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How Audience Testing Works


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Test audiences felt Judy Garland singing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' slowed down the action in 'The Wizard of Oz.' Luckily, the song was kept in.
Test audiences felt Judy Garland singing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' slowed down the action in 'The Wizard of Oz.' Luckily, the song was kept in.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

Once the test screening begins, it's just like any other movie-going experience -- except of course for the fact that many of the filmmakers, producers and even stars are typically present. "The screenings are filmed so that the producers and all the filmmakers can go back and re-watch the audience reactions to the various scenes in the movie, see which jokes landed and which didn't, and how the audience reacted to different parts," explains insider Roberts. In essence, they like to be there in the flesh for initial impressions, and then analyze the hits and misses later on, ad nauseam.

After the credits have rolled, all audience members receive a list of questions that must be answered before exiting stage left. Each card asks for opinions that can give the filmmakers a better idea about the movie's pace, clarity of the plot and other general input, such as the best and worst moments of the film. Because word of mouth is critical to the success of any film, filmmakers place extra value on whether or not audience members would be likely to recommend the movie to their friends.

"If a hundred people see the movie and 90 of them say that they would definitely recommend the movie to a friend then the movie gets a score of a 90," says Roberts. "If they answer with anything other than a 'definitely recommend' it doesn't count towards the score." Although each film and studio is different, on average a score of 80 means that a film is ready for public enjoyment [source: Ott]. I guess this leaves us outsiders to deduce that mega-flops like "Glitter," "Transcendence" and "Sex Tape" either a) weren't previewed at all, or b) were previewed by people with frighteningly low standards or were on some sort of heavy cold medication at the time.

Or just perhaps, the directors ignored the feedback, thinking they knew better. Sometimes they do. Incredibly, test audiences for "The Wizard of Oz" felt the scene where Judy Garland sings "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" slowed down the action. Fortunately, the producers and director fought to keep the song in and it won an Academy Award as well as became a signature tune for Garland [source: Bay].