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Is it okay to Twitter during a movie? Is it okay to twitter during a movie if the other 40 people sitting around you are also tweeting?

Last night, Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel and Scott Aukerman gathered at the Burbank AMC Theater with 30 random Twitter users recruited off the internet to live tweet the midnight screening of Crank 2: High Voltage. The idea was to bring a group of random people together and provide funny live commentary during a fun, yet no-thinking-required, action flick.

A fun social networking movie event eventually degraded into an anger-filled shouting match. But strangely enough, no one in the theater itself was upset about cell phone usage. It was the people at home on Twitter who were outraged.

An estimated thirty or so people showed up, and because this event took place in Los Angeles, the group included some actors, directors and comedians: Paul Scheer (Human Giant), Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation), Rob Huebel (Human Giant), Kent Nichols (Ask A Ninja), director Eric Appel (FunnyOrDie), Scott Aukerman (Mr. Show), Steve Agee (The Sarah Silverman Program), Jason Woliner (Human Giant) and there are probably others I’m missing.

Alex Billington from FirstShowing was in attendance, and explains that “It was coordinated as a big group effort, the back few rows where we sat were even separated from the main section by a big aisle, everyone was dead quiet (except for the normal laughing or cheering), and not a soul knew what we were doing.”

Hundreds of people watched on from the comfort of their homes. But as the event got started, a few online movie critics became vocal about the practice about using twitter while watching a movie, and some even resorted to name calling (because of that I have chosen to include the more intelligently formed responses). Quint from AICN confronted Alex directly about the live tweets:
“Come on, man. Theaters are movie geek churches. You have to show respect of the place and the people around you” … “There’s no difference between what you’re doing now and what the loud teenagers constantly txting during movies do” … “I know it’s Crank 2, I know it’s funny and you think it’s innocent fun, but it’s incredibly disrespectful. Unless you rented out the theater and it’s just you and your buddies you’re in the wrong here, however discrete you guys are.”
Harry Knowles added “Movie Theaters are places to leave the outside world behind. If there was even one person not a part of that “Twatflix” group – whose experience was less because of annoying lit screens, it damns everyone that did it.” Knowles later directly addressed comedian/actor Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation, Observe and Report, Funny People), calling him out for promoting such behavior:
“You have over 13,000 followers – lots of impressionable folks that might think it’d be a gas to Twitter during movies. In this case it is a Crank 2, but it could be OBSERVE & REPORT – or any other film – and those lights from those screens could annoy you, me, whoever. there was no need to twitter while you watched, your comments would be as funny after the film as during. And not annoy anyone”
Ansari responded “…This was Crank 2 and we did make a point to sit in the back row by ourselves where the light could not bother anyone. Basically, I don’t want to give the impression that its cool to text or Twitter in a theatre, BUT if there is a movie with a character named PoonDong… I think its a unique situation and we were respectful in how we did TwitFlix.”
Human Giant comedian/actor Paul Scheer joked: “If you were upset about this, please don’t go see the midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. You’d be mortified.”

I’m not sure that I’d ever participate in a TwitFlix event, not because I think it is wrong, but because I’d rather watch the movie. I actually think the idea is kind of interesting. Especially the fact that a bunch of people in different theaters, could unite for a shared social movie experience. I enjoyed reading the witty comments from home, but stopped reading when the film got to the half way mark, because I didn’t want to read any accidental spoilers.

I don’t encourage using your cell phone in a movie, but it seems to me (at least from the reports) that this event was well organized, and no one in the theater even knew it was going on. /Film reader Derek Housman, who attended the screening, was surprised to find out that people were angry about the live twittering when he got home.

“Just read all the comments. I was sitting behind everyone and didn’t notice when people were tweeting, there goes that theory.”

And if you’re not bothering anyone else, than who really cares? If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound? If a group of 40 people are live twittering a film in the back of a movie theater and no one in the theater hears or sees them doing it, does it really matter?

“I had a great time, no matter what other people are saying, it was completely undisruptive (except to maybe myself, if even that) and a great experience for everyone,” insists Alex Billington. “Not a single person in the theater besides the group of 30 or 40 of us knew we were even doing anything, that’s guaranteed.”

I’ll admit, Twittering in itself sounds like a stupid concept. It’s a hard thing to describe, and until you become active in the twittersphere, its impossible for you to understand why the experience is fun or enriching. I wasn’t at that Crank 2 screening tonight, but I imagine TwitFlix is probably the same type of thing.

“It’s potentially a tough concept to understand at first, but it made my experience so much more enjoyable,” says Billington. “It was great to be together with such a big group and we all had fun. This isn’t something I’d EVER do at any other movie, but for Crank 2 at midnight, it was perfect.”

The question isn’t if Twittering during a movie is stupid or fun, although the people who were in attendance seemed to enjoy themselves quite a bit. The question is if Twittering during a movie under controlled circumstances is really that wrong?

As always, you can follow slashfilm on twitter at twitter.com/slashfilm.

photo credit Kent Nichols

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