Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Riske Business: Going Back to the Video Store for 30 Days

Like most of my friends and colleagues in the F This Movie! community, I’m prone to bouts of nostalgia when it comes to the way I used to watch movies. It’s hard not to romanticize experiences from the past because you came to them with a lot less baggage as a young person. I would also venture to guess that people like me, who are nostalgic, don’t like change very much. With nostalgia very much in mind, I tried an experiment over the last 30 days: I only rented movies from Family Video (AMERICA!), a local video store chain that acts as the last man standing in the brick and mortar home video market around where I live. No Redbox, YouTube, Netflix or Video On Demand. Was going back a video store a magical trip down memory lane?
1. Selection of independent movies – I was surprised to find that Family Video carried some independent movies that I was interested in seeing such as American Mary, Would You Rather and The End of Love. On the other hand, they did not have copies of No or A Band Called Death in their stores. Redbox doesn’t have many of these titles (though they do have No), but I can find any of them on Video On Demand. This is a lukewarm pro if a pro at all.

2. Inexpensive – I never spent more than $10 in any visit during the month. More often than not, I spent $5 or less and rented 2 movies. Family Video did a nice thing for new members, where rentals were half off for the first 30 days. Most new releases were $3.50 a night for Blu-ray/$2.60 for DVD and less if the movie had been out for more than a month (e.g. Warm Bodies was $2.10 on Blu-ray for one evening or $2.60 for 5 days).
3. Freebies – OMG! I got so many coupons, it was ridiculous. I tend to not want to use coupons because they make me feel cheap (I’m weird), but I’m not going to fault the video store for that. It’s a benefit for most people even if it made me uncomfortable. Family Video also emails you coupons every so often for free rentals or special offers. But the best thing was when I went to rent Halloween II and the cashier asked me if I wanted to buy it instead. I asked how much it was, and the cashier couldn’t find the price so he asked I just wanted it for free. I now own an ambitious failure on Blu-ray that I’ll gladly revisit in October.
4. Customer service – The people at the video store were very friendly and excited to be there. They explained the bizarre rental structure to me, which is full of tiered pricing and other over-complicated nonsense, and they always wanted to talk about the movie I was renting. For example, I rented Cloud Atlas and the cashier told me how he liked the movie but a lot of people didn’t like it. Ordinarily, I would love to have a movie conversation, but this guy was like 15 years old. He doesn’t know about life. I know more about Cloud Atlas then he does. I don’t care what other people think of the movie. I’m 2000 and 8 and he’s 2000 and late is what I’m saying. Also, what basis do I have for his opinion? Another example - there was a sign under The Call that said it was a ‘Pat Pick.’ That means what to me? Who is Pat? Does he have good taste or awful taste? #I’mKindOfAnAsshole

1. Opportunity cost – Want to see a movie? Cool. Is it worth a 25 minute round trip drive to the video store? I think I’d rather just take a nap. During the month, I only rented a one-night new release rental once because I couldn’t bring myself to think about driving back and forth from my place to the video store the next night to return the movie.

2. Availability of older movies – It’s obvious that due to shelf limitations, a video store cannot stock every old movie. However, almost every time I tested Family Video if they had an older movie, they didn’t have it. If it were not for this experiment, I would have 
re-watched The Truman Show, Demolition Man, Hamlet 2 and Tango & Cash; alas, it was not meant to be.
 3. The movies feel cheap – There’s nothing sexy about how movies are displayed at a video store anymore. Look how cluttered together everything is. It’s just pieces of stock; there’s no romanticism of physical media happening here. Also, when you rent the movie, look at how you get to take it home. It doesn’t make me excited to watch a movie. They might as well have just wrapped the thing in a paper towel.
4. Claustrophobic – I have no g-damn room! Look at how narrow this aisle is. If there’s more than one person looking in this aisle, you’re screwed. If you want to casually browse, you might have to eliminate that other person. It’s an anxiety ridden mess of a floor plan. I can’t tell you how many times I had the urge to just push over these shelves in protest, causing a domino effect from which the store would never recover.

5. Passé – It’s super odd and depressing to look at a new release wall in a video store. You have to remind yourself movies like Identity Thief, Evil Dead and Oz the Great and Powerful ever existed.

6. I’m not wired that way anymore – I think my average time in the store during a visit was five minutes or less. I’m not wired to walk around and enjoy looking at shelves anymore. I have R.U.S. (Redbox Urgency Syndrome), where I feel like I need to know what I want and get the hell out of there because other people are behind me in line.

7. It removes spontaneity – This goes along with the "opportunity cost" problem. Say I decide on a whim to watch Mud again. I feel like I can’t do that, because if I go out to the video store to rent it, I basically have to watch it right away to bring the damn thing back tomorrow night so I don’t incur late fees. So now I’m not watching Mud, even though it’s what I want to watch, because it would be too much work to see it. I end up renting something else that I want to see less because it’s a five-night rental.

8. Late fees – I kept Warm Bodies late because I wanted to see what would happen with late fees. I brought it back a day late; on the next rental, the cashier told me that I had a late fee. I said “You can just waive it, it’s fine.” He looked at me like I was nuts. He said he had to charge me $2.10 because it was late. I paid the late fee, but honestly does this company think it’s still 1992? You can’t charge people late fees anymore and expect to stay in business. What audacity. I told him it was fine to waive it. Did he think I was lying to him? No one would care. When I worked at Blockbuster back in the day, I used to have to tell people they had late fees. I didn’t understand back then why people couldn’t watch movies and return them on time. I always could. But then over the years I got a life and realized that those old Blockbuster customers had one, too. Shit happens. I can’t watch Warm Bodies tonight. Cut me a break, video store. BTW, telling a customer they had a late fee was the WORST. They would always get mad at you even though you were not invested in this plight whatsoever, but I totally get it from the customer perspective. Renting a movie should be a fun experience and telling someone they have a late fee is like saying "Hey little girl, your dad is an irresponsible twat, should we rent him this movie?”

9. Store vibe – Family Video smells like a foot. Redbox doesn’t. Video On Demand doesn’t. Netflix doesn’t. Because street justice, my feet now smell like Family Video.

10. Having to wait – I wanted to rent Cloud Atlas on Blu-ray. I did rent it, but it took six visits to the video store before they had it in stock.
11. Society – A person is smart. People are stupid. The visitors of a video store in 2013 are, by and large, people in capital letters. I’ll never forget a mother threatening her daughter “Maya, if you don’t stop touching things I’m going to beat you.” Who’s in the mood to watch a movie after that?
12. Leave me alone – This is not exclusive to Family Video, but a pet peeve of mine is when an employee at a store that sells/rents movies asks if I need help finding anything. I know they are just being polite or trying to prevent theft, but it a) makes me want to steal, because screw them for thinking I’m such a punk that I need to be monitored and b) I’m browsing a DVD rack, what could possibly happen that I’ll need help? If I don’t see it on the shelf ,it’s because you don’t have it. A man doesn’t stop to ask for directions.

13. Don’t judge me – In recent years I’ve been managing my own home entertainment experience. The notion that another person was going to inspect what I was renting was very unappealing to me. For example, I might want to see the remake of Last House on the Left, and if I order it on Netflix it’s no big deal. If I rent it from Family Video, I think in the back of my head that I’m being judged as a weirdo.

In closing, going back to the video store was a real pain in the ass. I fall on the side of progress when it comes to home entertainment. Nostalgia is overrated in this case. Streaming, Video On Demand and DVD rental machines provide me with flexibility, convenience and a reason not to talk to PEOPLE. That’s my America.


  1. Good lord, Family Video's still hanging on. (And going by their web page, with a hell of a lot of stores.)

  2. Dude, this is bittersweet. More than anything, I'm surprised you guys still have a few brick and mortar video stores left. The only one left here is a porno video store downtown. It doesn't say it's a porno store, but you can tell it is because the windows all have boards over them and it's downtown.

    I hope family video can hang on as long as they can. God bless 'em.

    1. I thought Family Video was only staying in business because they had porno but they didn't at the one I visited. I'm not sure how they stay afloat. I wish them the best but the experience was just not for me.

      On the plus side (for nostalgia) I watched Jurassic Park again tonight :-)

  3. Fun read, Adam.

    I assumed any Video Store still hanging on would have done so by catering to real film buffs with a comprehensive back catalog and cutting all the bullshit. This one just looks like it exists for late adopters of other services so it is the worst.

    1. Thanks for checking out the column Darren!

  4. A little disappointing that video stores don't have older titles; the last time I was at one (early 2000s?), that was the only reason I was there. Now, I end up finding older movies on Netflix or at my local library.

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  6. Are these photos of the actual store? Did you ask the employees to line up for the photo like that? Love it

    I went to a video store for the first time in years the other day and went straight back into browse mode, feeling compelled to walk down every aisle (and feeling awkward again when going past the adult section). i used to spend ages deciding what my one pick would be and nearly always would resort to a "safe choice". Wasted a lot of time that way. Sigh.
    The reason I started my own video collection was because late fees would scare me and buying an ex rental worked out to be cheaper.

  7. I did like the customer service aspect of video stores. I'd rather talk to a real human employee about recommendations they may have (if they seem knowledgable enough) than take a gamble on some generated recommendation via Netflix. At least with the human I can talk to them about it first before taking the risk.

    On the other hand, Netflix has really made me realize how much I don't miss late fees. It's so nice to be able to hang on to something for as long as I need without penalty.

    1. Sup John Murphy!

      I think communities like the one we all share here at F This Movie! have replaced my desire to talk to a video store employee about a movie. I know you guys and I don't know the cashier at Family Video from Pat at Family Video.

      I like your point of taking the recommendation of a person over a generated recommendation. Dear Netflix, just because I watched Event Horizon doesn't mean I would like Aeon Flux.

  8. @Brad L - Pics with people were from Google images the rest I took myself cautiously. I was terrified of getting caught taking pictures in the store and was too embarassed to ask for permission.

    @Mark - YES! Libraries rule. They typically have a great selection of older movies.

  9. "The notion that another person was going to inspect what I was renting was very unappealing to me." Amen, brother. Just who needs to know how many times I choose to rent Blame it on Rio? NO ONE, that's who; although now Uncle Sam does anyway.

    Note: I onlyBioR as a humorous example. I don't actually ever watch that movie. At all. Not once.

    (Maybe once.)

    1. It's on Netflix Instant! And no one will know...

    2. I bet Joseph Bologna needs to know how many times you rented Blame it on Rio. So he knows how many thank you cards to write.

  10. I find it funny that someone who is embarrassed to use coupons has no problem telling the store, "it's okay, you can waive the late fee". Society has rules, Adam, and if there's one inescapable fact of life it's that bringing a movie back late incurs a late fee, even if your fucking kid died or whatever. Get the funeral procession to swing by the video store, what's the hurry?

    I wish more stores would use the old, "can't find the price so it's free" business model, but then I guess there'd probably be less stores.

    I actually have a great video store not too far from where I live - Video Difference - it's Halifax's last but unlike Family Video, it really caters to film buffs with loads of independent, foreign and other obscure films and a HUGE catalog of classics. It also has partnerships with businesses all over the city that serve as drop-off spots - brilliant! No one bothers you but they're all really cool and happy to help and I've never felt judged about my picks.

    I don't know, I feel like the world is moving towards less and less human interaction (Christ, you can even order pizza online now - takes longer but at least you don't have to talk to someone?) and even as it has become easier to reach out to people all over the world, we're becoming more and more isolated in our daily lives. I love Netflix and buying movies online and all, but I hope the video store never goes away completely - would we have Quentin Tarantino if there weren't video stores in his day?

  11. Well said Sol O.

    My main reason for going to Family Video is because I like watching new releases the week they come out. Who the hell wants to wait 30 days for new releases?

  12. TotallyDifferentExperienceApril 26, 2015 at 1:18 AM

    Geezes, I have to be the late 30's guy, very tech savvy guy btw, that still LOVES Family Video.
    I have been Redboxing for about 7 years now, previously a Netflix streaming/ and physical disc renter but no longer, an Amazon Prime subscriber & was a big HTPC guy for about 12 years (since back in the ATI All-In-Wonder glory days up through W7 Media Center - Silicon Dust HDHomeRun Prime), but now why bother "streaming" *cough* for free is ideal for limited time wasting and expense.... but I still LOVE FAMILY VIDEO!!!!

    The isles at the two nearby stores 10 minutes either direction of me are wide and the stores are big housing a lot of "Favorites" - Olde but goodies. There is a small one in the next town over that sounds more like your experience (cramped) - small selection of Favorites (older movies).
    Perhaps its the day you tried to rent, or because your store is smaller (less space) but it would never take me more than 2 trips to find a New release if I wanted it. Either because they have a large stock of the new release movies or because you can easily call and ask them if it's in and to hold it for an hour for you. I tend to be a deal seeker so I am not really renting new releases when I can rent them at Redbox or wait & get them nearly new for a buck at F.V. or less from the 2 for $1 for 5 nites section if it's not a huge flix.

    Movies for sale. As long as it isn't the growing number of crippled releases they have some of the best deals on movies you can find are at Family Video (this varies GREATLY from store to store - location to location). We have a store located in the wealthier section of town & one in the poor section of town. Prices at the "poowr" store are often 1/2 what they are at the richy family video store. Anyway love Family Video and hope they continue for a long time, because the price of "legal" streaming is not ever coming down to Family Video Nearly New price or Redbox Prices. Digital media is a whole other ball game their are no Right of First Sale laws that allow for "rentals" like Redbox, Netflix & Family Video all take advantage of...