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I Am a Reluctant Test Audience

For free entertainment, I managed to get myself on the list to get free movie screening passes.  Recently, this has gotten me into a couple of super advance screenings of movies that aren’t due out for months and months.  Contractually, I’m not allowed to say anything about the movies, but there wasn’t anything in the confidentiality agreement about talking about the screening process.  So let’s cover those in the broadest terms.

After the movies everyone in the audience gets questionnaires.  And when I say everyone, I mean everyone.  Every opinion is the same.  My opinion doesn’t matter any more or less than the guy in the American flag shirt with the cut off sleeves…and yeah, that guy really exists.  My opinion doesn’t matter any more or less than woman who kept misplacing her child because she was doing something else.  My opinion also doesn’t matter any more or less than that child, who also gets a questionnaire!  Technically, my opinion matters less than all the aforementioned people because I’m too old.

Before the movies, staff members will go through the line asking everyone how old they are.  I was told by one to never tell anyone again that I’m 42.  When it comes to screenings, I’m 34.  I’m flattered that they think I can pass for 34.  Yeah, I could.  I’m a rough looking 34, but a great looking 42!  I can’t even get screening passes using my information.  I have to get them using my girlfriend’s information because she’s in that prime demographic of females 18-34.  For real, I’ve tried to get passes inputting my information only to be told that the screening was full.  I tried again using her information and…voila…enjoy your movie!

The questionnaires cover the obvious.  What did you like?  What didn’t you like?  How about those actors?

I saw a big comedy movie scheduled for 2015.  There was a sequence where a Slayer song was used, unbelievably and appropriately well.  Whoever did the music for that absolutely nailed it!  It was a song where the mood fit the scene, as did the lyrics.  I may have been the only person to note that afterwards.  Looking around the screening room (yeah, this one was so early that it wasn’t even in a theater, it was a tiny screening room at the studio), I saw people cringing at what I was guessing their dislike of Slayer.  Maybe they even made a note of that on their form.  That’s disappointing.  If more people note that they didn’t like that moment than the people who note that they thought it was a subtly cool choice, that moment may be gone and you’ll never get to see it.

Sometimes I’m wrong.  I think my second biggest strength as a human is being able to freely admit when I’m wrong.  My first biggest strength is my ability to pat myself on the back!  I saw a supernatural horror movie the other night where one of the character dies by a hair dryer falling into the bathtub and electrocuting her.  The first note I made on the “what didn’t you like?” section of the survey, “hair dryers falling into bathtubs can’t kill you.”  Really?!  That’s where I chose to draw the line in suspending my disbelief?  I was fine with all the supernatural stuff happening, but apparently I couldn’t get past a technical flaw.  For the record, circuit breakers would prevent you from being electrocuted if an appliance fell in your bathtub or swimming pool.  While I believe that to be true, I’m not willing to test it out.  I’ll save that for my doppelganger Adam Savage and the Mythbusters crew.

When you go into a movie knowing you’re going to be asked to make note of the things you didn’t like, you’re going to be looking for things not to like.  Some movies aren’t meant to be inspected under a microscope.  We’re not talking Paul Thomas Anderson movies here, because I’m guessing he never has to put his work under the scrutiny of test audiences.

The question that bothers me the most is the one about what you thought about each main actor.  Sometimes actors get bad roles or bad direction.  Maybe they’re cast in the wrong role.  One of my favorite actresses was in one of the movies I saw, but her character was one note and she was extremely under used.  So when asked what I thought of her in the movie, what could I do?  Do I say she wasn’t good, even though I know she’s actually pretty great at her craft?  Or do I say she’s great, even though she wasn’t in this movie?  This particular actress is primarily known for television.  What if poor screening results from this keep her from getting more movie roles even though she’s normally really good?

While I appreciate the free movies, I don’t think the opinion of test audiences should really matter.  I get the importance of having someone tell you to maybe take another pass at things.  Whenever I post something new here, punk rock poet/actor Jimmy Doom is always quick to let me know when there are spelling or grammatical mistakes.  When I write a new script, I always send it to comedian/writer Nick Anthony because he not only understands that craft on a level I don’t yet, but he also doesn’t pull any punches.  It’s important to have people who are honest with you…if their opinions matter.  I think we can all agree that maybe George Lucas should have asked Steven Spielberg what he thought of anything he’s done since Return of the Jedi.  Maybe he did, but Spielberg wasn’t honest.  Jimmy and Nick are both great writers.  Their opinions matter because they understand the craft and they’re honest.  The opinions of random people in a test audience shouldn’t matter, but they do.

But seriously, thank you for the free tickets!

Comedy Pro Tip: The Tortoise and the Hare.

Maybe it’s nerves or the adrenaline rush of doing what we’ve waited all day long to do, but many comedians tend to talk a bit too fast on stage.  Comedian and owner of the Komedy Korner, Leo DuFour once suggested when I got off stage that I slow down and enjoy my time like I would a delicious meal.   Maybe that was a health tip and I’m forgetting that I was scarfing down a Poutine platter at the time….it was Canada after all.   Let me find another example.

One of my best friends asked me after a show why I don’t speak on stage like I speak normally off stage.  He was right.  I didn’t believe in my material at the time so on stage I would yell and ram my jokes down the throats of the audience as quickly as I could.

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