In January, Ken Lin, a film buff, used his MoviePass in and around Los Angeles for 19 days in a row, eyes glued to movies including “Lady Bird” and “The Shape of Water.” But during “Phantom Thread,” the 19th movie, he fell asleep.
“OK, I need to stop this craziness,” Lin recalled thinking.
But he did not stop: Lin, a Los Angeles-based technical trainer, has been to 156 films (some repeats) since he subscribed to MoviePass in December. He is among the most fervent users, whose numbers have steadily increased since the low-cost subscription-based movie service became more widely available in 2012.
MoviePass is walking a tenuous line to stay alive. Last month, at one especially low point, it experienced a severe outage in which customers could not check into movies, and its investment company had to borrow $5 million to pay its bills.
A new cap on the service goes into effect Wednesday. It will change the number of movies allowed to three per month from one per day, at a flat rate of $9.95 per month. The limit may put a dent in the habits of many pass subscribers — and, almost certainly, the population of highly devoted users who have structured their social lives around MoviePass.
Elaborate social networks have popped up around the pass online (over 70 Facebook groups exist, with membership ranging from two to more than 9,000 members), and many consist of tight-knit meetup groups or family members — like Cristina Crowley of Alexandria, Virginia, a teacher who bought her 13-year-old a pass. The two scheduled weekly gatherings and recently saw “Eighth Grade” together.
MoviePass did not provide data about its superusers, but did say that 15 percent of its more than 2 million subscribers watch at least four films a month. Many of those interviewed had seen only one or two movies a year before subscribing. But the low cost has allowed them to catch more films in theaters than ever.
Some of the social groups meet a few times a month for a movie and discussion. On a recent Wednesday, with MoviePasses, sparkling water, popcorn and ice cream in hand, 14 members of the Mewvee Club, a New York-born Facebook group of about 200 people, went offline to see a showing of “McQueen.” Members had chosen this documentary about the fashion designer Alexander McQueen in a Facebook poll.
Afterward, the group — a mix of entrepreneurs, bloggers and real estate investors, some new, some regulars — trickled over to the Bleecker Street Bar, where, speaking loudly over Jay-Z’s music, they answered questions prepared by the founder of Mewvee Club, Kean Gardner, 31, of New York. Questions included: “What would your artist name be?” “What is your quick take on the movie?” “What’s a fact that intrigued you about the documentary?”
The group has had 25 meetings like this, usually with five to 15 members participating in person, since January.
Noemy Jorge, 31, who is dating Gardner, said they also hold movie screenings on a projector in their apartment, which she said they will probably start doing more now that MoviePass has set limits. “Our entire dating life has revolved around going to the movies,” Jorge said. “Before MoviePass, we would go early in the morning to get matinee passes.”
One MoviePass user in California, Cea Marcel Lee, 52, a substitute teacher from Irvine, created a network of 70 people who use the pass to attend movies a few times per month. The largest attendance they had for a gathering was 25, for “The Greatest Showman,” Lee said.
After the movie, people in that network usually go out together for dessert and a discussion.
Jose Roldan, 46, of Zephyrhills, Florida, said he had only seen about one or two movies in a theater per year before MoviePass. Now, Roldan, a facility-services coordinator, sometimes drives 45 miles round-trip to see films twice a week. He started the largest group on Facebook, MoviePass Chatter, in September 2017, while trying to troubleshoot issues with his pass.
Most of his dedication to the service occurs online — he spends about three hours a day moderating the chatter and trying to “stimulate the conversation.” There, people discuss the service’s problems and post takeaways from new films. If the conversation gets too heated, Roldan said, he steps in to “keep it from getting out of hand.”
“We don’t want any politics or religion,” he said. “It’s about MoviePass and your love for movies.”
Some MoviePass users say they will stay loyal until the end, while many have started to reconsider their habits, or think about adding or switching subscription services.
Even with the new three-movie-per-month rule, Damon Packard, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who used MoviePass every day at one point, said he is keeping it because he thinks the other services — like AMC Stubs A-List and Sinemia — are too pricey.
“I’ll stick with them because they’re constantly changing things and they’re trying to dig themselves out of this hole that they’re in,” Packard said.
He hopes that they will reinstate the one-movie-per-day plan.
Roldan said he wants to stay with MoviePass, too, because the AMC theater is even farther out of his way.
AMC Stubs A-List offers subscribers the chance to see up to three movies per week at a rate of $19.95 per month, but only at AMC theaters. With Sinemia, which is on sale this summer, $3.99 gets you one ticket per month at most major theaters, while a three-ticket subscription costs $14.99 per month.
Lin, who also has Sinemia, is part of the administrating team of MoviePass Fanatics on Facebook, where users sometimes compare spreadsheets of how many movies they have seen and share service updates. (Lin, for example, has tracked via spreadsheet the money he would have spent without using MoviePass: $2,012.97.) He said his MoviePass membership expires at the end of the year, so he’s going to ride it out until then, and switch if “there’s a service that has better options.”
Over the weekend, when the choice of movies was severely limited just before MoviePass crashed again, Lin did something very different: He went to fly a kite. He also attended a free Netflix screening of an episode of Season 1 of “Queer Eye” in Hollywood, where he met the cast members.
“I just go with the flow,” he said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Amanda Svachula © 2018 The New York Times