Hollywood Studios Not Screening Films For The Press Is Still a Big Issue.

A few years ago I wrote an article about my concerns over the number of films that were not being screened in advance for the review press. Prior to 2004 only a couple of movies would not screen in advance for critics and they usually made a quick departure from local theaters and ended up on DVD in late-night cable shortly thereafter.

In recent years a growing trend emerged of not screening certain types of films for the press. Usually horror films, certain teen sex comedies, and certain independent films were the biggest culprits. The idea behind not screening films for the press is that a studio believes that a film is destined to take a critical drubbing from the media to the point where the amount of negative press will drastically affect the opening box office.

The strategy is to get the film into theaters and get as much money as you can during the opening weekend and then recoup their investment with the foreign box office, DVD sales, and cable and television revenue.

Since many reviews run on Friday which is opening day for most movies, the thought is that even if a review outlet chooses to see the film on opening day any subsequent review they post will likely not be seen by many until after the all-important opening weekend.

While in the past not screening the film and advances been the kiss of death for the box office, recent films such as the”SAW” franchise, Tyler Perry’s Medea films, and PG-13 horror remakes such as “Prom Night”, and “When a Stranger Calls”, have opened very well or even in the number one position without screening for the press.

Lionsgate has been a studio at the forefront of not screening their films for the press as in many ways box office revenue as a bonus as they do a very brisk business in the DVD market.

As a reviewer, this trend has a very negative impact upon the industry. I can tell you of numerous situations were studio reps and PR agencies contacted us in advance to promote an upcoming film only to tell us they would not screen it for us after we had already completed all of the promotional activities for the film.

Needless to say this trend did not sit well with me or other reviewers who equate this type of behavior is not only disrespectful from the studios would basically free advertising as we are expected to take up valuable banner and page space to promote a movie that a studio does not even have the courtesy to allow us to screen and review.

There have been recent attempts to remedy this situation such as allowing sites to distribute promotional passes for a film but always with the understanding that if we choose to attend we are not there in any official press capacity nor can we post any review for the film until later in the day of the film’s opening such as a few hours after the first matinee showing completes.

I think that that both studios and critics need to take some responsibility for this problem. Critics need to be far more tolerant of the source material. If you are screening horror film, you cannot go in expecting great acting and original storytelling. The film must be judged based upon his genre and a good guideline that I have often used is “is it scary or entertaining”? If the answer is yes then the film has achieved its goal and should be judged against other films in its genre.

Far too often critics attempt to make a name for themselves by being overly savage in critical in their reviews of certain genre films. Not everything is nor was intended to be Oscar caliber art. There is a place for the teen sex comedy, the horror film, and various action films in today’s cinema. This has nothing to do with the dumbing down of America it simply providing an audience some simple entertainment. If a critic cannot be fair and objective than they simply are not doing their job and should not attend the film in my opinion.

Studios on the other hand need to understand that audiences deserve to get the best possible entertainment for their money. If the film is so bad that studios have decided not to screen it in advance for review then perhaps this should be a giant warning sign in big red letters that film should not be released in theaters. I know this is difficult to say when millions of dollars have been invested into a project but, trying to pull the wool over the eyes of consumers is not the way to go.

A recent example would be the movie “Priest”. I began to see trailers for the film several months ago which touted its pending release and 3-D presentation. As the months passed the release date for the film remained in a nebulous status which was then upgraded to a mid-May release in between the release dates of several big Hollywood films.

We then learned that the film would not screen for critics who in all honesty was not a big surprise considering the subject matter of a vampire hunting priest and a post filming 3-D conversion. I’m not here to say it’s a bad film because I have not seen the film. However, one a studio does not screen the film in advance for members of the press; it does make me wonder what they’re hiding and just how bad the film could be to take this drastic step.

The recent study of 16 films not screened for the press, only one “Crank 2 High Voltage”, had a fresh rating on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomato Meter. It used to be that only a couple movies a year would not screen in advance now the trend pushes over 40 films a year. Jeff Katzenberg DreamWorks told me that the 3-D techniques of the past were used to prop up bad movies that studios knew needed something to draw people to the box office. Sadly with the trend of post filming 3-D conversion, which is so prevalent studios are using this dishonest technique to enhance their opening take.

“G.I, Joe The Rise of Cobra” was the most expensive movie ever not screened in advance for the press. Despite this it went on to a large box office and a sequel which is currently in the works. It brings to mind the old Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey adage of a sucker being born every minute. I believe that audiences and critics deserve better and studios should offer full disclosure. Let film stand or fall based on its own merits not through playing a shell game with critics, post 3-D conversion that is touted as a proper 3-D movie, and better quality films. As in the end a better quality product will often result in a greater quantity of revenue.