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The Test Screening Question

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John August is talking about test screenings over on his weblog, and some mysterious new film he's working on that will decidedly not be getting a screening. I don't know anything about this film other than they don't want anybody to know anything about it, so I guess that's mission accomplished, but is it practical?

The Charlie's Angels sequel didn't get a test screening, and he talks about how not having one hurt the quality of the film -- he wrote it -- and I can certainly see the difficulty of the decision. Don't do a public test screening and you can keep the movie totally under wraps until it premiers, building buzz and your potential opening weekend. But your movie may bomb, not because it was bad overall, but because there were things that the audience didn't like that tainted the entire movie experience, thingsthat could have been easily fixed with a few extra weeks of shooting and edits.

On the other hand, if you test, then everyone that wants to know if the movie is going to be any good, and how it ends -- they can find out within hours of the screening because there are always going to be a couple of people in the audience that have someegotistical selfish urge to become part of the "deal" by puking their irrelevant opinion all over the Internet, violating their signed agreements and harming the film in the progress.

And their opinion really is irrelevant, because the point of the test screening is not to find out if you liked it, or what parts you didn't like. The point is to find out what the majority thinks is wrong so hopefully the majority opinion of the 100 people in the theater will faithfully represent the majority opinion of the millions of people that go to see it on the opening weekend. Then they fix it.

So what do you do? That's the question John is asking openly, but I don't think there's a quick or easy answer. This is not the first facet of life that has been forever changed by the age of instant world-wide communication. The world isn't going back, sowe've got to deal with it somehow.

Ignore it, fight it, or make it work for you. Those are our choices. AOL and the nightly news organizations ignored it and are being left behind. The RIAA fought it and lost the opportunity to monopolize it at the early stages when momentum was building, when they could control it. Amazon made it work for them and look where they are now.

This situation isn't anywhere near as dire or significant as that, but it's still the way we should look at it. If we abandon test screening, then we're just ignoring the Internet and we already know that that doesn't work. If we keep test screening, then the information is going to get out, and we can either fight it, or make it work for us.

There is no point in fighting it, because we know that doesn't work either. Suing the leaker's isn't going to make the information suddenly not be out there anymore, and it won't stop other people from doing it in the future. We know that, so we shouldn't even go there.

So all we have left is to try to make it work for us. Give screener's a place to go to talk about it. Create a community of screener's so they go where we want them to go to talk about what they see. Control it. That's the only thing I think we can do, butin the end, I'm not sure it'll work or make any difference at all.
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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.