Friday, January 9, 2015

A counterintuitive cost-benefit analysis

There are two 2014 documentaries I've been struggling to get my hands on, and they have very similar titles, both involving a person possessing an object. (Or in one case, not quite possessing it, because his attempts to possess it have been frustrated.)

I've already written about my own frustrated attempts to see Tim's Vermeer, which I thought was a guarantee to land on Netflix streaming. Now it looks like I will also lose my chance to see Jodorowsky's Dune before my deadline next Thursday.

I can actually get both of these movies through iTunes. However, I'd have to buy them, and I just can't do that.

I could own a copy of Jodorowsky's Dune for $15.99. Tim's Vermeer is a little more dear (hey, that rhymes), at $17.99. Neither is available for rent.

But I don't buy movies I haven't seen, just out of general principle. I only want to purchase something if I am intentionally making it a part of my collection.

What's counterintuitive about this way of thinking is that I would pay that same amount, or possibly more, just to watch it one time in the theater.

Sure, I try to see movies on discount movie nights whenever I can, and if all else is equal, I do. But all else is not always equal. There are times when that just won't work, especially when I'm cramming before my ranking deadline. If I'm willing to shell out $20 for a 10:30 a.m. showing of Into the Woods, I'd conceivably pay that same amount for either of the two documentaries listed above. (At least with Into the Woods, I got to sneak into the second half of an illegal double feature: Dumb and Dumber To.)

So buying either of these movies on iTunes would be a savings of at least two dollars, and possibly as many as four. Yet I just ... can't ... do it.

If asked to justify this through some kind of supportable logic, I would probably say that it has to do with an assumption that I am going to watch most movies only one time. If I don't even know whether I like the movie, there's an even greater chance that I'll only watch it once. Increasing the odds of only a single viewing are the fact that both Tim's Vermeer and Jodorowsky's Dune are documentaries. I can count on one hand the documentaries I've watched more than once.

So if there's going to be only one viewing, I'll pay a premium to see it on a big screen, where I have a greater chance of getting the most out of the movie. It's easier to let the movie envelop you, and you can't pause it. So I'll pay the $18, even the $20, for the big screen viewing. To pay that amount just to watch it on my computer ... it doesn't compute.

Then again, it's not like the decisions I make at this time of the year are always financially logical. Let's go back to that Into the Woods screening. I paid $20 for the ticket, and another $15 for a large popcorn and a mango iced tea. (The fact that they don't post the prices of food items at Hoyts concession stands is a longer topic for another time.) If I hadn't snuck into Dumb and Dumber To, I would have paid $35 just to see one movie I didn't even like very much. Sure, the popcorn was a lunch substitute, since I wouldn't be getting out of the second movie until nearly 3 o'clock. But the big outlay of cash for possibly only one movie -- if my attempt to get into the second went belly up -- is not at all justified by any benefit analysis.

If I made the extra effort to get one musical on my slate for 2014, you might say I'd buy either Tim's Vermeer or Jodorowsky's Dune just to add to my lagging total of 2014 documentaries. I've seen six with at least one more to go, but that's a pretty lame total for most years.

But as of right now, the true-to-life documentary Derek's List looks like it will come together without either of those possessive, elusive titles.

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