Are test screenings a good thing?

The DVD release of the not so hot The Interpreter is to include the alternate ending, that’s the ending from the original script. IMDB have the story that Sydney Pollack was never happy with it and changed it after some test screenings.

According to several reports, Pollack decided to reshoot the ending after audiences at test screenings complained about it. The reports also indicated that Pollack had had misgivings about the ending from the very beginning and rejected the one that was described in the original script. Several critics lambasted the ending that Pollack eventually settled on for the theatrical version.

October 4th release date if you’re that interested. It still amazes me that so much weight can be placed on a few audiences. Who makes up these audiences anyway? Punters straight off the street who aren’t going to know what they are seeing, or carefully selected people who want to see this movie, or even just a group of industry people?

Either way I’m not so sure they are a great representation of what the public want to see, but it amazes me that so much weight is put on these screenings. However, that’s a John-Richard thing I guess, John will say Commercials (as in money making, not advertisements) and I will say Creativity and original vision. What do you say?

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6 thoughts on “Are test screenings a good thing?

  1. Well, the other thing about listening too intently to the test audiences is that they’ll help you round the rough edges off all the principal characters. “Oh, they don’t like the way he relates to his mother! Better change that.” They help Hollywood make films that are too homogenous to really ring true. The most productive thing I think a filmmaker should get from a test screening is a sense of whether or not the audience is able to follow the story and whether or not there are sections of the film that are moving too slow for them. The first thing is important. If half the test audience is confused about the same thing then it’s a good bet that something probably needs tweaking. Like the shot of Jeff Bridges at the end of The Jagged Edge. A lot of people couldn’t tell it was him. That’s something you get out of a test screening that’s important. “Holy hell, people can’t tell what the end of the film is all about!” But the same approach might yield unpredictable results for a David Lynch screening where nobody will ever understand what’s going on. Heh… The pacing thing is probably better determined by watching the audience watch the film. If they’re all getting restless in their seats 20 minutes in there’s a good chance the first act is dragging. I don’t think doing away with test screenings is the answer, but I do think you need to know what film you’re trying to make before you show an early cut. Just my opinion.

  2. I think too much emphasis is taken from test screenings. Whether the average Joe Schmo likes a film or not essentially should mean nothing to the artistic vision of the film, but everyone knows that Hollywood is principally about ‘the buck.’ Smaller films like BROKEN FLOWERS get little attention despite being terrific vehicles for an audience; would any director or studio have thought about changing the ending IF a test audience didn’t like it? I hope not.

  3. From what I’ve been told by people who worked on the film, the test screenings didn’t have anything to do with the decision to change the ending. The story I was told was that Ms. Kidman didn’t like the original ending and waited until midway through production to voice her “serious reservations” about the script.

    Test screenings are a big deal, though. Back in the late 80’s I used to work for a music video station and we did on-air giveaways to early preview screenings for a couple of the studios. It was looked on at the time as a good way to load test screenings with that all-important youth demographic. Sometimes films would change significantly between the time we hosted the preview screenings and their release date and not always for the better, IMO.

    I can see it now, “Yeah Francis, a lot of these people are saying that Sonny’s death upsets them. We’re thinking maybe that whole toll booth scene can be a nightmare sequence that makes him realize how much danger he’s in. And they don’t like Michael by the end of the film. We’ve really got to make him a more sympathetic character. Maybe give him a pet that he loves and a sympathetic motivation. Maybe his grandmother could be kidnapped and getting her back is the reason for all the third-act violence.”

  4. The interpreter DVD has already been released in Australia and contains the alternative ending. I have to say that the theatrical ending was much better then deleated ending. The old ending was long winded where as the new ending, said what needed to be said while not adding any new drama to wrap the film up.

    Extra features on the DVD and very interesting too, particulary the featurette about real UN interpretures.

    Luke

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