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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

On Test Marketing

You all know how the studios test market the hell out of movies these days, constantly sending them back for reshoots or re-edits. Recently, Elizabethtown had a pretty famous re-edit, for better or for worse (though that was due to critical response in Toronto, more than a test audience, but still).

I think we all recognize the benefits of getting feedback prior to a movie's opening, and in fact the decisions made from such test screenings often benefits a film overall. But we rarely hear about the successes. Just the failures.

Last night, I went to a preview screening of Hostel sponsored by Creative Screenwriting magazine. In fact, I wrote a whole review of it this morning, but then my Firefox crashed and I lost it. Ugh! I'll rewrite it at some point before it opens.

Regardless, Eli Roth, the writer-director-producer of the film was on hand for a very entertaining Q&A after the screening. And one of the things he discussed was a test screening that was held for Cabin Fever, his previous film. The typical question asked in these marketing sessions is, "Would you recommend this movie?" He said the film got something like a 19 out of 100%. Roth argued that they should go in and ask, "Would you recommend this movie to a horror fan?" And the hands flew up. The idea being, you need to ask the right kinds of questions to get responses that have any kind of truly predictive value.

Cabin Fever went on to gross $21 million domestic, and somewhere around $100 million worldwide, when ancillaries are included. It was the top grossing film for Lion's Gate that year.

So that was last night. Today, I'm flipping through the TV to have some background on, and I come across Empire Records. I'll admit to being a big fan of this movie. Yes it is overly simplistic, moderately trite, and a bit cheeseball. But the bottom line is, the movie is simply a lot of fun. More than that, it features a great cast and soundtrack. Ultimately, however, it is the film's closing sequence that gets me every time. I know this sounds bizarre, but I'll admit to even shedding a tear today at the happiness of that ending. Something about the exuberance with which the actors dive into their roles just sells it to me as realistic and lovable, even despite the obviously bogus and too easily achieved climax. It's just entertainment. Period.

Furthermore, I know I'm not the only one out there who loves this movie (so if you're another fan, chime in). But it is again no secret what happened. Following a tiny release with no real marketing, the film got a poor response, and the studio (Warner I believe) canned it and took it to vid and cable. Sad, because the film would likely have done decently (albeit not blockbuster numbers). Okay, true, maybe the film seems more entertaining on the small screen, and maybe it would have bombed theatrically, making pulling it the right decision. I don't know for sure.

But what I can say is that there are definite problems with the way studios test-market their films. But, as I said, there are positives as well. And there is no way that studios will stop the advance research entirely -- films simply cost too much, and anyone who thinks they should stop completely is being silly or ignorant. So what then? There needs to be a broader overhaul of the test market system. Better questions, more accurate selection of potential audiences, a broader way of thinking about marketing. I don't know. Something. Or just a bit more trust for filmmakers who have proven themselves, perhaps.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I owned a music store for 11 years (my former life) so I love this film, along with High Fidelity and I have a partial screenplay similar floating around my hard drive...my new Firefox 1.5 crashed too so I dumped it and went back to Mozilla 1.7

7:12 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Yeah, that may have something to do with why I like it as well. Though I write, and work in film, music has always been my number one passion. It's just that the music biz is too scummy for me (and yes, in comparison, movies are squeaky clean). I too love High Fidelity and the book on which it is based.

I'm using Firefox 1.0.7, but I heard an earlier version is vulnerable to hacking or something, no? Didn't that news just come out? I think it may have more to do with my aging computer with relatively full hard drive and running Windows 2000 than anything else. It happens ocassionally to other programs as well.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous chris said...

i think the problem is really in THIS phrase from your post:

"movies cost too much..."

That's why they have to test market them and that's why they have to change! An Empire Records or some other such fare could find an audience if production and marketing costs could be kept down! Digital video, coupled with cheap distribution thru the internet has a real chance of changing things. Could King Kong be done that way? No -- or maybe, YES, and it's destined to be a success HOWEVER it's done...but could a "nice little movie" like Empire Records find a home and be profitable thru that venue...quite possibly. Let's hope.


9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I honestly think Empire Records would have opened well. It's got that priceless buzz worthy quality that launched its video success, and I gotta believe that would’ve carried over theatrically.

Anyway, I shed a tear at the end of Empire Records as well as A Knights Tale. Probably the only two tears that have fallen from my eyes as a result of a film. Ever. They do a good job of catching you with your guard down.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

Yes, I must admit that I also am a fan of Empire Records. It's a wonderful, fun little film.

7:39 AM  
Anonymous srini said...

I am srini, from India. I have joined a film company and putting together a note on why they should do test screenings (not a big practice here). Where can I find a list of movies which were hits after poor response at screening (& vice versa)? Would be grateful if you could send me the list or link to sv4065@yahoo.co.in


3:52 AM  

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