Interview: Movie Madness
As movie lovers, anti-conformists and occasional deadbeats, it is sometimes necessary for the intellectually superior and financially limited to attend more movies than they actually “pay” for. Scouring newspapers for the most agreeable showtimes, blending in with a crowd and always being prepared with snappy, plausible answers are the tools of our trade.
Sneaking into movies is an art, not a science. But Jeremy Stribling and Greg Roberts have used technology to aid their fellow auteurs in pursuing the dream. Their website, www.movie-madness.org, compiles movie listings so that users can easily see the path to lower ticket prices. And somewhere, someday, a little kid won’t be ashamed to dream of the impossible - seeing 10 movies in one day all for the cost of a single matinee price ticket.
At some point, Jeremy and Greg realized that the path laid out for them had little to offer… so they stepped off that path. They blazed a new trail. They are great men, and we’re here to find out what drives them.
Culture Blues (CB): What first made you guys decide to create this website?
Jeremy: Oh, wow, ok. Well this interview is already off to a shaky start. That’s the wrong question to ask. You should really be asking: how did you guys discover that you were blessed with the endurance and intelligence that led naturally to the inevitable birth of the site?
Greg: We’ll have to go back to the beginning. The Morning of Enlightenment came in the wake of a raucous house party the night prior. After awaking to find that the day had no known agenda, we followed a natural progression of movie interest, to movie-hopping interest, to the design of a crude but efficient schedule that put us on the path of Movie Madness history.
Jeremy: So we spent a few years honing our skills, hand-crafting movie schedules by candlelight from newspaper listings. Eventually, however, we reached the limits of human computation—we found we could not hand-craft a schedule of more than seven movies. Luckily, I am a master computer programmer, and one evening Greg and I toiled well into the night writing a program that could find the best schedule available at a given theater. The result: a schedule with an unfathomable eight movies.
Greg: A year or so later, we ushered in the Web 2.0 era by putting the program online in the form of http://www.movie-madness.org.
CB: I just learned about the site recently. How long has it been active?
Greg: We started a beta test program with the Croatian military in 2002, but we didn’t make the website public until the fall of 2003.
Jeremy: Pro-tip: don’t try to Movie Madness in Croatia.
CB: What has the feedback/traffic been like? Any particular feedback you’d like to mention?
Jeremy: It’s been steadily building over the last few years. A few hundred unique visitors a day or so—though I expect that number to skyrocket once we hit the front page of Culture Blues.
Greg: Actually, we’ve never gotten any negative feedback, but we do get a lot of unsolicited advice from douchebags who think they know better than us. Like recommending we stop at the concession stand between movies—I mean, c’mon. And here’s a real quote from one email we received: “LOL, I have been doing this for years. I am the master, bro. The trick is to go to the cinema with the most theaters/showtimes.” Real quote, swear to God. We do love hearing from people, just not douchebags.
CB: You call the algorithm that compiles all this information “simple.” Are you being modest? It takes me time and concentration to piece all this information together from a website or newspaper, and I went to college and everything.
Jeremy: I’ll handle this one. The algorithm is actually derived from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics found inside King Tut’s tomb. I say it’s simple, because all the writing was in birds and other stupid pictures, so it couldn’t actually be too complicated. Even an inbred, crippled child king could understand it. I don’t know what your problem is.
CB: Your site has a very “no frills” appearance despite its usefulness. Did you think about aesthetics at all, or did you just approach it as a tool that doesn’t require colors and weird fonts?
Greg: Aesthetics? Colors? Fonts? What the hell is this interview about? Are we still talking about movies or what? Look, there’s a lot to be distracted by out there, weddings, court appearances, childbirth, but Movie Madnesses require an unending reserve of focus and Olympian-like concentration. I think that really the frills and dazzle of the website comes from the magic that a eight or even nine movie schedule can induce within you, within your soul.
Jeremy: I’d just like to add that the site still looks better than 75% of MySpace pages, and 100% of Geocities pages, which was the standard at the time.
CB: Your site contains a disclaimer that Yahoo and the MPAA do not endorse “Movie Madness.” Are you at all worried about them coming after you? And if so, are you willing to die for Move Madness?
Jeremy: I’m actually a little worried that you’re just pretending to be a blogger, that you’re really an MPAA agent in disguise.
Greg: Do you mind if we frisk you?
[Jeremy and Greg frisk Jeremiah. They take their time.]
Greg: Ok, I guess you’re clean, but you really should put on some pants.
Jeremy: I would die for Movie Madness. If that happens, please put “He died doing what he loved—sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers ten times in one day” on my tombstone.
CB: Your site also says that you DO endorse this and you mention on your site many times the outrageous ticket prices these days. Why else do you think people should engage in Movie Madness?
Greg: Let’s not underestimate this core tenet of Movie Madness: getting back at the man for bending us over at the ticket counter. And we accomplish this by regularly participating in high density Movie Madnesses. I once talked to an old man who spoke of spending a mere 50 cents for a movie back in his day. To this I smugly replied, I only paid 45 cents for each movie I saw last month. ... and then he died. Point being, engagement in Movie Madness makes fiscal sense. The industry wants to squeeze us out of hard earned dollars and cents and we need to squeeze them back.
Jeremy: And then there’s the thrill of massive pop culture overdose, and the excitement of hiding from sixteen-year-olds who don’t care about doing their jobs properly.
Greg: Also, it’s good for your glutes.
CB: In your tips section, you refer to theater ushers as “wily.” That’s a joke right?
Jeremy: Yes, that’s a joke. Most of the time, the ushers are more interested in sneaking into the projectionist booth with the acne-riddled popcorn girl and making out. As long as you don’t stick out, they’ll leave you alone.
CB: Do you have a strategy for selecting movies to make sure you don’t get bored or go nuts? I find it best to switch up genres and tones, and to stay away from anything too heavy.
Greg: (Sigh) Ok, let’s talk about what we’re after: quantity. One of the fundamental building blocks here is that the MPPR (Movie to Price Paid Ratio) is maximized. In order to optimize your efforts, no care can be given to the quality of movie viewed. Hell, we once sat through Stuart Little 2 AND Spy Kids 2 in one day. The same damn day!
Jeremy: Your method of “switching up genres and tones” might work in your spoiled-rotten, silver-spoon-fed gated community, but here in the real world, that shit does not fly.
CB: On your site, you ask for people to send in success stories, a sure sign to me that you practice what you preach, and I would love to hear about the thrill of victory. But first, how about the agony of defeat (or Movie Sadness as you call it). What’s a horror story from your days of theater hopping, whether it be a string of particularly bad movies, or the embarrassment of being a grown man getting interrogated by a movie theater usher?
Jeremy: We’ve actually had pretty good luck in our Movie Madnessing. Maybe a few weird looks from employees, nothing else. The one time I ran into trouble, I was in this one popular Boston theater on a Saturday. This theater, you have to understand, is split up into several hallways, with each hallway showing only a few movies. I knew that at a certain time on Saturday night, they would place ticket-takers at the front of each hallway, rather than at the front of the theater, and after that we’d have to see movies entirely within one hallway. So I cased the joint the night before and mapped out which movies were in which hallway, hand-crafting a schedule ending with a run of movies within the same hallway. But I miscalculated, and we got trapped in a hallway earlier than expected. We were forced to see Happy Feet, and we went home early, heads hung in shame. One guy committed suicide.
Greg: And once we had a friend (ex-friend now) who thought she could hang with the best. Jennifer was excited to “dance with the stars” so to speak, but after just two movies, her enthusiasm was drained and she conceded defeat. It was our fault, really, for not screening our movie madness trainees properly. It was a sad day to see someone walk both into and out of the theater during the light of day.
Jeremy: But don’t worry, we always put flicks before chicks, and we stayed at the theater to complete the entire Movie Madness.
CB: You refuse to validate someone’s claim that they beat your MPPR record because they haven’t provided proof. What would you accept as proof that someone saw a bunch of movies without buying the appropriate tickets? Or are you just messing with people?
Jeremy: We are absolutely not messing with people—we love to hear good stories. But this is too important to just trust to mere words, you understand.
Greg: We’re looking for a scan of newspaper listings, or a link to a movie-madness.org page (sent before or on the day of the Movie Madness). Ideally, a scan of the matinée ticket as well.
Jeremy: We’d give extra credit to any photographic evidence inside the theater, or their first-born child.
CB: OK, let’s talk about the good times. One time, some super usher doing a theater check asked (fellow Culture Blues editor) Jeff Hart and I if he’d seen us in another movie (our previous feature). I searched my pockets for a ticket stub that didn’t exist while Jeff calmly explained that we had gotten to the theater early so we just sat in on the end of another movie. The usher begrudgingly accepted this and told us not to do that again. We did that many, many more times. Another time, we got turned around in a particularly labyrinthine and vertical multiplex. We were forced to get on an elevator containing an usher. She brusquely demanded tickets as we tried to exit at the appropriate floor. We quickly flashed stubs that were hours old and went into a movie we hadn’t purchased a ticket for. Give me some good war stories.
Jeremy: Wait a minute, is this an interview or an autobiography? Leave the story-telling to the professionals, kid.
Greg: One key factor to a successful execution is dress change and clothing variability. It helps to have layered shirts and sweaters that can be taken on and off; zip-away pants that turn into shorts are a nice feature. A single hat between two people can also afford a convenient change of disguise. I’ll tell you what doesn’t work so well: switching glasses between people. For instance, during one of our Movie Madness events, Jeremy, who wears corrective eye lenses, and I, who do not, decided to try out an eye-wear switch. The result, of course, was two oddly-dressed, severely-confused, slowly-walking men. Needless to say, maintaining adequate vision is a must.
Jeremy: One time, we started in on a Movie Madness and discovered that our favorite theater had stopped posting the movie names above the theater doors. All we had to go on was the theater number of the first movie for which we bought a ticket. We spent the day making up excuses for why we had to ask the ushers where a certain movie was playing: “I’m meeting my nephew there”, “I can’t find my elderly uncle, he may have wandered into Showgirls”, et cetera.
CB: Obviously, sustenance is of great importance during the kind of marathons you’ve endured. And I know you’re vehemently opposed to buying food at the theater. What are your favorite snacks to sneak in? I always keep some Combos handy, with a 60% chance of Slim Jim.
Jeremy: Usually, we go with classic camping supplies: trail mix, granola bars, beef jerky, and the like.
Greg: Once, we made the rookie mistake of stuffing out pockets with 39-cent cheeseburgers from McDonald’s (along with chicken McNuggets and apple pies). It was a good idea in theory, but let me tell you, eleven-hour-old cheeseburgers pulled from your back pocket are not as good as they sound. Plus, our friend Jeff died of dysentery several days later.
CB: Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but Robin Hood never helped me see From Paris With Love, Dear John, Percy Jackson, Up In The Air and Wolfman all in one sitting. Admit it, you think you’re better than Robin Hood.
Jeremy: Well, really, we’re not stealing anything, since those seats are probably going to be empty anyway. And we wouldn’t pay to see most of these movies.
Greg: And we’re not giving anything to anyone. That’s actually a really bad analogy.
Jeremy: It’s kind of like if Robin Hood snuck into the back of an old-timey Shakespearean play, sitting in an empty seat and refusing to buy roast squirrel haunch and grog or whatever the hell they sold back then at the concession stande.
Greg: Yeah, it’s exactly like that.
[Jeremy and Greg high five].