Perşembe, Kasım 15, 2007

Tale of a Test Screening

It seems to me that there have been more advance screenings of late in Madison, or maybe I'm just hearing about them more, but last night was the first time that I'd been aware of a test screening in my city. The difference between a sneak preview and a test screening is that the latter is done by a studio or a filmmaker to get feedback from an audience which might affect the final cut of the film. All right, I'm still not absolutely positive that last night's free showing of Stop Loss, the latest film by Boys Don't Cry director Kimberly Peirce, was a "test screening," but since it is not scheduled for release until March 28, 2008, I think it's safe to assume Paramount Studios--reps from whom, with Pierce, were in attendance--were looking to gauge the audience's reaction. Passes were distributed via a mailing list for the Wisconsin Film Festival; you were asked to RSVP, although my wife and I did not (actually, we were waiting until the last minute to see if we could get into a sneak preview of Beowulf, which didn't happen)--we were still able to get in with no difficulty. It was held at the small but cozy theater at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and as you stepped through the gallery you were confronted by security guards ensuring that you had no cameras or video equipment. This frequently happens at sneak previews, too, although the security looked a little more professional, and there was also a table at which you could sign up for a Stop Loss mailing list and pick up stickers and posters for the movie. I strongly suspect the mailing list was actually another method to get feedback from the audience and to follow up with them. I did grab a sticker, which contains a link for a website containing a streaming video interviewing real soldiers grappling with the army's "stop-loss policy." (The page is owned by Paramount and linked to the official movie's promo site.) The stop-loss policy, of course, is the method by which U.S. soldiers have their service in Iraq extended beyond their initial contract and against their will, and is also the main concern of Pierce's (narrative fiction) film. The screening began fifteen minutes late, and for approximately an hour before it began, a looping slideshow played on the screen, set to loud music and depicting photographs taken by soldiers in Iraq. After a brief introduction by a UW film professor, Pierce took the stage, explaining that the film was inspired by her younger brother's service in Iraq. Up to this point, my wife and I were convinced that the film was going to be a documentary (she seemed to introduce it as such), but in fact it's a very conventional story of a soldier (Ryan Philippe) going AWOL when he learns that he'll be sent back to Iraq through the stop-loss policy, and he travels from Texas to New York in hopes of meeting with a senator who will help his case. I won't comment too much on the film, since it may not be the final cut, but we disliked it to the point of not even staying for the Q&A with Pierce (most of the audience also left). The Q&A was going to videotaped, either to be included on the film's website or on a future DVD, I'd guess. On the way back to the parking garage, we discussed our disappointment with the film--maybe a little loudly, I'm not sure. I said that it addressed my criticisms of In the Valley of Elah by presenting the soldiers as humans instead of machines, but that it felt like an afterschool special, and the script was didactic and obvious. Actually, I believe I said, "Why did it have to SUCK?!" In the stairwell of the garage I noticed that we were being closely followed by a man with a notepad whom I recognized from the screening. I stopped talking. Midway between the third and fourth floor, this man, without looking up to see where he was, suddenly turned around and headed back down. Perhaps I'm being paranoid, but now I'm wondering if Why did it have to SUCK?! was scribbled down on that pad, and is now making its way back to the execs in Hollywood. Oopsie.

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