Do you trust test audiences?

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Do you trust test audiences?

Postby Kevin » Thu Jun 02, 2011 2:06 pm

This is slightly an out there question but I wanted to ask, do you trust test audiences judgement when viewing a movie, and telling the film crew what's wrong in it. From my experience, people on the internet seem to think that the test audiences are idiots usually (which I'm sure they are not).
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Re: Do you trust test audiences?

Postby mavrach » Thu Jun 02, 2011 4:31 pm

For me it always looks like trying to appeal to a test audience and really taking their opinions into consideration, is a movie trying its best to get mainstream appeal and go for the most money. The way I see it, if a movie knows it's good, it doesn't need a test audience to tweak it.
+1. this is very interesting.
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Re: Do you trust test audiences?

Postby Dunnyman » Thu Jun 02, 2011 10:35 pm

Depends on the audience and what kind of questions or opinions you're looking for. A test screening of Hangover II with an audience of old folks won't give you jack for useful info. Also, if you ask leading questions you can more or less control the reactions you get. I got tossed out of a test screening for a sitcom once because I told the people in charge that they'd already decided it was dead and were actively looking for bad results, so why bother? Any researcher (or politician, for that matter) can skew the results depending on what kind of questions you ask and how you ask them.
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Re: Do you trust test audiences?

Postby Attrage » Thu Jun 02, 2011 10:56 pm

Using the example of the film The Butterfly Effect, the original ending was apparently so disliked by test audiences that they changed it. Having viewed both the endings on the special edition DVD, my opinion is that the original ending is far more poignant and memorable than the one they changed it to. Downbeat and a bit depressing, but also in a way, incredibly beautiful. So I guess from that example, my answer to your question would be no, I suppose I don't trust test audiences!
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Re: Do you trust test audiences?

Postby HGervais » Thu Jun 02, 2011 11:23 pm

It really isn't a question of trust. I mean trust in relation to what? Test audiences have their uses. Sometimes you just need to put a film in front of people to see how things play, what is clear to an audience and what isn't. At the end of the day you want a film that appeals to the broadest spectrum of people. There can be an over reliance on test screenings but as already noted, they do serve a constructive purpose. As Dunny mentions, it really is all about how they are used and what you go in looking for. Judd Apatow is a huge believer in test screenings and will often have two different versions of his movies playing next to each other. I know as a theater director I'm always ready for preview performances because I want to see where the laughs come, how the pace a thing is playing, where certain moments can be maximized and all those other things that you only get when you put something in front of an audience.
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Re: Do you trust test audiences?

Postby Bryan Pope » Fri Jun 03, 2011 6:38 am

HGervais wrote:It really isn't a question of trust. I mean trust in relation to what? Test audiences have their uses. Sometimes you just need to put a film in front of people to see how things play, what is clear to an audience and what isn't. At the end of the day you want a film that appeals to the broadest spectrum of people. There can be an over reliance on test screenings but as already noted, they do serve a constructive purpose.

What he said. And while I, along with everyone else who posts on movie message boards, take films pretty seriously, I have to remind myself that the film industry is just that -- an industry. Studios are out to sell a product, and it's not uncommon for a company to test a product before it hits store shelves to help maximize profits.
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Re: Do you trust test audiences?

Postby Dan Mancini » Fri Jun 03, 2011 7:42 am

What Harold said. It's easy to bag on the test audience as a tool used by studios to churn out conventional pap and undermine a director's unique voice. Sometimes that's a valid point. But sometimes they're enormously helpful. In the case of genre movies, the objectivity they provide can assist a director in determining if the pieces of a movie are achieving his goals.

And, hey, I recently reviewed American Graffiti, a movie I dearly love and that would never have been released in theaters if George Lucas hadn't been able to get it in front of test audiences who responded with a great deal more enthusiasm than the suits at Universal. So there's that sort of thing, too.
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Re: Do you trust test audiences?

Postby Andrew Forbes » Fri Jun 03, 2011 9:25 am

Good points all around, but in general I would say no. Or, rather, yes, I trust them to push films in a less-distinctive, more familiar direction. Frankly, I think I have more sophisticated taste in movies that the average theater-goer. That's not snobbery, it's just that I tend to enjoy not knowing where a movie is going to take me, and I would argue that the economics bear out a preference for formula on the part of the majority audience (which is comprised of middle-aged typists, frat bros and dads who miss Hogan's Heroes). This is especially true in terms of global markets where simplicity of plot and directness of dialogue makes for more widely consumable product. There are, of course, notable exceptions to this thesis, but I think the broad trend lines up. Of course, I look at movies as both entertainment and art, and most people look at movies as a fun way to kill two hours. Similarly, the best-selling books are rarely the greatest literature, and the most popular music is rarely the most innovative or lyrically insightful. "Awesome" has always won out over "Challenging," but the latter isn't what most people want, which is fine.

Which isn't to say that I don't enjoy formula action movies or page-turners or a solid bassline. I just think test screenings are of more value to the profit margin than to the art form or the intellect.
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Re: Do you trust test audiences?

Postby Steve T Power » Fri Jun 03, 2011 10:31 am

I think in many instances the test screening is important in weeding out the kinks in a film, but there has to be a give and take with the director, and films subjected to test screenings should be screened to appropriate audiences. They also shouldn't be treated as a guideline in shaping a film. Two films destroyed by test screenings spring to mind:

Payback - Screened to a general audience, and tested poorly, with responses all over the place. Paramount panicked, and Helgeland's bleak, 70's revenge flick was cut to pieces. The whole color palette was re-timed, the final act was re-shot, new characters and plot points were introduced, and the film lost most of its bite. The "Straight up" version, featuring Helgeland's original cut annihilates the theatrical version in just about every way imaginable. If the film had been shown to a more savvy crowd, they'd have likely dialed into the film's 70's tone, and been considerably more positive. Then again, Paramount could have also given Helgeland the benefit of the doubt, as his version was considerably better received in the long run.

Legend - Hot on the heels of the theatrical fiasco that was Blade runner, Ridley tested his fantasy flick with a crowd typically known to embrace such types of films. The story about a bunch of potheads guffawing at the film's more fairy-tale like moments, and thus changing the course of the production has become a sort of "test screening" parable in and of itself in the years since. Again the screening dictated massive alterations, and a severe distilling of the original product. The theatrical cut of legend is disjointed and nonsensical, the director's cut is a much stronger, full bodied flick.
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