Monday, May 16, 2011

What's it like at a Hollywood screening?

Going to Hollywood advance screenings can be really cool… or really awful.

On the one hand, it’s very exciting. Being invited to a studio screening makes you feel like you’re really “in the biz”. You may not be on the A list but at least you’re on some list. And in Hollywood that’s pretty much all that matters. There was a brief time (real brief) when my partner and I were writing and selling features and were on several studio screening lists. I’d get a letter with the invite and instructions to call Mr. Spielberg’s office to RSVP. Cool! Of course, when I call, I’m automatically connected to voicemail. And when I arrive, half the time there’s a screw-up and I’m not on the list. (But I always bring the invite with me as proof and usually am let in.  And if not, I keep my Emmy in my trunk.)

So what's the experience like? 

Once inside, you feel as special and exclusive as one of 2500 people can. Usually there are celebs sprinkled in. I once sat in the same row as Nicole Kidman!  And this is when she looked amazing!  Generally the popcorn is free. Agents are there and say hello, sometimes even the ones who represent you! You frequently know people who were involved in the making of the movie. (Sometimes I’m envious… but it’s a good envious.)

Then you take your seat and there’s an air of excitement. The lights go off and the movie starts. The print is perfect, the sound is glorious, and you just know you’re in for a thrilling night of cine-magic.

And sometimes you are.

But most times you’re not.

That’s the downside.

Sure, when the screening is for THE CHAPERONE you have a pretty good idea going in that you won’t be blown away, but there have been numerous times when highly anticipated big budget summer tentpole potential blockbusters lay resounding and foul eggs. Then you’re trapped in hell.

It’s hard to slip out without being noticed, so most of the time you just have to suck it up and stay until the end (which is always 45 minutes longer than it has to be). And then there’s that horrible filing out into the lobby afterwards. Usually the filmmakers are there ready to receive you in a greeting line.


The only thing worse then being in that line is being one of the filmmakers receiving that line. When there was a screening of VOLUNTEERS (which, to be fair, was primarily well-received), I was standing next to one of the producers, Walter Parkes. A woman friend of his took both of his hands and said, “Oh, Walter, we love you anyway.”

But by and large it’s those forced compliments that no one believes. I imagine the post-screening of BLOND AND BLONDER was the very definition of awk-ward!

An actress I know told me that she went to the advance screening of a movie she was in and it was so unspeakably terrible that when the lights came back on the entire cast was crying.

Every so often I’ll be channel-surfing and there will be a movie I saw at a studio screening. It’s 2:00 in the morning and it’s some channel from Oxnard or some cable channel that’s so bad they can’t even scare up an infomercial to fill the time. The print is bad, the sound is muddy, and I think back to the night I originally saw it. The excitement and promise. This movie was going to be the next big thing. And now an animated promo for TEMPTATION ISLAND that reruns every morning at 6 takes up 20% of the screen.  Either that or I see the DVD of the movie in a 99 cent bin at Rite-Aid.

They don’t call it the Dream Factory for nothing.

I haven’t been to a big studio advance screening in years. I imagine they’ve changed. I bet people are now texting each other all throughout. I bet the post parties are nowhere near as grandiose. You probably have to pay for popcorn these days. Fancy invites have been replaced by form emails.  Fewer celebrities attend. Getting through the paparazzi is a hassle. Red carpets have been rolled up. And traffic has gotten so bad, especially around Westwood, that more and more agents and publicists are skipping them. They're probably nowhere near as fun or as glamorous as they were even ten short years ago.   So I guess what I’m trying to say is…

Can I get back on the lists?

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