With technology integral to their lives, teens are growing up expecting everything to be available immediately — and for free. Can the film industry still meet their needs?

On the Air France flight to Cannes last week, I caught up with Lisa Azuelos’ LOL (Laughing Out Loud), an engaging saga of horny teens in Paris which has been somewhat of a Zeitgeist hit in France.

“No matter how distributors dress it up in their ad campaigns, downloading a movie for free — especially one that hasn’t come out yet — is still ‘cool’ in an anti-establishment sort of way”

Perhaps the most fascinating element of the film is the way the affluent teenagers seamlessly incorporate technology in their lives. Texting, of course, is de rigueur; the lead character Lola also uses her phone to film her schoolboy crush perform in his band, then replays it on her laptop; she flirts with him by instant messenger, and her friend Charlotte engages in masturbatory fantasies on a webcam chat site. Meanwhile, everyone blocks out parental intrusions with their iPods.

At one point in the film, Lola has got into trouble at school and as a punishment, her mother (played by Sophie Marceau) threatens to cancel her birthday party. We will just go to the cinema instead, she warns. It’s a telling threat. A trip to the cinema is clearly not the treat it used to be for some kids whose visual stimuli are now far more immediate and available than they used to be.

And these kids expect their entertainment for free. Ask any publishing company these days and you will hear the same refrain: the customer expects everything online asap and gratis, from news and reviews to gossip and features. Movies are the next target of this young consumer generation which has already brought the music industry to its knees.

This week News Corp COO Peter Chernin announced that the unfinished version of X Men Origins: Wolverine which was leaked onto the internet last month was downloaded illegally 4 million times — four times more than previously estimated. Chernin described the leak of the film as “an act of industrial espionage”, an act which could have added up to $30m onto the box office gross of the film had every single one of the downloaders paid to see it in the theatre instead.

But as LOL shows with such honesty, teenagers today use the internet as a tool of rebelliousness and exploration. In the film, they experiment online sexually or delve into porn sites in their rooms while their parents lay the table for supper. Illegal downloading of a movie is part of the same pattern. No matter how distributors dress it up in their ad campaigns, downloading a movie for free — especially one that hasn’t come out yet — is still ‘cool’ in an anti-establishment sort of way.

Quite how kids have the patience to watch a full-length feature anyway is beyond me, especially after seeing David Lee Miller’s My Suicide, a story about rich young American kids which won the Generation14plus strand at Berlin this year. It was written and edited by teenagers in a furious, multi-style, multimedia format reflecting their range of influences. If My Suicide — which again shows how the web’s myriad influences mould the teenage mind — is to be believed, all kids today should have severe attention deficit disorder.

While movie studios come up with new ways to make the theatrical experience unique — such as the resurrection of 3D in an eerie echo of theatrical desperation at the arrival of television in the 1950s — perhaps the more productive long-term approach will be to focus on providing films or parts of films to kids on their PDAs, iPod Touches or laptops at the same time as they hit theatres. While the theatrical launchpad will always be important, the demands of the teen generation for immediate satisfaction will only get fiercer and piracy is not going away any time soon.

Quite how the future delivery of movies can be effectively monetised as release windows are collapsed is another question altogether and one with which the publishing industry is currently grappling. Good journalism isn’t cheap and yet consumers now expect to get it for free. It won’t be long before they will expect new movies at the click of a mouse or the roll of a trackball.