Getting Access to Film Screenings
Every major film studio has agents (or film publicists) to work with the media. Pre-release screenings are set up in major metropolitan areas, and film critics are invited to these, and they are usually offered the best seats in the house. Many of the pre-release screenings are also designed as pre-buzz or marketing screenings with other special guests, radio contests winners, and promotional guests serving as audience members as well. Studios prefer that critics view films with a full house, hoping that the impact of the audience will positively influence reviews.
All of this changed during the pandemic, as screenings were sent directly to the inboxes of critics for home viewing.
During awards season (Late October-December) critics will receive special invitations to critics-only screenings of key films that studios hope will be in consideration for year-end awards. Sometimes, studios will offer screenings in major cities like Los Angeles and New York with filmmaker Q&A, and even offer travel and lodging expenses for critics to attend. When films earn award-winning (or award-nominated) status, it usually has a positive influence of box office financials. Studios have actually been known to reserve entire theatres just so one individual critic can view a film during awards-season. That should offer an example of the impact of a critic’s view on a film.
During the pandemic of 2020, critics and journalists got more opportunities to conduct interviews through virtual press conferences.
Studio agents also provide access to various types of publicity materials through electronic press kits (EPKs) for critics including – film images, movie trailers, background materials on the film and filmmakers, interviews with filmmakers, documentaries on the film, etc. The critics rely on the publicists for these valuable resources because they provide graphic design elements as well as important reference materials for the published reviews.
As a film critic develops a strong portfolio of work, it actually becomes pretty easy to reach out to publicists for screening opportunities. Finding a recognized platform to publish your reviews, joining a film critics group, and networking with other film critics all provide avenues to getting in with the studios. You can contact studio representatives in California, and they will direct you to regional reps (for North Carolina critics, most reps are in Atlanta).
Most films distributed in wide-release will have early screenings (in-person or online). If a movie isn’t screened for the critics –it is usually a bad sign. There are a few exceptions to the rule. Faith-based films, and other specialty demographically-targeted films (Madea films & popcorn comedies) rarely have preview screenings because the filmmakers don’t feel that critics will add or distract from the box-office results.
Where are screenings? Most may not be local unless you live in a large metro area –so you may need to drive some distance to see the preview screening (In North Carolina you could find screenings in Charlotte or Raleigh in non-pandemic times).
How do I get on the invite list? You have to prove you are worthy. If you are reviewing new films –you need to have at least 6 months – three years of reviews under your belt and prove that you have an audience. Then you can contact the distribution companies public relations offices and get the process started. They will want to see and examine your body of work (print, radio, TV, online, podcasts).
What studios will want to know: Your media outlet, statistics or distribution of your outlet, and key demographics (age, gender, income, habits of your audience, etc.).
Formal Request: To be listed as a media member – your will need to compose a letter of request with all of the above information included. Studios may also require more information as well.
Invite list (exception to the rule) – If you are hired by an established media outlet –they may already be on the invite list.
How screenings work: You will receive an RSVP invite by email a week (or a few weeks) prior to the opening of the film to attend a preview screening. Screenings can occur weeks before the release or a few days prior to the release date. Most screenings are held during the evenings (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) and on rare occasions on Saturdays. The exception to this is during awards-season when screenings may be held during mornings (or any other time that is acceptable for the critic).
Home screeners or online screeners: Some studios will also provide secure online screeners or DVD screeners for critics. This is most common during awards-season. It is all about providing every available opportunity for the critics to have access to a film.
- Treat publicists with respect and they’ll return the favor.
- Meet deadlines when RSVPing to screenings and arrive at the screening at the required time (if you mess these up you could fall off the media list).
- Send them links to your reviews or copies upon request.
- Be polite –say please and thank you (remember publicists also help you with interview setups and access to press kit materials).
Embargoes: Follow guidelines from studios about dates for releasing your reviews to the public (for most it is the day before or the day of opening). Honor their request if at all possible.
Getting Blacklisted: Three main ways to get blacklisted by studios and publicists – 1. Too many bad reviews 2.Breaking embargoes. 3. Being disrespectful to publicists or filmmakers.
Problems with getting blacklisted: You’ll have to pay for your movies, you could lose your film credentials, and your credibility.
Blurbs request: There may be times you are asked to supply “blurbs” or brief comments to publicists for use in marketing materials. Examples: “Thor: Ragnorok is the MCU’s Best Full Fledged Comedy,” “Ryan Gosling is Out of this World in First Man,” “Daniel Day Lewis IS Abe Lincoln”, “Halloween is more Terrifying than The Conjuring.”
The film Junket: This happens in post-production when studios are marketing the film and trying to get a buy-In from critics. They set up these mini-interview-tours with actors, directors, and other key-crew members to be able to meet critics and have times for short interviews (usually one on one). Watch this package above that was produced for Bill and Ted Face the Music.
*Watch the above clip from Nottinghill for an example of a junket setup
Glatzer, R. (2001). Beyond popcorn: A critic’s guide to looking at films. Spokane, WA: Eastern Washington University Press.
Manning, N. T. (2018, November 4). Screen me please [pdf]. Retrieved from GWU film critic class
Null, C. (2005). Five stars!: How to become a film critic, the world’s greatest job. San Francisco, CA: Sutro Press.
Quiray, G. C. (2014). Under the tent-pole: A primer on moviesblockbusters, oscar winners, alternatives, and you. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.