Test Screenings – Are They a Waste of Time or Worth It?
Today we are going to discuss Test Screenings. Are they a waste of time? How do you handle comments and criticisms? Who do you invite to test screening and how do you perform a proper test screening?
I have a group of five types of creatives I like to invite to see rough cuts of my films.
In the episode, I go deeper into how to handle critiques and go into a bit of history of some famous test screenings that went right and wrong. Enjoy!
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Test Screening Questionnaires
- Bulletproof Screenplay Podcast
- Indie Film Producing Masterclass with Suzanne Lyons
- BlackBox – Make Passive Income From Your Footage
- Studio Unknown Audio Post – Mention the IFH podcast, and you’ll receive 50% off one day of ADR
- Filmmaker in a Box – Learn How to Make an Indie Film – 18 Hours+ of Lessons
- Martin Scorsese Film Directing Masterclass
- Ron Howard Film Directing Masterclass
- Judd Apatow Comedy Writing/Directing Masterclass
- Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting Master Class
- FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Filmmaking Audio Book)
- IFH MASTERS CIRCLE – Filmmaking Community
- IFH’s Online Film School
- Six Secrets to get into Film Festivals for FREE!
BONUS: Filmmaking Resources
- Martin Scorsese’s Film Directing MasterClass
- Ron Howard’s Film Directing MasterClass
- Filmmaking Hacks: Filmmaking Master Course
- Directing Actors Film Workshop
- USC Film School’s ONLY Online Course: Directing the Actor
- Film Lighting MasterClass
- Recording Sound for Indie Film
- The Art of Micro-Budget Filmmaking
- Cinematography MasterClass
- Film Festival Hacks: Submit Like a Pro
- Self-Distributing Your Film Online
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Welcome to the indie film hustle podcast episode number 232 directing is like hiking it’s challenging and exhausting and you don’t know what the terrain is gonna be or necessarily even what direction you’re going but it sure is beautiful. Joss Whedon.
Broadcasting from the back alley in Hollywood. It’s the indie film hustle podcast where we show you how to survive and thrive as an indie filmmaker in the jungles of the film. And here’s your host Alex Ferrari welcome My film Hustler to another episode of the indie film has a podcast. I am your humble host. Alex. Today’s episode is brought to you by Black Box black box is a new platform and community.
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It’s really quite revolutionary with black box filmmakers can concentrate on making great content. While Black Box takes care of all the business BS just visit w-w-w Today’s Show is also sponsored by Studio unknown Studio known as a crack team of audio post professionals known for Quality sound on any Indie budget whether you need a lush surround sound mix or a quick Festival submission pass Studio known can help you with all of your posts.
Needs from sound design and mix to fully and even a custom score contact Studio known and mention the indie film also podcast and you’ll get 50% off one day of eight or ten percent off your complete post sound package. Just go to Studio unknown now, I get a lot of emails and messages from the tribe about hey, why don’t you do a show about this?
Why don’t you do a show about that and I get just tons of them and I want you to continue to send them to me, but this episode is the. Child of tribe member Nathan Sewer and he really wanted me to talk about test screenings and what value do they have? Who do you invite to these test screenings?
How do you do a real proper test screening? Do they have any value at all? Is it just worthless? So I wanted to kind of come on today and talk about my experiences with that screenings and also stories and historical stories about how test screenings were completely wrong or completely on the money.
Not when I do personal screenings when I did a screening for Meg, this is Meg. And when I did a test screening or multiple test screenings for on the corner of ego and desire, uh, I brought in specifically for different kinds of people that were close to me people. I knew that we’re going to give me honest answer honest feedback, and that’s something you really want to have in a test screening you want to have.
Close people who you trust and who are going to give you honest constructive feedback. Now, I always go after at least one director a friend of mine who’s a director at least one if not more because they’ll see things that you won’t see a cinematographer from there their point of view. I want to see what they think of.
How the stories being told to visually I also bring in a writer just to see on how the story’s constructed are the story points being hit again from their point of view and I try to bring in a producer someone who’s not associated with the movie. And by the way, all of these people are not associated with the movie, so I bring in a producer to give me their opinion on the market bility of the movie, uh, where they can be, you know, if this any hope for the movie as far as financially is concerned and talk maybe marketing strategies things like that.
Producer now, this is the first like you show the rough cut you show, um a polished cut to these this the small group. You can bring them in one at a time or you could do them all at once. I usually do them one at a time so I can have one-on-one conversations with them. But if you want to bring them all in as a group that’s completely up to you.
One of the main reasons you even have a test screening and all is you truly need an outsider’s perspective someone who’s not involved with the movie doesn’t know the movie is just going to look at the movie. Purely to see if even works as a movie as a story you fall in and out of love with your movies so much that you sometimes are so deep into the weeds.
You have no idea if scenes are working or not working and that outside perspective is invaluable. And one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you is when you have a screening don’t watch your movie. Watch the audience see how they’re reacting to the jokes that you wanted them to laugh at and maybe they’re laughing at jokes.
That weren’t even funny to you. Just check out the room check out how their their body is if they’re even interested in story in the story. Is it lagging people getting bored super super powerful parts of a screening the people who are watching your movie are people and they have visceral reactions to what they’re watching.
So you do need to respect that because that’s why you brought them in. In the first place. Don’t take it personal. Just listen to what their original reactions to the film are a lot of times I get notes that I’m like, you know what I agree. I thank you for your notes, but they’re not. They’re not on the same wavelength of what I’m trying to achieve with the movie and sometimes they get it.
Sometimes they don’t and that’s okay. That’s why I try to get multiple Riders multiple directors and producers and cinematographers so I can get different points of view from different people and sometimes very often. They’ll Point things out that I never saw. And it makes the movie better. I mean with on the corner of ego desire.
I did a rough. I did a rough cut like a real rough cut brought in people in the our part of the movie making process and uh and had them give me notes and luckily there was not a lot of notes there were some things here and there um, but all of it was help was I would say probably about 80 to 90% of those notes.
I took because they really resonated with me and made the movie better. So now you’ve got to cut that you’re really happy with you’ve uh, you put together a movie that’s polished. Maybe you have sound in it. Maybe you have color grading on it, you know and you want to do a cast and crew screening.
When you do a cast and crew screening and friends-and-family screening understand that is a stacked deck. Those are all people who have a vested interest in this movie being good. So don’t expect to get super super constructive criticism from this group, you might and you might have some great people in there that will tell you.
But it’s a stacked deck. So be very cautious about the the feedback you’re going to get from that, uh that screening. Oh and I also forgot I also bring in one other person an editor very very important. I bring in an editor at least one or two editors in as well. So they can tell me what they think is far as the pacing is concerned if the story being told can it be cut down a little bit more.
Can it be let it breathe a little bit more in certain scenes? Uh, when I was editing on the corner of ego and desire, you know, I I brought in an editor and they would telling me this scene needs to breathe more and you cutting it too fast. And when I went back and read and kind of let it breathe a little bit.
I was like, oh he was absolutely right perfect. Perfect note. So that’s another person that I bring in to the the kind of rough cut stage of the movie. Now before I go into the kind of like public test screening situations, I want to talk to you a little bit about some historical, um incidents that happen with test screenings now a movie a little movie called Star Wars, uh back in the day George Lucas brought all his friends together and all his friends were directing friends.
So he had Francis Ford Coppola Steven Spielberg. John Milius Brian De Palma and a couple other guys. I think Paul Schrader was in there, uh a couple editors as well and everybody sat down to watch a rough cut of this new movie called Star Wars everybody. Everybody ripped it apart. It was just in the Box according to everybody Brian De Palma specifically was the one that literally ripped George a new ass about uh about the force.
Like what is the force? Where is the forest come from? Who is this? I need this explain to me. I don’t understand and you have to understand from their point of view. What kind of filmmakers these other filmmakers were, uh, they all have their own perspective on why it didn’t work, but the only guy in the room, That said you know what?
I think you’ve got something here with Steven Spielberg because Steven Spielberg saw beyond the mess that it was and that first cut of Star Wars was an absolute mess apparently, um, but even when they went back in reacted everything and they showed it to all these guys again, Everybody had the same Vibe about it except Spielberg.
Everyone was like this is not going to work. This is this is this is not going to work at all. But Stephen had, you know, Stephen had a very clear idea of like, you know, what Georgia think you might have something here and you know, obviously history has already told us that he did have something.
Um, so be careful again with opinions from other people. You have to stick stay true to what you believe as a filmmaker. That is going out there that that you story that you’re trying to tell and it’s a lot of times more important as an artist to listen to your own voice. Don’t get crazy. Don’t let listen to Ego don’t listen to other things that are not the voice that I’m talkin about.
I’m talkin about that inner voice. Feeling about why you started to tell the story in the first place and another famous test screening was a movie called airplane if you guys are not seen airplane, but watch airplane. It’s great the movie from the 80s. It was a slapstick kind of movie, uh done by the sucker brothers.
And uh, and it was a kind of first for its kind of movie Very slapstick very over-the-top, uh, kind of like the Naked Gun movies and those kind of things HotShots and that kind of uh humor but in this test screening it tested horribly. Just horribly people did not want at that time in history people that were in that test audience did not want to admit on paper that they loved it that they thought it was the funniest thing since sliced bread.
It was just amazing. So they gave it horrible reviews on paper because they didn’t want to admit that they liked it, but when they released the movie it was a huge monster hit because people just loved. Love the movie. They thought it was so so funny. So again test screenings you’re going to get different different vibes from test screening.
It is not the end-all be-all. It is a guide. That’s all it is. It is not the only way it is part of the way and especially in indie films, you know, you’re not going to get huge test audiences things like that to kind of mold your movie because you’re in an indie film when you got 200 million dollars on the on the uh, On the line you’re gonna be able to afford uh to go out and do multiple test screenings all around the country to see if it’s hitting the beats that it needs to hit because there’s a lot of money riding on it.
But you as an independent filmmaker, I think smaller test audiences will work. Now if you’re going to do a bigger test audience where you like gonna go rent out of theater invite a bunch of people and see, you know people that don’t know you don’t know anything about the movie which is a great thing if you can do it just to see how it plays with an.
Uh, also look at the audience that you’re bringing in is this them audience that you wrote this movie for, you know, if you’re if you’re writing a horror movie you got a bunch of grandmas and they’re probably not going to test real well. So look at the people you’re bringing in are these the people who are going to get your movie are going to understand your movie.
So if you’re able to do that, You’re gonna have to put together a card a basic card where you’re going to ask questions. Like did you like the protagonist? Did you like the main character? What didn’t you like about the movie? Do you think the story is moving forward properly all these kind of questions.
You can look online, uh all over the place and I’m trying to I’m going to try to leave some links in the show notes to see if I can find anything online for you some example test greeting cards, but those are the ones that you’re going to be handing out to everybody and then collecting at the end and reading and seeing what happens but if you ever expect.
To make movies in the studio system or not just in the movies, you’re going to have to deal with test audiences. So it’s a lot of the bane of existence of a lot of filmmakers because at the end of the day some filmmakers like Ridley Scott for example doesn’t care about test screenings. He’s like, I’m gonna make the movie I’m gonna make and my test screening doesn’t like it.
So be it I don’t care. This is what I’m gonna do mind. You you really Scott you can do these things you and I are not able to do these things just yet. So I hope this helped you a little bit to understand what test screenings are with the value test screenings are and what to look out for when getting opinions from other people again, always listen to that little voice inside of you man.
That is the voice that’s going to guide you through this whole Minefield of what it’s like to be a filmmaker. Now if you want links to anything I talked about in this episode just head over to any films for the show notes. And if you haven’t already please check out my new podcast that bulletproof screenplay where we discuss the craft and business of screenwriting and you can check it out at screenwriting podcast.
Now, I got a lot of cool things coming up in the neck in the coming weeks guys. A lot of great episodes a lot of amazing guests. I got one I did the other day that I was like on the floor with. It was such a big fan of this director, so I cannot wait to bring him on to the show for you guys. So as always keep that whole going keep the dream alive, and I’ll talk to you soon.
Thanks for listening today indie film hustle podcast at indie film hustle.