06-22-2004, 02:45 PM
[Note: I honestly want to know this to satisfy my own curiosity. This isn't an attempt to solicit any illicit act or conspire to commit any such.]

Simple question, really: We hear of pirated copies of movies that were shot from the audience of a theater. What's the point of doing that? I mean, how good could it possibly be to make such pirated movies a significant article of black market commerce? It sounds like it's roughly equivalent to making a home movie... of a movie! Who would buy something like that?

06-22-2004, 02:50 PM
I had a friend who picked up a video'd copy of Titanic years ago, complete with head silhouettes of the people in the theater and various jeers and catcalls of inconsiderate teenagers. Lent the whole movie a very MST3K feel, but we only watched about ten minutes of it. Half the screen was missing, it was so dark and grainy as to be unwatchable, and we could barely hear the dialogue over the videographer's rather heavy breathing (maybe he had a thing for Leo).

I didn't understand the point then, and I don't now.

06-22-2004, 03:01 PM
It has been awhile, but in the "old days" in NYC, you couldn't walk a few feet without someone hawking a video of a movie that was just opening 30 feet down the street at a large movie theater, and sometimes a film that hadn't even opened yet!

The video tapes were usually cheaper than admission to the film and for a lot of people it was cool to invite your friends over to your house to see the latest blockbuster. Some of them even had fairly decent quality.

And if you consider they were selling hundreds and hundreds of them every day...well, money was being made.

There is a great story of back when Spielberg's film ET came out, the Queen Mum was asked if she had seen it.
"Oh yes. It was lovely. Saw it on the telly last evening."
The scandal was, it wasn't out on video and the only way she could have seen in "on telly" was if they had a pirated copy - which was rampant back in those days in England as well.

For awhile, the studios figured it was no big deal until they started to realize that one ripped off copy from Taiwan or NY or Rio could suddenly appear overnight on the streets of Berlin or Sydney or Hong Kong. The game suddenly got serious and they cracked down fast.

06-22-2004, 03:17 PM
I've seen a bunch of these, mostly downloaded from usenet groups.

They vary in quality quite a bit, and the best of them are still, of course, not as good as a legit copy, but most of them are at least watchable.

I've seen some that make me think that whoever taped them has the cooperation of the theatre staff. Nicely framed, with a level image and a full view of the whole screen, very little silhouetting from the audience. Sometimes the sound is so good, it seems they must have been plugged into the sound system, and not just recording with the camera's little built-in microphone.

On the other hand, I've seen a few that were ridiculous, and I wonder why people bothered posting them in the newsgroup. Crooked image, half-obscured. Sometimes, you miss ten minutes out of the middle of the movie while the person changes the tape in their camera. Pointless.

Even with the good ones, I only watch movies that I've already seen. I certainly wouldn't want this to be my first experience with any movie.


Little Nemo
06-22-2004, 03:37 PM
The economics of selling taped copies of theatrical movies is that you can sell copies earlier than anyone else and your production costs are very cheap. Some of these bootlegs probably start turning a profit around the third copy sold.

Rex Fenestrarum
06-22-2004, 03:42 PM
I've seen some that make me think that whoever taped them has the cooperation of the theatre staff. Nicely framed, with a level image and a full view of the whole screen, very little silhouetting from the audience. Sometimes the sound is so good, it seems they must have been plugged into the sound system, and not just recording with the camera's little built-in microphone.

Yes, those are called "Telesync" movies because the sound is coming from the theatre's sound system. Theatres are actually required to have this option for the hard of hearing under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Certain seats have headphone jacks so that almost-deaf folks can plug headphones into them. Apparently the best bootlegs of concerts are made the same way, as also required by the ADA.

You are also correct in assuming that many of them are made with the "cooperation" of the theatre's staff... Many - if not most - of the good telesync releases on Usenet and Bittorrent are filmed from the projection booth itself!!! This is why you don't see other patrons in them and why the camera never jolts from being bumped.

Yesterday I watched two telesync movies - Dodgeball on SVCD and Harry Potter on DVD and both were perfectly watchable - hardly "DVD quality" picture, but good enough for the $1.13 the blank media cost me.

On the other hand, movies labelled as "CAM" movies on the usual download sites are indeed movies made by some joker in the audience. Aside from the camera moving, you hear people laughing, coughing, cellphones going off, etc. I wouldn't download (much less pay) for one of these movies. At all. No matter how badly I wanted to see the film!

06-22-2004, 03:53 PM
If you're curious, this weblog (http://www.waxy.org/archive/2004/06/04/new_harr.shtml) has a link to a 50 second sample of a camcorded movie.

Rex Fenestrarum
06-22-2004, 04:04 PM
If you're curious, this weblog (http://www.waxy.org/archive/2004/06/04/new_harr.shtml) has a link to a 50 second sample of a camcorded movie.

Ewwwww!! That's the initial, craptacular UTI version. The version that's floating around Bittorrent (the DVD one) is *much* better!

06-22-2004, 04:25 PM
Someone once lent me a tape of Twister, it wasn't until I was about half-way through that I realized I was probably watching a pirated copy.

06-22-2004, 04:43 PM
My brother is a General Manager at a local Movieplex. He was telling me about how they just recently fired one of the projectionist for taping movies. They figured he was probably doing it for months. These were pretty nice copies. Granted not dvd quality, but still very watchable. I can imagine a manager on the late night shift in cahoots with the projectionist could very easily do this.

06-22-2004, 10:11 PM
You can walk through Times Square and find DVD copies of The Terminal, Dodgeball, Shrek 2, The Stepford Wives, Harry Potter 3 etc. for sale for five bucks. People buy them and of course they don't see them till they get home and guess what? The guy that sold them to you won't be there tomorrow. He'll be at some other street corner. But for half the price of one ticket your whole family can see it.

06-22-2004, 11:37 PM
Mr. Ruby is currently serving our country in Afghanistan and told me that any movie as available in the "bazaar" for a dollar or two. Most are obvious theater rip offs.

I just read recently (how's that for a cite!?!) that for the opening of a recent theatrical release (Harry Potter?) the ushers were given night vision goggles to catch people pirating the film.

06-22-2004, 11:45 PM
I've seen a couple. One had the time code along the bottom and no musical soundtrack, the other looked like nearly DVD quality. One of the problems the studios are running into is that since they're sending the films over to China to be duped for theatrical release, the Chinese are cranking out illegal copies.

06-23-2004, 09:57 AM
I have the third Harry Potter movie on DVD. It's great quality, as good as a VHS coy bought at the store. Of course, I live in China.

06-23-2004, 10:26 AM
I have an in-theater bootleg of Nurse Betty. The qualityf is pretty awful but you can get a sense of the story. The best part is when two guys in the front of the theater (one is wearing a cowboy hat) get up and walk out during the middle. Because of the quality of the product and the semi-surrealness of the plot I wasn't sure at first if this wasn't just part of the movie.

It's a VCD acquired in Thailand, so I don't know for sure if it would work for anyone here, but if anyone wants it (just to see what these things look like) I'd send it to you for the shipping. Some of the worst quality videos I ever bought were procured at a Bangkok department store. The best quality pirate versions came from a well known pirate market there. Point being the quality there is not a function of the retail outlet. I've also got good and bad copies at the Patong night market.

06-28-2004, 12:35 PM
the one with the timecodes on the bottom is a workprint... its an unfinished studio copy.

kung fu lola
06-28-2004, 02:25 PM
The DVD of Eurotrip includes a pirated copy as an "alternate version". The director seemed to have a great sense of humour about it.

06-28-2004, 09:55 PM
I was at a flea market in Macon GA this weekend; one booth had DVDs of HARRY POTTER/AZKABAN, CHRONICLES of RIDDICK & SHREK 2 for $10 each. There were cops walking around all over the place who didn't seem to be even slightly concerned with it. As somebody who deals with copyright issues everyday I wanted to pull a Gomer and make a "Citizen's arrreeessstt!", but just made like Dion instead and "walked on by". Disgusting bastards. (Yes, I know that HARRY POTTER has earned quadrillions etc etc, but it still doesn't make it right- this isn't stealing bread for a starving family).

One acquaintance who owned a huge collection of these movies told me that his "supplier" is a guy from metro Boston who tapes them from big theaters with cry-rooms or from pimply faced teens who agree to set the camera in the booth when the boss is away. (No self-respecting halfway intelligent theater manager would go for this since the money isn't that much [these are black market DVDs that can only be sold in public in Macon GA and that will be replaced by incomparably better copies with loads of extras in six months or less, and yet to be caught doing it is major fines, a criminal record and jail time, unless it's Disney and the state is Florida in which case it's public caning followed by crucifixion]).

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright 2018 STM Reader, LLC.