Is It Fair To Judge A Movie Based On A Studio's Apparent Lack Of Faith?

This morning, I retweeted a tweet from Amy Kaufman from the Los Angeles Times noting that the all-media screening of Cameron Crowe's Aloha is set for May 26th, reviews are embargoed until May 28th in the afternoon pacific time, with the movie being released nationwide less than a day later on May 29th. At first glance, it doesn't seem like a good sign for a movie from a filmmaker who is known to create audience pleasing dramedies. But is it fair to judge a movie based on a studio's apparent lack of faith in a movie?

I explore the reported trouble behind Aloha and try to explore this question, after the jump.

Here is the original tweet from Amy Kaufman:

It wasn't that her observation was at all unique, when I checked my e-mail inbox and saw the screening invite for Cameron Crowe's latest film Aloha I also noticed that the studio's only press screening for the film was a couple days before release, not usually a good sign. (Update: I've since been told by another critic who is in the know that there are absolutely no US press screenings of the film before this all media screening).

What I mean by this is, usually when a movie studio believes they have a hit on their hands, they screen a movie early to as many influencers as they possibly can — this includes everyone from actors, filmmakers, critics and press, to even early world of mouth audiences hoping to spread the buzz. I'm often invited to long-lead screenings that happen months in advance of the film's release date because the studio wanted to get a film on the radar.

Most film campaigns hold their junkets at least a few weeks in advance of the film's release, allowing Los Angeles journalists and critics to see the movie for interview consideration to run the week of release. The Aloha junket is being held in London although I don't know anyone who was invited to it. (Even my friend Steve at Collider who gets invited to EVERYTHING wasn't invited.)

Update: Sony says that the reason nobody I know being invited to the junket is a combination of extremely limited talent availability and the junket being shared with international press. They also insist that one junket screening and one all media screening days before the release isn't out of the norm, although I can't recall many Sony films with a high profile filmmaker like Cameron Crowe getting that treatment.

And the only press screening any of my colleagues have been invited to is the "all-media" screening that takes place a day and a half before the movie is released. Usually, but not always, this is a bad sign. At very least, it feels like a lack of faith in the movie from the studio.

CinemaScore ballot

Yes, this is a CinemaScore ballot for audience exit polling, not from test screenings

But we already knew the studio was not so hot on the film. We learned during the Sony hacks that the studio had test screened the film a couple times and the results were reportedly horrible in Los Angeles and worse in New York City. Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal proclaimed in an email that she doesn't "care how much I love the director or the actors, it never, not even once, ever works" and that she will "never starting a movie again when the script is ridiculous". Seems like solid methodology.

Of course, this might not be the final edit of the movie — some films reported to be huge disasters have pulled everything together in the editing room at the last minute. Even Pascal angrily noted that Crowe "didn't change anything" when it came to the subsequent test screening, so there was apparently some room for "fixes" which could have happened since even though the studio head declared "thats a wrap, there is no more to do."

And we should also note that test screenings are not always a good indication of a good movies. Some films which didn't test well enjoyed huge box office success and great acclaim from critics. But the lone all media press screening invite would seem to indicate that Sony still doesn't believe the film will connect with critics either.

A Few Updates:

  • Of course there are exceptions to the rule, proving William Goldman's famous quote that "Nobody knows anything" in Hollywood:
  • Lego Movie/Jump Street filmmaker Phil Lord brings up The Iron Giant as an exception to the rule.
  • Micah brings up Trick R Treat, which the studio decided was not worth releasing theatrically and has developed such a huge cult following Legendary Pictures is making a sequel.
  • Producer Keith Calder also notes that "Warner Brothers had so little faith in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE that they shut down the division that made it and sold the film to Fox"
  • Its also worth noting that with Tom Rothman in and Amy Pascal out, its possible that Crowe has been forced into a much different cut.
  • New York Post critic Lou Lumenick points out that the film is tracking to make $28 million on opening weekend, which would be Crowe's biggest to date — but even Pascal noted that the film could be sold on the glossiness of its stars.
  • Critic Todd Gilchrist makes note that Sony "conspicuously do not mention Crowe in the invite at all." A reader in the comments also notes they haven't been "mentioning Cameron Crowe's name or previous films in the TV spots."
  • Cameron Croew

    Cameron Crowe on the set of We Bought A Zoo

    ZZ01839726But is it fair to assume that the film is a disaster based on the studio's apparent lack of faith in the movie? What are your thoughts?

    I go into every movie hoping for the best. I am not a religious man, but some of my colleagues will tell you that as the lights dim I put my hands together in prayer pose and whisper "Please be great".  I hope for the best, even when signs point towards the worst.

    I'm a huge fan of Cameron Crowe, his films have had a profound effect on my life. Almost Famous is one of my favorite films of all time, and I'm not even a very musical person.

    I want Crowe to make me cry again while staring at that screen of light bouncing off a wall. And even though hI haven't been very impressed by the trailers thus far. I'm rooting for Crowe to surprise everyone with Aloha.