This week, for the first time, and the second time as it turned out, I attended a “sneak preview” screening of a movie before it’s release. I’ve received invitations to such screenings before but either the time was inconvenient or the audience restrictions were so onerous that I saw no point in attending. This week the stars were properly aligned and I was able to go, twice.
There are a number of reasons why producers or distributors offer previews. In some cases, they are testing audience reaction and collecting feedback far enough in advance of a film’s release to re-edit or make changes if needed. I have received invitations to screenings I thought had that objective because the attendees were required to sign documents promising not to discuss the films in social media. Also the screenings invitations include a description of the film but not its title. I’ve always passed on those. I like free stuff but I am still somewhat selective about what I see. Besides; what is the point of seeing a movie you can’t talk about to anyone?
Both of the films I saw this week were opening nationally this weekend. When a screening occurs so close the opening I imagine it is too late to make changes regardless of what the audience thinks. This is especially true when there is no real effort made to collect audience feedback. (I don’t think having a couple of twenty-somethings outside the door asking; “did you like it?” as people leave the theater counts.) I assume these screenings are really just part of the marketing strategy. It is what used to be called “priming the pump”, back in the day when people knew what that meant. The distributors give away a few hundred tickets in selected markets hoping the word-of-mouth publicity might help the opening weekend box office. I don’t mind going to such previews. I like movies. I am not shy about sharing my opinion, for whatever it’s worth. Free stuff is good.
There are still audience restrictions, of course. They make a big deal of prohibiting mobile phones or any other kinds of recording devises to prevent people from making bootleg recordings. I am fairly certain that is always prohibited by theater policy, intellectual property laws and, hopefully, the integrity of the audience members. But for the previews they are serious about it.
When I attended the Edge of Tomorrow screening not only did I have to acknowledge their right to confiscate my phone, should I bring one into the theater, but they checked bags and backpacks for them. There was also an man using a metal detector wand to make ensuring no one had one in their pocket. It was kind of like the airport except you could keep your shoes on and you could bring in as many ounces of toothpaste as you wanted. As elaborate as this sounds, I suspect a good part of it was just ‘theater’ to get people talking about having gone to a screening. (Like this post). I also have to say it was kind of nice being in a theater where no one was texting during the movie. That screening was organized by the distributors so they were also giving away Edge of Tomorrow t-shirts and caps. I passed on that. I am happy to see the movie but I am not really interested in advertising it.
The Words and Pictures screening was organized not by the distributor but by AARP. I am sure the objective for the distributor was the same; give away a few hundred tickets to build some pre-opening buzz. Neither film was shown with “coming attactions” but before the AARP event we did sit through 4-5 minutes of promotional info about AARP.
The AARP screening was a little more relaxed about cell phones. Participants still had to acknowledge the distributor’s right to confiscate any recording devises used and there were warnings that the performance would be monitored for recording but no one checked bags or used a metal detector. Audience members were admonished to turn their phones off during the screening but, the ‘Friends of Dave’ being who they are, there were still a half a dozen phones glowing in the darkness at any given moment. I doubt they were recording, however; more likely just texting the grandkids or checking on the early-bird specials.