IFH 232: Test Screenings – Are They a Waste of Time or Worth It?



Top Apple Filmmaking Podcast

20+ Million Downloads

Right-click here to download the MP3

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.

  1. Director
  2. Writer
  3. Cinematographer
  4. Editor
  5. Producer

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!

Alex Ferrari 0:38
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 brainchild of tribe member Nathan sewer. And he 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 test 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 mag and when I did a test screening or multiple test screenings for on the corner of ego and desire, I brought in specifically for different kinds of people that are close to me people I knew they were going to give me honest answer honest feedback. And that's something you really want to have in a test screen. 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 their their point of view, I want to see what they think of how the story is being told visually. I also bring in a writer just to see on how the story is constructed, or 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 marketability of the movie, where they can be, you know if there's any hope for the movie as far as financially is concerned, and talk, maybe marketing strategies, things like that, with that producer. Now this is the first like you show the rough cut, you show a polished cut to these this 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 at 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 movie 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 want 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? Are people getting bored, super, super powerful part Have 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 writers, 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 lower part of the movie making process. And I had them give me notes. And luckily, there was not a lot of notes, there were some things here and there. But all of it was helped was I wouldn't 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 a cut that you're really happy with you've you put together a movie that's polished, maybe have sound in it, maybe 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 gonna get from that. 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 as 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. When I was editing on the corner of ego and desire, you know, I brought in an editor and they were telling me this scene needs to breathe more and you're cutting it too fast. And when I read 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 incidents that happened with test screenings. Now, a movie little movie called Star Wars. 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 melius, Brian De Palma. And a couple other guys, I think Paul Schrader was in there, 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 debacle. According to everybody, Brian dipalma. Specifically, was the one that literally ripped Georgia new ass about, about the force, like, what is the forest? Where's the forest come from? Who is this? I need? This explained to me? I don't understand. And you have to understand from their point of view, what kind of filmmakers these other filmmakers were, 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. But even when they went back and re edited 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, Steven 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. 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 your 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 talking about. I'm talking about that inner voice that gut 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 have not seen airplane, but watch airplane is great and move From the 80s it was a slapstick kind of movie done by the Zucker brothers. And, and it was a kind of first for its kind of movie, very slapstick very over the top, kind of like the Naked Gun movies, and those kind of things, hot shots and that kind of 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, loved the movie, they thought it was so so funny. So again, test screenings, you're gonna 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 cuz you're in an indie film, when you got $200 million on the on the on the line, you're gonna be able to afford 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're like, gonna go rent out a 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 audience. Also, look at the audience that you're bringing in? Is this the 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's moving forward properly? All these kinds of questions, you can look online, all over the place, I'm trying, I'm going to try to leave some links in the show notes and see if I can find anything online for you have 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 indie movies, you're going to have to deal with test audiences. So it's a lot of the bane of the 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 I don't care. This is what I'm going to do mind your, your Ridley 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, what the value of that test screenings are, and what to look out for when getting opinions from other people again, always listen to that little voice inside 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 indiefilmhustle.com/ for the show notes. And if you haven't already, please check out my new podcast the bulletproof screenplay, where we discuss the craft and business of screenwriting. And you can check it out at screenwritingpodcast.com 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 I 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 hustle going. keep the dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.




  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)



Where Hollywood Comes to Talk

Oliver Stone

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Platoon, Wall Street, JFK)

Edward Burns

(Brothers McMullin, She's the One)

Richard Linklater

Oscar® Nominated Writer/Director
(Boyhood, School of Rock)

Eric Roth

Oscar® Winning Screenwriter
(Forrest Gump, Dune)

Oscar® Winning Writers/Directors
(Everything, Everywhere, All At Once)

Jason Blum

(Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver)

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Get Out, Whiplash)

Chris Moore sml

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Good Will Hunting, American Pie)

(Menace II Society, Book of Eli)

Marta Kauffman sml

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Last Samurai, Blood Diamond)

Emmy® Winning Writer & Showrunner
(Friends, Grace and Frankie)

Free Training of The Week


Film Distribution Crash Course

By Alex Ferrari

In this crash course film distribution expert Alex Ferrari shows you the top 5 distribution agreements and pitfalls to avoid, what a standard deal looks like, and much more.