How Audience Testing Works

The Movie Testing Process

With ticket prices what they are these days, it's no wonder many people jump at the chance to participate in free test screenings. Because many of the filmmakers and other powers-that-be are heavily involved in the screening process, these events typically take place in theaters nearby where they are being produced (read: areas near Los Angeles). Still, they do pop up in other locations; you just have to know where to look. According to Roberts, most studios employ an outside firm to recruit audience members and run the event (introduction, passing out questionnaires and crowd management). Studios fork over millions of dollars per year for such services [source: Eller]. The company has many methods for gathering participants, sometimes setting up promotions or sign-ups at local movie theaters and shopping malls. In general, the target age for screening audience members is 18-34, because most moviegoers fall within that age range, although it's not always a hard and fast rule [source: Bobbitt]. In fact, a film that is geared toward baby boomers will likely feature a test audience in that age range [source: Ott].

Elsewhere, the editing crew feverishly completes the rough cut of the movie. "Preview screenings represent the most stressful and hard-working times at my job," explains Roberts, a first assistant editor who emphasizes the importance of temporary effects and music on the unfinished product. "We are usually up all night getting the cut together." Once the rough representation is complete, select crew members (usually the first assistant editor and post-production supervisor) travel to the theater, set everything up and do a full run-through to ensure that everything looks and sounds the way it's supposed to.

Right before the film starts, a moderator introduces the movie and advises the audience of a few things, namely that the visual and sound effects have not yet been perfected and that other minor blemishes will pepper the film. In other words, he reminds them that the final piece will be more polished prior to wide release, so don't take that into account. Once the preliminaries are complete, the curtain goes up – and it's time for the film to sink or swim.