Movie club

How a virtual movie club helped me survive the pandemic

Every Sunday around 7:30 p.m., I put on my mask and walk across the street to my favorite bodega to buy Pabst Blue Ribbon, sour gummy worms and a box of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. A year ago I would have picked up all those snacks in the cinema lobby, but now the plan is to go straight back to my apartment, lie on the sofa, watch a movie on Netflix (last time it was “Lady Bird”) and log into a familiar GroupMe chat room where 10 to 15 of my friends are waiting. I know that at 8 o’clock, with a few perfectly synchronized presses of the “play” button, the same the movie will suddenly be shown simultaneously on televisions, laptops and cellphones across the country in a ceremony we have somewhat chokingly dubbed “CoVideo Club.”

Word games, you see, are pretty important.

While some people have used the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic to increase their personal wealth by billions of dollars, I have focused more on my hobbies, you know? I got back to writing poetry (it’s bad), started learning to play the keyboard (also bad) and returned to “Overwatch” on Playstation 4 (which I’m really good at). Most of these hobbies are best enjoyed on their own, but during a pandemic the last thing we need is some extra time alone. Opportunities to socialize in groups of any size are rare, but a virtual space can be a great substitute – provided it’s managed properly.

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Since March, the first weekend of the pandemic, this weird little movie club has been that for me. And, after discussing it with a few other members, I found that I was not alone: ​​“The band has been a huge source of positivity in an otherwise difficult time,” said Mike Petzinger, an original member. “It’s especially nice to have a little daily dialogue with friends while working from home every day.

Other members feel the same. “I joined the mid-pandemic,” said Peggy Nelling, who shares an apartment with two other CoVideo regulars. “I liked having something to look forward to and a support group that ends up being so much more than movies.”

“The pandemic has struck personally at a strange time,” said Natasha Jokic, one of Peggy’s roommates and active member, “so it’s been a great way to meet new people and have a sense of community. “

I agree that the film club is something special. The past year has swung between scary, exhausting, mind-numbing, and boring, and having both a routine and a safe place to discuss whatever is on your mind has been invaluable. And it turns out that this sort of thing doesn’t happen on its own: there is a lot of thought, not to mention the weekly effort, that is required to make something like this go well.

First of all, you need to make sure that everyone involved is on board. Each week, upon completion of the film, nominations for next week’s event are officially open. Participants can name any movie available on Netflix, although there have been recent discussions about expanding our options to HBO Max, Hulu, or Disney + – it all depends on what streaming services each member has. The first eight applications received are in the running, and that’s where the voting system comes in.

“I created a simple 8-seed bracket on Illustrator when we launched the tournament system in March,” says Gabe Smoller, founder and designer of the Covideo Club. “I shuffle the list of nominations I got to randomize matches, and then throw everything on the support model.”

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“To top it off, I do a quick image search for a frame from the last movie we watched that is most representative of the watch experience – usually something really funny or really divisive. This week , this is Chuck Taylors’ picture of the girl in her ball gown in a scene from “Christmas Prince” (a shot I 100% predicted would happen moments before it happened) . “

Each contestant then has a few days to vote on four movie matches: This week I voted for “Catch Me If You Can” vs. “Swiss Army Man” and “Quigley Down Under” vs. “A Clockwork Orange,” ” 17 Again “against” Death to 2020 “and” Can’t Hardly Wait “against” Double Jeopardy “, but only because I just watched” Double Jeopardy “. On Wednesday, half of the nominees will be eliminated and two new sections will be created. Friday, it will be reduced to the last two, which will only be decided an hour before the start of the film (in the event of a tie, the winner is determined by a dice roll, broadcast live on Instagram).

You can’t overstate the importance of playing by the rules with something like this. Much like the US government, Covideo Club only works if everyone agrees to abide by the system. If, like me, you really don’t want to watch “Clueless” but “Clueless” wins, you bite the bullet and watch “Clueless”, both because it respects the rules, and because you may would like “Clueless” (it’s based on “Emma” by Jane Austen! I hadn’t even realized).

When it comes to watching the movie itself, there are plenty of pre-pandemic equivalents. Different corners of the internet regularly host “remote watches”, where strangers synchronize their preferred viewing mode to watch a movie together and comment on it with jokes, analysis and hastily put together memes. In the thirty years or so since the launch of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the movies have become just an increasingly routine interactive experience, and everyone on the chat is familiar with the flashy projections. everything from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to, most recently, “Cats.” This is what is virtual.





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Looking back on the chat from the middle of a Sunday night is like reading half a conversation. Each post is a reference or response to something happening on a virtually shared screen, so most jokes (because they’re mostly jokes) read like surreal nonsense. “I like how [Timothée Chalamet] spread your arms, ”someone wrote last weekend. “Like he’s the Californian Jesus.”

Likewise, Covideo Club mainstays The Coen Brothers, whose films “Fargo” and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” both won Sunday night spots, are exclusively called “The Corn Bros” – not because everything everyone thinks they’re cheesy, but because someone typed a typo once in August and it kind of got caught.

Ironically, the cat is most useful when we’re not even watching a movie. Of course, you can drop by, leave your vote for the movie, and go about your business, but most members end up checking in with each other. Members celebrated graduating from college, announced promotions, and even shared photos from their socially distant marriage on chat. One member has started telling his favorite jokes in collages he posts on Instagram. In the summer we even used to meet in the park, to chat and drink beers from brown paper bags while sitting 6 feet apart.

It’s important to note at this point that weekly movie nights already existed before the pandemic. But once the members were isolated they reached out to other friends struggling with loneliness and now with our first anniversary around the corner people from all over the country have joined us. As it exists now, CoVideo Club is a unique blend of different social groups: some have known each other for decades, others have never met, even now.

“The Movie Club has been great during the pandemic,” said Joey Schwartzman, another active member “because it connects me with friends I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise.”

“The Covideo Club is really special,” said Smoller. “This is one of the very few planned and reliable activities that I can expect every week during the pandemic. I’m worried that when the IRL (“real life”) movie club returns, our living room won’t be able to accommodate all of the amazing people who have come regularly every Sunday.

“I don’t even know these people,” Robin Cheung said, “but the club has helped me stay sane by providing me with sufficiently entertaining memes and jokes.”