If you have been to a British cinema in the last two years it is very likely that you will have seen an anti-piracy advert exhibited somewhere between the trailers and the ‘feature presentation’. It has a simple message: if you ‘pirate’ films then cinemas will go out of business and the experience will be ruined for everyone. The interesting thing is that the viewer is positioned into thinking in a certain way by the visuals and audio that are employed to scare them.
The advert begins with a low-angle establishing shot used to position the viewer into respecting the mighty cinema, a stand-alone building with 1950s futuristic architecture, a recurring device used to suggest that the cinema is more than just about movies but is an ‘experience’. From the very beginning the atmosphere is eerie and the aesthetic is apocalyptic.
Then the advert cuts to a close up of a dusty door with the words R.I.P Last Cinema on Earth and a note that declares ‘gone but not forgotten’. The screen is filled with spiders webs, dust and broken glass – all visual signifiers familiar to horror films. The reason that these visuals are used is to subconsciously remind viewers of horror films and allude to previous times when they have been scared in the cinema.
Then the camera cuts to inside the cinema and tracks around and empty bar, again to reinforce the social interaction that cinemas provide, before introducing us to a number of dead cinema patrons that are covered in dust and have disheveled hair and glazed, dead eyes. As we meet these people, John Hurt begins to talk in his signature deep growl: “A moment of cinematic joy… an experience shared…”
Whilst this is happening there are a number of sound effects of gusts of wind and birds wings flapping to highlight the abandonment of the cinema, along with cars screeching, police sirens, and wailing cats that all suggest a lawless apocalyptic society brought about by film pirates (who knew?!).
The camera then focuses on a young couple and has an extreme close up of them holding hands. The implication is that these people are on a date, and therefore all dating is potentially in jeopardy if we all lose this cherished institution.
Obviously, the people who are watching this advert are primarily in the cinema already. Therefore showing them a long shot of an empty cinema with the authoritative voice-over stating, “all gone… imagine” is going to have an impact as it a threat to the activity of which they are about to enjoy. The final climax of the advert then provides the audience with a direct question followed by a plan of action. The phrase “Love Cinema? Hate Piracy.” can essentially be translated as ‘Do you, cinemagoer who is in the cinema, love the cinema as an entertainment activity? Well if you do then you should hate piracy, report suspicious people and visit the cinema more as it is in a state of decline’.
The message of this advert is that piracy is a crime and that it is affecting box office sales, therefore the solution is to visit the cinema more. Only this is simply not the case, as UK box office figures have been rising.
The ideological (and economic) message is an admirable one and I am not here to question it per se (I love cinemas), I am simply here to highlight how the advert is working and make you appreciate the subtlety employed. By using the conventions/aesthetics of horror films to unsettle the audience, combined with the message that cinema is more about an experience than a film then the advert manages to promote the institution of cinemas just as much as highlighting the legality of film piracy.
A final thought. The use of the term ‘piracy’ to describe the process of downloading films is a brilliant reversal of the action involved. Pirates intercept trade ships carrying cargo from port A to port B and then keep the ‘treasure’ for themselves. Modern incarnations of illegal film uploading (which I must stress I do not agree with) are mostly a form of selfish altruism where no money changes hands, but films and music etc. are ‘leaked’ online. Perhaps they should be considered closer to whistleblowers than pirates…