Monday, February 08, 2010

Audience tests + using festivals for distribution deals

There is significant overlap between the two points of the post title: every movie will go through audience testing before the final cut is released to cinemas (if at all); if the studio doesn't like the feedback they may re-edit or even order re-shoots under a different director (and in some cases simply refuse to sanction further spending on distribution other than as straight-to-DVD); film festivals are used by producers and distributors alike as informal forums for audience testing - good 'word-of-mouth' can transform a film's fortunes.
From the AS case studies we know that very small details can be crucial (the bewildered US audience, with an unamused Harvey Weinstein looking on, finally laughed as Colin Firth turns round to reveal his novelty reindeer jumper, securing a costly promotional campaign for Brisget Jones' Diary).

The typically low-budget Indie production, Four Lions, was recently entered into the Sundance Film Festival, a key event for Indie film-makers looking to find a deal to get their movies into cinemas or just a DVD release with some financing for marketing. Their diary is published on ... the Film Guardian! An excerpt:

[Sam Bain:]Back to the big event. Chris introduced the film (brilliantly) and as the lights went down it was gratifying to hear a lot of laughs, as well as the odd gasp as the story got more intense and the ­audience didn't seem sure whether they really should be laughing. Anxiety set in when I ­remem­bered just how many British references there are in the film – from Boots to Gordon Ramsay to Mini Babybels – not to mention the Sheffield accents which, unlike the Urdu and Panjabi dialogue, didn't have subtitles. But there was a genuine sense we'd grabbed the audience and they were very much along for the ride – and with absolutely no idea where that ride might end up. Exciting.
[Jesse Armstrong:] The screening goes well, but I find it excruciating. Sometimes when I'm scared of flying, I have this feeling like it's taking my full powers of concen­tra­tion to keep the plane in the sky. It's the same at the screening – as little pockets of laughs emerge here and there, I'm examining them for tone, timbre and implications. In my head I'm a sheepdog – circling the room wanting to shepherd people to draw the right inferences, go the right way.
Afterwards, I try to make a frank assessment of how the film has gone down. If it's possible for something to go rather well while simultaneously taking you repeatedly to the brink of throwing up throughout, that's what it felt like.
[Sam Bain]: The evening ended at about 4.30am with me and Mark Herbert listening to the Today ­programme piece on Four Lions, which included Robert Redford talking supportively about it. Who cares that he's not actually seen it? Most of the people who'll probably take a pot shot at the film in the UK press won't have seen it either.
 SOURCE: "Four Lions Sundance diary"
What happened when the co-writers of Four Lions, Chris Morris's 'jihadist comedy', took the film to Sundance? Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong open their diaries

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