Friday, February 20, 2009

Look Before You Screen

It's possible to learn a lesson the hard way, as we all know – probably from painful experience. But it's also possible to have those same lessons be a hell of a lot better than they could have been.

Between screenings four and five we had an opportunity to sit down – Mike, Craig and I – and mash our way through a number of issues that were quickly fixable, and a few that were more in depth but that were feeling like we needed to ameliorate in order to get the feedback to focus elsewhere. On that last matter – mission mostly successful! Yay!

We did our final screening (for now) last night. It was our biggest focus group yet, and our most diverse. It was also unique in that it was the only time that we had people in the room who knew no-one involved in the film. A few of the people who had been specifically invited brought people we didn't know. We knew they were bringing people, but we didn't bother to screen them in any way. I think we may adjust that policy next time around.

This past week we have been doing test screenings of the film. For the most part they have been largely painless. Some surprising and excellent feedback and some feedback that we knew was coming and that there was nothing we could currently do about it... in both of those cases solutions are in the works.

Two things happened. One – annoying as all hell; the other – could have been disastrous, but seems to have worked out okay.

With a minute or two before we started the film, I made a point of pulling out my cell phone and turning to silent in front of everyone and requesting that they all do the same. Several people pulled out their phones and turned them off right then... you would have to be a complete idiot to not notice. Our host declared "I never get calls at this time of night" and we took her word for it, she is a fairly savvy, cool and self-aware person – so if she wanted to leave her land-line ringer on... we were her guests, so who am I to argue?

Twenty minutes into the film our host's phone rang. (Go figure.) She leapt up, answered it and took it down the hall to a back room where she left it... returning moments later. She blew it. She knew it. She handled it as well as could be expected.

Now I would think that having an announcement, and a blatant demonstration of how disruptive a ringer left 'on' could be would be enough of a message to anyone else who left their phone on that they would think to do something about it. Oh how naive.

Half an hour later a cell phone – the sort that simultaneously rings and vibrates – rang. And rang. And rang. No one copped to it being theirs. I was annoyed, but figured that making an issue of it would disrupt even further.

Ten minutes later, the same phone rang and vibrated at length again.

The third time around I actually counted the number of rings. Who sets their phone to 25 rings before voicemail picks up? (And yes... it had voice mail as we would soon find out.)

At this point Craig (with much more tact than I could have mustered in the moment) comment upon the ringing phone. Finally the culprit admitted that it was hers... and did nothing about it. Granted, at this point there were mere minutes left in the film, and it was apparent that it was wrapping up, and she was not in the easiest place to get to her jacket from. At that point it really was the best thing to just wait.

When the film was finished I immediately went around with pens and questionnaires. She took her questionnaire and set it aside and got up and went to her jacket and took out her phone... and listened to the messages that had been left. When she was done I handed her her questionnaire again. She sat down with it for perhaps three minutes (most people take about 15 minutes on average to truly finish it) before declaring (and I quote) "I'm too intellectual for this!" Upon which she stood up and walked into the hall and made at least one call. When she returned, it was clear she had no intention of finishing her questionnaire. And when I made a move to collect it from her she snatched it away from me. She then proceeded to stick around while everyone else finished theirs and sit through the discussion that followed – without participating at all.

So... she is either a totally inconsiderate idiot, or so absurdly important that she can't possibly turn her phone off. Oh wait... it can't be the latter. 'Cause she didn't bother to answer the damned thing when it was ringing off the hook. So perhaps she wasn't anticipating something REALLY REALLY important to happen elsewhere in her life last night. Something so traumatic that she couldn't possibly fill out her questionnaire. Uh... on second thoughts... wouldn't something like that be the sort of thing that when you found out about it you'd apologize for and leave in a hurry rather than sit and listen to a conversation that you had no intention of involving yourself in? I guess that settles it. Inconsiderate idiot.

Oh well, I guess next time I will be really really forceful – verging on insulting – about turning off your phone. But at least I'll have this anecdote to share.

What really picks my ass about it is that she comes to a screening and doesn't give up word one of feedback. We've had others not engage in the conversation – some people just don't work that way, that's fine. But the ENTIRE POINT of coming was to exchange a free advance screening of a film (with free drinks and popcorn I might add) for an opinion about it. I don't care if she hated it. (In fact - that would be useful information!) I don't care if she is "too intellectual" for it. What the fuck does that mean anyway? "Too intellectual?" I know the film isn't Bergman, but fuck you lady, it isn't Farrelly Brothers either.

I knew I knew one of our other indirectly invited guests from somewhere... this afternoon I figured it out. She was a PROFESSIONAL FILM CRITIC! Doh! She seemed to like the film and her questionnaire had lots of good and articulate feedback on it (and I had decided that BEFORE I figured out who she was) which is not the case with most of the questionnaires – we do have to do a lot of deciphering what the intention and symptom being expressed is in a lot of cases.

I won't say who she was for now – it may never matter. But I do think it's funny!

That could have gone badly. Seriously badly.

Anyhow... next time I think we'll be a bit more hands-on on the invites.