If you were a movie pirate looking to steal a print of the latest Harry Potter movie when it was shipped to movie theaters a few weeks ago, you were probably out of luck if you were looking for film canisters with Half-Blood Prince on their side. Of course, you may have noticed a number of prints being shipped out from Warner Brothers of a film called Candle Light. Never heard of it? That’s because there is no film with that title, it’s just a ruse used by the studio when they shipped their copies of Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince to theaters to prevent theft.
Shipping prints of new releases to movie theaters under phony names is nothing new. Studios have been doing it for years. (See below for a random sampling.) We know that the studios and the Motion Picture Association of America have inflated the impact that piracy has had on their bottom line. But has there ever been a real problem with film prints being stolen by either pirates or over-zealous film collectors? And while it is reportedly a problem in the Indian film market, the only time that I can recall reading a newspaper story about a print of a film being stolen was back in the summer of 1983 when a gunman had a copy of Return Of The Jedi taken out of a Midwest theater’s projection room and placed in his car’s trunk. (Ironically enough, the capstone to the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Revenge Of The Sith, would also be the victim of piracy, though the copies of the film that circulated the weeks before its official release were thought to have stemmed from a disgruntled insider at Lucasfilm.)
A search of Variety reveals only a scant few more such instances. The first dates back to 1994, when a copy of the indie film Cultivating Charlie was stolen out of the trunk of the filmmakers’ rental car in Hollywood. A second news item is on the brisk sale on eBay of 35mm copies of the trailer for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace two months before the full-length film’s release. I think we can all agree that neither instance probably had much, if any, impact on their respective film’s business. (Though I will grant that the producers of Cultivating Charlie were probably out about $3,5000, the cost of the print.) A third story mentions a bootleg of the 1999 comedy Detroit Rock City being circulated among fans of the rock group Kiss, who appear in the film, two months before the film’s release, but it is unclear as to whether the bootleg video tapes originated with a stolen print or not.
Yet despite this extremely low level of print theft activity as reported by Variety, the trade paper still reported statements at least twice from industry reps that stolen prints of films contribute to the losses that the industry claims are due to piracy. A 2001 story even placed that loss at $2.5 billion. But it is clear that the MPAA’s stressing of print theft as a problem doesn’t seem to jibe with Variety‘s own reporting on actual incidences of stolen prints. Of course, since Variety is largely supported by ad revenue received from the major studios, it does have an interest in abandoning its journalistic integrity and just parroting what the people holding the purse strings say. With the MPAA having been caught back in January 2008 inflating the percentage of piracy caused by college students by 300%, I find it very easy to dismiss anything that the lobbying organization has to say. They are only interested in protecting their signatory studios’ bottom line.
Which brings us around to the following question- In this day when so much of production is carried on the digital world, isn’t the danger of digital piracy much greater than piracy involving a physical film print? Surely, the leak of the Wolverine work print at the beginning of this year’s summer blockbuster season, amongst other films, taught us this. And even with the
And do they honestly believe that they are fooling anyone by changing the film titles on their shipping canisters? Perhaps they think that some film pirate is going to think, “Well gee, I don’t see any copies of the new Harry Potter film… Just four copies of some film I’ve never heard of or seen advertised called Candle Light being shipped to this one theater. What funny coincidence, cuz there’s lots of candles in those Harry Potter movies… Oh well, I’m sure it’s not related…”
They’re really not fooling anyone.
And just for fun, here’s some films from the past few years that have shipped under false titles. Not a whole lot of imagination showing here on many of these.
- The Brave One- Sweet Revenge
- Casino Royale- Rough Skins
- The Dark Knight- Oliver’s Army*
- GI Joe- Silver King
- Hancock- Hidden From Earth
- Harry Potter And the Goblet Of Fire- Happy Days
- Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkahban- Radiator Blues
- Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix- The Raven
- Julie & Julia- Twice The Risk
- King Kong (2005)- Tiny Dancer
- My Sister’s Keeper- Family Life
- The Orphan- Infant Terror
- Star Trek- Code 53
- Sweeney Todd- Skunk
- Transformers 2- Altar
*Director Christopher Nolan must really like the name Oliver, as his new film Inception is current;y shooting LA under the name Oliver’s Arrow.
Special thanks to the various theater projectionists who helped compile the list of fake film shipping titles.