Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Zoom and movie fans in 2020

Right now, we can’t go to the movies, or anyplace else, without taking precautions against The Virus. That may change in 2021 (knock on wood). Streaming services have taken over as the primary means of distribution, and with the recent news about Warner Brothers’ game-changing commitment to streaming next year, it’s gonna be how many of us experience movies for a long time, even after The Virus is under control.

New methods for fans to talk about movies have gained prominence as a result of the new stay-at-home culture this year, and one of the most widely used has been Zoom.

There are other video conferencing apps on the market, but Zoom appears to be the popular one; I’ve been using it since about May and most of the Meetup and Facebook groups I’m part of use it too. Virginia uses it for most of her online music groups. It has its limitations when it comes to live performances, though she’s found ways around that. I don’t know how Zoom is regarded in other fields. I’m here to discuss it from the movie fan’s perspective.

The learning curve for using Zoom wasn’t as steep as I expected, though organizing a meeting was harder to master than merely attending one. Once I got the basics down, I had to teach my mother, a notorious technophobe, how to use it. She’s gotten somewhat comfortable with it by now.

I remember when reports of strangers crashing private meetings became a thing. I’m satisfied, based on my and my mother’s and Virginia’s experiences, that steps have been taken to prevent that from happening. I have yet to experience any “Zoom-bombing.”

Vija chose to move her informal movie club to Zoom once the theaters closed. She had a slightly easier time figuring out Zoom than my mother, though there have been mistakes along the road. We’ve been discussing mostly old movies, picked out either online, like on YouTube, or through a local cable sub-channel. We’ll watch it beforehand and discuss on Sunday, often going off-topic.

When there’s three or more people involved, Zoom puts a time limit of thirty minutes, which has made discussions shorter than most of us would like. I’ve suggested we should each contribute towards paying for unlimited time, but so far Vija seems content with things as they are. 

We mostly connect from home, though occasionally someone will join while outside. The conversations are unstructured; Vija acts less like a moderator and more like just another friend to talk to. Recently we discussed Of Human Bondage (the Bette Davis version) and subjects included Somerset Maugham, the role of women in the late 19th-early 20th century, and reading the book in school.

By contrast, I recently discovered a Zoom group a bit more organized. Jocelyn from the blog Classic Film Observations & Obsessions recently mentioned her Meetup group Reel Classics of Greater Boston, who meet online now to discuss old movies. 

Their operation is much more structured: slides, questionnaires, sub-groups within the larger Zoom meeting format. When I sat in on their recent discussion of Scarface (the original), I came with a couple of pages of notes I took as I watched the film in advance. This group struck me as consisting of more hardcore film nerds who’d be less inclined to go off-topic—and I was right.

It took me a little longer to adjust and fit in. The notes were less necessary than I thought they would be, but I don’t regret having them along. It was a larger group, so breaking into smaller groups for a brief period was a good idea. That was something I had never done in any previous Zoom meetings and it made discussing the film easier.

I guess you could say Vija’s group is like friends gathering in a cafe after a movie to chat (which we often used to do after a movie) and Jocelyn’s group is like a club where cinephiles gather to express their opinions. Each way has their appeal; if I were to hang out in the latter group longer and got to know some of the people better, I’d probably become as relaxed as I am in the former group—those are friends I’ve known for at least a decade, and I’ve known Vija for more than half my life.

Either way, Zoom as a facilitator for connecting people is good to me: one can control the audio and video (helpful if you’re having a bad hair day), one can send text messages within the group, sub-groups within a meeting are nice when you’ve got a big group and want a more intimate conversation, and you can talk to people from around the country and the globe. I don’t have much experience with other video conferencing apps so I can’t compare and contrast; some might be better, some might be worse. Until we can all go to the movies together again, though, this will do.


  1. I had my first Zoom experience yesterday. Community Living set up a who decorated better party between Gavin's home and a triplex. It was a lot of fun and I knew Gavin was singing something because the sister of one of his housemates applauded. I didn't have any sound! I don't know what I did wrong but I'll fix it by the next one. Perhaps being on my phone at dialysis had something to do with it.

  2. That’s good that you got to see him. I know you’ve been apart for a long time.

    The first time I set up a meeting was with my writer friend Jeni and we had the same problem: no sound! I had to resort to writing on paper and holding it up to the screen to convey what she should do on her end before we discovered it was a simple matter of unmuting. Maybe you had the same problem?

  3. I've used both Zoom and Google Meet in chats for college or among movie friends, and they ar very similar, I can't complain. when I took part of the Collegium at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival last October we met to discuss the films every day, and it was a great experience, as there were people from all over the world. I wrote down notes but as time passed we did get more comfortable and less formal in our discussions.

  4. I think Zoom and apps like it will be a great way for film festivals and seminars to bring in wider audiences.


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