I used to find it slightly distasteful when I heard about studios doing test screenings of their films before releasing them to the public. It seemed so contrived to me, and what useful feedback could be garnered on something so subjective? What one person might love, another will hate. On Sunday, July 15th, I changed my mind.
What began as a private viewing to thank those who worked on the film, and for family, friends and funders (and for us to test how the 3D worked on a 30 foot theatre screen) became a test audience that had plenty of interesting and helpful feedback. Although I don’t know if I would make radical changes to a film (and we’re not planning to for Skeleton Girl), having a test screening before a film is complete is something I would consider for future projects.
I’m not going to relay the specific comments we got back as I don’t want to colour the opinions of readers once they see the film. However, I’ll try to convey a general sense of why the feedback was useful and for what components of the film.
The film was shot to be seen in 3D on a 30 foot screen. And it worked. Not in an aggressive, in your face, gimmicky-3D way, but in a nice, yes I can see and feel the 3D in a non-intrusive way. We hadn’t experienced that as much when we saw the film on smaller screens, which also pointed to the fact that the 3D in the final film will look different depending what platform it is viewed on.
I was completely taken aback – and pleasantly surprised – by how engaged the audience was. Admittedly, they were more committed because of the relationship most already had with us, and given the nature of the viewing. However, to this day, I’m still getting questions and theories from people who saw it as to why certain things happened in the film and to get my response. This was a film of under 7 minutes yet it obviously had a strong impact in a very short period of time. People were pulled into the story and the main character to an extent that I hadn’t anticipated. It showed me how vitally important a good story is to drawing people in and engaging them. It also showed me that there are a multitude of things that a filmmaker does in a film that people will latch onto in their effort to make a connection with the character/s. Every detail counts.
Skeleton Girl has been referred to as a “visual feast”. We took time and care to create a visually compelling, highly detailed world in which everything – from the opening titles and sounds to the final credits – merged together in a unified and consistent way. Each element of the film supports the other. The rich sets match the stunning orchestral score. The narration covers some of the back-story, while visually we’re watching Millicent’s story come to life. Although all of this was done in a conscious manner, we discovered that there was so much to take in, that 7 minutes wasn’t enough for people to capture and absorb all of it. This is great for us to hear because it means people want to see it more than once because there is so much going on at different levels. The flip side is we need to keep a close eye on pace and to not overwhelm the senses such that the various elements become too much as opposed to complementing each other.
There were many other comments I won’t get into here. Long story short is what became a chance for us to share the film turned into a valuable education for us as filmmakers. Although I always knew that actually making the film was only one part of the process and that getting it in front of an audience was the other, I didn’t fully appreciate how rich and valuable an experience it would be for us to see and hear how others responded to it. I also realized that it isn’t necessarily our film anymore, it’s now in the hearts and minds of others. And that’s a good thing.