Thursday, 6 October 2011

Test Screenings

Touchy subject in the film industry this. Test screenings are happening more and more these days with producers insisting that filmmakers get feedback from audiences before releasing their films commercially.

Some filmmakers refuse. Terry Gilliam for example. Put some of his old films in front of an average audience and they may not have ever seen the light of day. Spielberg doesn't do them. His films always make money. The distributors of Paranormal Activity used footage of test screenings in the trailer for the film. They also changed the ending due to audience feedback.

What's the point? Audience research. Producers want to ensure the film appeals to the widest possible audience. So they screen the film early, get the audience to fill in a questionnaire and then they make changes. Maybe the film needs to be shortened to a more manageable length. Maybe some scenes are not working, some sub-plots are unnecessary or some effects look shabby.

But is this fair on filmmakers who shed blood, sweat and tears for the film? Has their soveriegnty been taken away unfairly? Does the film belong to a director or the investors? It's understandable that producers, financers, investors want to see a film make money and I'm sure most directors want everyone to get paid. But isn't the money being put into the filmmaker as much as the film? Isn't their some trust in the filmmaker's creativity and vision?

Are audiences really experts on film anyway? I'm sure many would argue that audiences are the perfect people to be giving the filmmakers feedback. After all we are the ones that are going to pay to watch the film. We watch films. We know what we like and what we don't like.

But looking at the questionnaire after attending a test screening on Tuesday (04/10/11), I started to wonder about the range of responses Revolver Entertainment would be getting from us. As a media teacher I like to think I know a fair bit about film, narrative, scriptwriting, production etc. I tried to make my responses reflect this. But I'm not sure that I'm even the target audience for this film so are my responses valid? And I found it very hard to fill out the form thoughtfully and carefully. I wonder if others had more or less trouble.

Anyway I signed a non-disclosure form without reading it so I'm assuming I'm not allowed to say anything about the film. I don't know if I can even mention that the film is being test screened. However the film in question will be released in February and I was told that that they are trying to cut the length of it down by around 40 minutes. I can't imagine what this is like for the filmmakers. I could only identify a couple of scenes that I felt were unnecessary. So I can't say much because the film will change.

All I will say is the music is unsurprisingly outstanding and the opening credits blew me away. So I hope they stay as they were. It's a grim, gritty film and an extremely promising directorial debut. The narrative structure and many of the stylistic techniques of the film were excellent in this early cut. The writer/director just added another talent to his already glowing career.

In completely unrelated news:

Ben Drew a.k.a. Rap/Soul artist Plan B says:

"there’ll also be my first full-length film, which I’m titling ‘Ill Manors’”, he adds: “Which is a hip hop, music-based feature film which has six short stories that all kinda mix together to make one BIG story - and each mini-story will be represented by a different hip hop track. It’ll all be narrated by me, and it’ll actually be the reverse of ‘The Defamation Of Strickland Banks’ - in that with ‘Ill Manors’ the film will come out first and the soundtrack will come afterwards. And again the soundtrack will be a film for the blind, in that you’ll be able to listen to it and it’ll tell you the story of the film…" (http://www.bluesandsoul.com/feature/522/plan_b_from_a_to_b)