M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Monday, August 12, 2002  

For a while last year, I had a little side gig where I would review DVDs for a movie website. It was a pretty good excuse to spend way too much time watching a lot of movies, but it didn’t exactly keep gas in the Bentley, if you know what I mean. Especially since we had to supply our own DVDs to review. Seriously. Even that wouldn’t have been so bad if they could have assigned movies to us. But we lowly freelancers were on our own. What we had to do was log on to the website and look for DVDs that hadn’t been reviewed yet, then snap up whatever was available. There were any number of occasions when I went to Blockbuster while Trash stayed home to plug titles into the website’s search engine. You know those people at the video store who browse the aisles with cellphones clapped to their melons, rattling off movie titles? We hate those people, right? Yeah, I was one of them. It was embarrassing. Especially since people heard me asking about films I would never, ever, rent. Angel Eyes? No. Driven? No. Dick? Score!

Then I’d get the movies home, and I’d have five days to review them before I they were due back. That’s five days to review, on average, three movies, four commentary tracks, two hours of deleted scenes, twenty minutes of “making-of featurettes,” a dozen theatrical trailers, and every other menu option they decided to toss on there. Think I was able to do that every time? Think again. I started doing daily cost-benefit analyses:

“Okay, I’m done with this one and it’s only one day late, so I can bring it back today and still get paid enough to hold onto these other two a little longer and still be ahead, but only if I finish this one tomorrow, because it’s a two-day rental, but it has more features, which means it’ll take me longer to get to the third one, by which time my late fees will be more than my fee, so maybe I should do this one first after all, and while I was thinking about all this I forgot to return the first movie and someone else got a review of it up before I did anyway. Crap.”

I know it’s not easy to get rich doing freelance writing work, but I didn’t think it was supposed to actually cost money. When they started requiring us to get our review selections approved in advance, that was pretty much the only excuse I needed to quit doing it.

Then, last month, Trash and I signed up for Netflix. Dude, you need to do this, unless you don’t own a DVD player, in which case you need to get a DVD player and then do this. It’s a totally different model for renting movies. It’s like the movie renter’s version of TiVo.

Maybe you’re not familiar with Netflix, in which case I can only assume that its banner ads are somehow being blocked from appearing on your browser by the walls of your cave. Here’s how it works: you pay twenty dollars a month. They send you DVDs in the mail, up to three at a time, as many as you want. When you’re done, send it back. There are no late fees, and the only limit on the number of movies you can rent is the speed of the Postal Service. You can only have three movies in your possession at a time, but if you can’t make those last a couple of days, you’re spending too much time with your DVD player in the first place.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Twenty bucks a month? What a rip-off! Who spends that on movies? For that to be worth it, I’d have to rent, like, six movies a month! Six! A half-dozen!! That’s one or two a week, for cryin’ to Jesus! Okay, where do I sign up?”

Did I mention there are no late fees?

I’m a little worried that they won’t be able to do this indefinitely, and here’s why: tens of thousands of DVDs are being shuttled furiously back and forth in the mail, protected by nothing more than a couple of flimsy paper envelopes. I don’t know how long they’ll be able to take that. I know, digital media is supposed to be practically indestructible, but tell that to my friend The Engineer (7/12), who had to quit using CD wallets to cart his hardcore between his house and the radio station because the music was getting damaged in transit. I can’t help thinking that the same phenomenon is going to catch up to Netflix eventually, at which point it’s going to get more expensive. So don’t wait around on this, people.

Now that I’m in a place where movie rental has joined the “utilities” category of the monthly budget, I’m seriously considering going back to the reviewing gig. A good deal is even better when you can make it pay for itself and then write it off on your taxes. Of course, I wouldn’t be doing it for the money, but for the writing practice. Right now I’m only churning out about a thousand ‘Net-published words per weekday and I’m afraid I might lose my chops if I keep stagnating like this.

* * *

Okay, this cracked me up. Sometimes compliments make me blush. Oddly enough, the blush from this one is shaped a lot like the back of Ana Ng’s hand. Heh.

posted by M. Giant 3:28 PM 0 comments


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