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How Not To Enjoy A Pre-Release Screening Of a Fabulous New Film
A Werewolf of North Columbus
I keep saying to myself It can't have been the full moon! Then again, what else could turn a respected theater manager, gracious in all manner of crowd and premier turmoil, into a slavering werewolf?
There are ways to conduct a pre-release film screening - I've reviewed hundreds of films without being killed - and ways to attend and enjoy a preview screening without hurting anyone. However, this past week, one screening became a mob scene and people were harmed in a number of ways.
If you want to score free tickets to movies before they are released to the public in your town, sign up with Gofobo.com or listen to your local radio stations for giveaways - but prepare yourselves for your own action and adventure before being seated! The following information may help you survive.
The Werewolf and the Film Critic: "OK, I'm leaving!"
The Adventure I saw Instead of the Film
Some untoward incident must have occurred in the theater on a recent evening when I attempted to review a particular film. Things were amiss.
Arriving at the theater during a cold rainstorm at 5.40pm on the evening in question, I inquired about when the usual customer line up for a pre-release screening would begin and when film studio representatives would arrive ( I must sign in with them).
I was told loudly to leave the building and not to return until between 6.30pm and 7.00pm when studio reps would arrive. The atmosphere was one of "lock-down", which I had never seen at this upscale theater. I wondered if a threat of some sort was to blame.
I walked into the ticket lobby; the manager walked out and told 30 people that we could all buy tickets for another film, go to our cars, or stand in line in the wind and rain. -- We were not to be in the building before 6:30pm. This was a bad sign.
Joining the outside line in the rain with a coat and umbrella at 6.25pm; I found the rainstorm and high winds intensified, hail added, and I was hammered by the downpour.
So were a small baby and two elderly women. Granted, the baby should not have been brought to an R-rated film and probably should have been in bed.
A Dark and Stormy Theater...Click thumbnail to view full-size
Side Note: In Central Ohio, theaters are more strictly enforcing a law that makes it a misdemeanor offense to sneak into another movie after watching the one for which you purchased your original ticket. Sneaking into the first movie somehow is a misdemeanor, and faking movie passes is a crime. These crimes entail fines and can include jail sentences. Filming even a few frames of a theater movie on a cell phone is a felony.
Many theaters in town are equipping themselves with restaurants and adult beverage service, so security and drinking-age-compliance laws are subject to strict enforcement. For example, in certain restaurant-equipped auditoriums, no one under 18 years old is admitted, not even with parents. IDs are required. Undercover police officers and mystery shoppers on compliance assignments are present every day to check up on these businesses. In addition, tickets for film showings in these specialized auditoriums are more epensive than those not having restuarant service and alcohol. Movies are becoming more expensive overall.
When finally permitted inside after 20 minutes of intense weather, we found 200 people dry and already in line inside, having been permitted in ahead of us (we'd waited an hour and critics actually have reserved seats).
A City Police officer took us down a dimly lit and dusty hall at the end of the line and told us to "get up against the walls." People began sneezing, coughing, and arguing with one another. I could not breathe, because of the dust making me cough.
By standard policy at pre-release screenings, purses and bags were searched for recording equipment. Each pass-holder received an electronic body scanning to look for hidden electronic devices, because cell phones can both illegally record films and also set off expl*sives.
This is when I left and saw patrons not only wanded to detect recording equipment, but also partially frisked. A few people with cell phones, having been warned by guards while in line to take the phones to their cars, were ejected from the building.
Guards, City Police, and theater management must surely have expected Big Trouble. I'll attend a different screening in the future.
A Question of Safety
How do movie theaters today compare with those of 5 years ago?
Attending a Free Screening
In my area, Press (Critic) and Pre-Release Screenings for pass-holders are often combined. An auditorium in a multiplex theater like one of the great AMCs is used for the screening in the evening, usually for a 7:30pm showing for typically 250 to 500 people, depending on how many pre-release screenings will be given. For example, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel held several of the screenings in smaller auditoriums around the city over a few weeks' time. Childrens' films are sometimes screened pre-release on Saturday mornings.
Guests holding passes are permitted to line up at the auditorium entrance with the four to six security guards hired by the film distributor at about 6:00pm. If the weather is fine, patrons line up outside the building until admission at about 6:30pm. Guards and theater management are usually cordial and professional.
The number of passes given away is greater than the number of seats in the auditorium, so the privilege of attending is on a first-come first-served basis; and the privilege can be lost because of inappropriate behaviors (discussed further below). Some patrons hold seats for their pass-holding friends, but must relinquish those seats if their friends do not arrive by around 7 - 7:15pm.
In one recent screening, 10 individuals were ejected by security guards and police because they refused to give up held seats.
Rules of Pre-Release Screening Attendance In My Region
- Print out your free pass, size 8.5" by 11", from your home computer - it will have your name on it. You might obtain a pass from a radio station giveaway, or from your church or club. You can also join Gofobo.com and receive free passes from time to time. Occasionally, passes are smaller in size, so don't lose them.
- Arrive at the theater early - at 6:00pm for a 7:30pm screening. Avoid taking a cell phone into the building. Pre-release screening passes downloaded onto a SmartPhone like an iPhone cause problems in this regard -- Print the passes for best service. NOTE: Security guards usually have Night-Vision Goggles with which to look for recording devices and weapons during the show.
- If a friend or family member does not show up for a seat you are holding by 7:00 - 7:15pm, security guards and the studio representatives will require the seat be given to someone else. Those who refuse will be ejected and can be arrested.
- NOTE: If you see anything suspicious (abandoned backpack, strange behaviors) in the theater or anyone harrasses you, report this to a security guard immediately.
- Age Limits -- Some of our AMC theaters prohibit children ages 6 and younger from their buildings after 6:30pm, so they are not permitted into pre-release screenings for 7:30pm. R-rated films require patrons to be 17 or older and kids younger than that who show up with passes but without their parents are not permitted inside the auditorium. One night, I saw four 12-year-olds appear at an R-rated film by themselves and get turned away. In PG-13 screenings, families sometimes make it inside with a young child and a baby or two, but if they cry or run around the auditorium, guards ask the families to leave. Your local theater may had additional rules on age limits.
By Critic Roger Ebert
- Seating - Seating is first-come, first-served, yet some patrons with free passes complain loudly and curse about not having their favorite seats. However, extremely disruptive patrons are ejected from the building. When choosing your seats and you see individuals with pens and notebooks, please do not ask them to move. -- These are the critics with reserved seating so that they can do their jobs adequately. If you need to step past them during the film or end credits, please do so quickly - some must take notes even during the credits. Imagine how many notes Roger Ebert took over the years! -- And some of us need to count the words in a scene!
- Food - It's nice to have a free movie ticket so that you can afford food at the concessions counter, isn't it? Many theaters have the policy that patrons may not bring in outside food and drink. One thing we sometimes see is that during one of these screenings, a patron will bring in a large bag of homemade food - fried chicken, sandwiches, cake - a whole meal for four people. This actually is not permitted and the person can be asked to leave the food outside; if a disruption occurs, out they go. The rule will be more strictly enforced as more of the restaurant and adult beverage services open in the theaters.
Prizes and Perks
That sums up the important rules of attendance at pre-release screenings for the public. They can be a lot of fun and provide free entertainment when ticket prices are increasing. They can occur up to six weeks before the wide release date set for the film, all the way up to earlier on the same night of the wide release.
Some of these screeenings involve prizes given away in the auditorium by a local radio show. Films that are 3D in pre-release sometimes give away specially themed 3D glasses. Historical films sometimes include a short presentation by local historical societies and these are very interesting. All sorts of surprises can occur during a screening and we hope that they are always the good kind.
If you have the chance to attend a free Pre-Release Screening or a free Sneak Preview of a new film shown right after the one you are already viewing at the theater, do so and enjoy the experience. It can be a great, fun time.
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