Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How to Run a Better Screening - and probably get laid

As a lead-in to our release, we have screened Self Helpless at a few spots around the East Coast. Sometimes we had to rent the theaters, sometimes we just split ticket sales. The reception for Self Helpless was unbelievable, and we definitely learned a lot about screening our film.

We had previously thought that once you made a good movie, and got an audience to show up, the job was done. Just put in the DVD and crack a beer right? Wrong. The way your film is presented can have a huge effect on the way the audience perceives it. There are many different factors that contribute subtly to people’s experience at your screening. The farther your film falls from mainstream studio pictures, the more these concepts apply. If you have just completed a film, and screening it for the public in some form is part of your plans for the future, then you might be able to learn from our mistakes. Here are some key rules that we have learned from being out in the trenches:

Know Your Equipment - Learn to work a projector, lots of theaters are more accustomed to screening film reels. You may need to dust off their projector and help set it up. Do a sound and picture check before the show. Know your test points: the darkest, brightest, quietest, and loudest points in the film. If you can tweak the theater’s settings to work for those scenes, then you should be good.

Come Prepared – Bring multiple screeners in multiple formats. Even if a theater says they can screen your Blu-ray, sometimes their machine breaks down. Make sure that you have tested each screener at home, and not just on your computer.

Watch Your Money – Some people will try to fuck you, and some will just plain make mistakes. If you are renting a theater, make sure you get an agreement in writing stating that all ticket sales go to you. Have a trusted friend sell tickets, and have another one check them at the door to the theater. If the theater will not let you handle the ticket sales yourself, make sure you keep a head count. Also, get a photo of the whole crowd if you can. Bring your own posters in and help put them up in a good location. Don’t just drop them off and trust that they will get put up.

Dress Professionally – Any public speaking instructor that the most important factors in you presentation being a success are your posture and your dress. I wear a suit to all of our screenings. I do this because I take my business seriously, and it helps me get laid. If you dress like a worthless, bumper sticker activist college student then that is how people will view your film.

Introduce Your Film – Better yet, have someone who is good at public speaking introduce it for you. This is your chance to give people a tiny bit of context. Be subtle. Don’t ask forgiveness for how low budget your film is. Just thank people for coming, describe your film in no more than one sentence, and let everyone that the cast or crew will be doing a Q&A in the theater after the film.

Stay Out of the Theater – Do not sit next to your friends and tell them about how you shot each scene. Your presence diminishes the separation from reality that you have worked so hard to create. If you want to be in the theater to see people’s reaction, sneak in after the movie has started and sit in the back. Usually we just head to the nearest dive bar and stumble back for Q&A.

Learn From Your Screening – And realize what you can’t learn from it. Every audience is a little different. Often we would talk about cutting a joke that didn’t get a lot of laughs, and then it would kill the next night. What you can get is a good sense of was the general energy level in the theater is. We were able to pinpoint the sections of Self Helpless where a little of the wind got sucked out of the theater. That showed us which sections we needed to tighten up.

Coordinate the Lights and Sound For Q&A – Try to work with the projectionist on this. If they are too busy, then have someone from your team up in the booth to flip the switches. It is simple, but crucial. As soon as the rolling credits start we bring the lights up just a bit (so you can still see the credits), and we lower the music a ton. We have found that if we forget either of these details then the audience becomes confused and people stand up because they think the show is over.

Start Your Own Q&A – If you just stand in the front of the theater and ask if there are any questions, you will often hear crickets. A better strategy is to start with a statement. Talk about the process of making the movie, tell a funny anecdote, or even ask the audience a question. Anything that will get the conversation between you and the audience going. Once you get things rolling, keep them rolling. Don’t think that you are holding people up. Those folks paid good money to see your film, give them as much as you can.

Microphones – A mic (or in our case 4 mics) is crucial for both your introduction and your Q&A. Find out beforehand if the theater has a mic setup. Often they will have plugs but no mics, or not enough of them. Learn how to set up a few mics and a mixer and bring your own. Q&A is a lot more professional if you aren’t just screaming at the crowd.

Email and What’s Next – Be sure to bring some clipboards and pens so you can pass them around and get everyone’s email address. Also, make sure you have a great answer for “What are you going to do next?”. You are guaranteed to get this question.

Throw an After Party – You don’t need to rent out a fancy club. Even if it is nothing more than telling everyone where the crew will be going for a beer after the show, this can be a great way to interact with your fans (read: get laid). Just make sure that the venue is within a 4 minute walk from the theater, your attendance drops off exponentially after that.

Screening your baby in a theater can be a ton of fun, and it can even make you a little money. This is certainly your best chance to get some action. After a year straight of sleeping on floors, eating PB&Js, and maxing out your credits card, you deserve a rock star night! I hope these suggestions are helpful. Let me know when and where your film is screening. I promise to bring at least 5 people.