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?


tb said...

"Oh Walter, we love you anyway" Haha!

Jeffrey Leonard said...

My family and I got to walk the 'Red Carpet' at Grauman's Chinese Theater with our good friend/ director, Betty Thomas. It was the opening night for one of her films. You're right, Ken, we DID feel like Hollywood stars for the entire evening.

Ron Rettig said...

I remember attending openings at Carthay Circle Theater in the 50s and sneak previews at Picwood (at Pico & Westwood) and Bruin in westwood.

Ron Rettig said...

I don't understand how guilds and unions allow credits on TV shows, especially reruns and non-primetime shows, no less movies shown on TV, to be rolled so fast and shunted to such a small box they are impossible to read. I am sure original pay and residuals are primary concern but screen credits should be legible! P.S. I am not in the industry.

Anonymous said...

Once I was on "the list" by accident for a few months - it was AWESOME!

In case you haven't seen it, thought this would interest you:

Alan Tomlinson said...

What I truly loathed when I lived in la(that's pronounced "lah" as in blah, blah, blah), were screenings where they were still using temp music and the temp music was something I really liked and the film was excrement.

Just sharing the love,

Alan Tomlinson

Mac said...

"when the lights came back on the entire cast was crying."
Shame on me - but that made me laugh like a hyena.

I went to one of these once at Grauman's Chinese Theatre and afterwards we all went to the Roosevelt hotel.
The film stank, which meant you had to tread that difficult line of trying to be honest, but not so much that you get hit with a chair. But there was a free bar and lots of excellent food laid on. I'd happily do them all the time, if only to eat really well for free.

Doktor Frank Doe said...

I've been to one. It was a Showtime Original that was actually an independent film that Showtime picked up and did the screening at Paramount's theater on Melrose. NO snackbar, no popcorn and really pretty much nothing to take in there with you. BUT, when we came out, all the desserts in the solar system were in the lobby and two acres of food in the garden maze out front.

The food was off the charts, I'm still trying eight years later to lose the weight from the desserts. I met Ellen Degeneres who was sweet, barefoot, hammered and hanging on her then new lesbian-post-Anne Heche girlfriend. Had BIG time eyes going with Kim Dickens, but never got a chance to meet her the whole rest of the evening, still would like to hear from her! Write to me Kim, we had it goin on during your photog session, remember?

It was a great evening and not even all that pretentious as is so often the case with anything more than a flat tire in Hollywood. Hell I'd go see "Volunteers II" if the desserts are anywhere near as good as was that night at Paramount!

Kim! Call me!

A Lion in Winter said...


I have a Friday question for you. Is what Roseanne writes about the TV industry and Chuck Lorre accurate in this blog?

Also about how male writes have zero respect for women?

She mentions that Chuck Lorre "works for" Charlie Sheen (and the Show Runners work for the stars in general), which I find hard to buy.

Here's the link:

Pat Quinn said...


When someone pitches a show to a network, and one or all of them pass on it ... is that show/idea for a show dead forever? That is, can that same person come back next year, with tweaks and changes but the same basic idea to pitch to the same networks?

Pat Quinn

Hollywoodaholic said...

My favorite screening was of an Oliver Stone's film at MGM. The studio screening rooms always have the absolute best prints and sound because many investor are in the audience (gee, a lot of them were Japanese). But what truly made the experience memorable for me was Dennis Hopper and Sally Kirkland sat right in front of me - the ultimate stoner and the ultimate groupie - providing the perfect mood frames for my viewing of ... "The Doors."

Anonymous said...

I don't know why I think it nescessary to defend Nicole Kidmans' looks (in regards to article Hollywood Screening) but I do. We just saw her in San Francisco with no makeup on and she is absolutely beautiful, she still looks amazing. She also was so sweet and kind to all of us nosy on-lookers.

Rich said...

When a movie has a premiere in London, then Hollywood and then Tokyo, do the stars watch every screening or do they wave on the red carpet and then duck out the back door?