Last night I underwent a rite of Los Angeles passage: I went to my first test screening. Many of the interweb writers out here make it a regular point to hit up these test screenings, and they have all sorts of connections and people on the inside who hook them up with date and location info; I just happened to know someone who had been contacted by the group organizing the screening and they offered me their pass.
The movie was a comedy that is opening in 13 months, and it’s directed by one of my favorite directors, produced by one of my favorite directors, and stars two actors who I have loved since they first worked together on a short-lived TV show. Normally I would never bother to wait on line for two hours to see a movie, but this was something special, and besides, I had to pop my test screening cherry eventually.
The first thing I noticed when I got on the line in front of the Burbank movie theater where the test was taking place, was how most of the other people on that line might very well be reading these words right now. The line was like a cross-section of movie web site readership, and Jeremy and I (the estimable Mr. Beaks accompanied me to the film) tried to figure out which people would be sending reviews in to Aint It Cool the next day. ‘All of them,’ he said, and looking at the reviews the site has run, I’d say he wasn’t far off.
But what struck me about the audience was how stacked this deck was. These weren’t people who just happened to show up at the Burbank mall and get a free movie, many of these people were folks who hunt down these screenings. The conversations on line weren’t standard bullshit; everybody was talking about some insidery element of film production, even if the closest they actually got to the industry was a screening like this.
Once the movie was over (and while I’ll certainly make the folks at Sony very, very mad at me if I review what I saw, I will tell you that it was an incredible goddamned movie, and would easily be a contender for my 2007 top ten list if it came out this year. This isn’t just a good movie, this is a great movie), the screening organizers passed out comment cards. The cards were insanely complicated, and required far too much thought from me only moments after the film ended. I like time to ruminate on a movie before making judgments, although I did feel comfortable saying that the film was like Midnight Run starring Cheech and Chong (which isn’t really a fair assessment of the characters, but you get the gist of what I mean, I am sure). The Beloved Director Who Produced was in the audience with a yellow legal pad – he was surely taking notes on what scenes worked and what scenes didn’t (note to Beloved Director Who Produced: trim the scene in the woods. Too long), and I have to imagine that the instant feedback from laughter was more helpful than people trying to fill out whether they thought this one actor was Excellent, Good or Poor.
The bit that threw me for a loop was that they asked us to rate the music in the film; since the first half of the movie was scored to a temp track made up of cues from The Warriors, all I could do was scrawl ‘I love the Warriors’ in that section. Jeremy, an old hand at these screenings, tells me that the questions about music are to see if the types of tracks played worked for the audience.
Some of the folks on line got picked for a focus group afterwards; sadly I didn’t fit any of the desired quadrants and simply had to leave. I wish I had been able to how the focus group aspect worked, as I thought the questionnaire, while complicated, seemed perfunctory, and left too much too vague. What were my three least favorite parts of the movie? I don’t know – probably the part where it finally had to come to an end. I loved it that much.
I don’t imagine I’ll do another test screening anytime soon, if only because I don’t want to wait on a line for two hours for anything except a chance to kick the president in the nutsack. Also, I found myself nervous in advance of the screening this time: I know that the people involved in this movie do lots of improv, and they test the heck out of their movies with different jokes inserted into scenes. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to approach this movie as a work in progress (although to be honest it really feels like a finished, polished and excellent piece of filmmaking), and I wonder if some of my favorite jokes will still be in the film when I see it officially next summer. Thankfully this was a great film, but would it be fair if the movie needed a lot of work and my coverage of the picture over the next year was tainted by a troubled screening? I’m as much of a dweeb as all of you reading this, and the idea of seeing a movie first and early and possibly in a form which no one else will ever see it is exciting, and I’ll probably crumble when another cool test screening comes across my transom, but I’m definitely skipping the screening of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s new movie, Obsession, at Burbank tonight. But if you’re in LA and you hurry you can probably still get a ticket…