The Truth About Movie Test Screenings

If you’re the kind of person who keeps up on all the developments behind the scenes of your most anticipated upcoming movies, then you’ve very likely heard of test screenings. There’s maybe even a chance that you’ve been lucky enough to end up at one, especially if you live in a major metropolitan area like Los Angeles, New York City, and sometimes even Chicago. But what exactly do these test screenings accomplish and how are they helpful to filmmakers?

Director David F. Sandberg has made a handful of big studio movies such as Shazam!, Annabelle: Creation and Lights Out, so he’s sat through the studio process of test screening a movie and using that to make a variety of decisions ranging from the film’s editing to the marketing campaign. And with that experience, he’s put together a helpful video essay that explains how he finds movie test screenings to be helpful. But he also points out which parts of the test screenings tend to bug him. Watch!

The Truth About Movie Test Screenings

Sandberg discusses how seeing the film that he’s been working on for months with an audience can help him see it in a fresh light. It helps determine if jokes or scares are working. An audience, whether it’s a couple people or a couple hundred people, can help you see problems with the story or missing pieces that might not be so obvious to the person who has already known the story for months, maybe even years. So there are some helpful elements of test screenings.

But Sandberg points out that he doesn’t like when test screening audiences don’t effectively communicate why they didn’t like something in a movie. For example, a person can say they didn’t like a scene where a pivotal character gets killed. Did they not like the scene because it was poorly done, or do they not like it because they didn’t want to see that character die and it made them sad? Sometimes studios don’t always pick up on those details, and if they don’t their detective work to determine why an audience didn’t like a certain aspect of a movie, it can result in creative clashing.

Watch the full video for David F. Sandberg’s more complete explanation of how test screenings work.

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