Several weeks ago, I queried Motive Marketing about plans to screen the film for press. Ordinary practice in the industry is to have test screenings (early showings of the film in unfinished form, used to influence the final shape of the film based on audience feedback), promotional screenings (showings of the film to folks in the target demographic to build buzz and positive word-of-mouth), trade screenings (showings of the film to exhibitors to butter them up and encourage theater bookings), and press screenings (private showings of the film for critics; when these are not held, members of the press are most often invited to attend selected promotional screenings).
So when I contacted Motive, I was specifically wanting to find out about press screenings and/or press-invite promotional screenings. (I attended a private promotional screening for Discovery Institute supporters.) Motive indicated at the time that the movie would indeed be screened for the press sometime closer to the film’s release, but that no screening dates had yet been set.
Well, here we are less than a week before opening, and I have yet to hear about a screening for the press in the Seattle market. And now here’s a report from Sean P. Means, writing in the Salt Lake City market:
Every semi-knowledgeable moviegoer and reader of movie criticism knows what the words “not screened for critics” means: The movie is a dog. “Not screened for critics” means a movie is so terrible that the studio will take its chances, deprive itself of free publicity, and go without release-date reviews. Considering the garbage the studios will show us critics ahead of time (such as the gruesomely lurid “Street Kings” or the laughably stupid “10,000 B.C.”), to keep a movie away from critics is usually a sign that things are really, really bad. … I contacted the public relations firm handling the movie, and was told there were no screenings for critics for “Expelled.” Critics in other cities were told the same thing.
Means rightly points out that failure to screen films for the press is not all that unusual in the industry. He notes that nineteen films so far this year have ditched the press in his market, for example. But I think he’s right when he wraps up his commentary as follows:
I have no idea whether “Expelled” is a good movie or a bad one. Like a good critic, I will reserve judgment until I actually see the thing. But I can’t help but be struck by the irony of Stein’s own words in the movie’s introduction (which is also on YouTube): “In my experience, people who are confident in their ideas are not afraid of criticism. So that tells me the Darwinists are afraid. They’re hiding something.” What, pray tell, are Stein and the “Expelled” producers hiding? And what are they afraid of?
To be completely fair, the producers have obviously screened the film for select members of the press: Time, Scientific American, and Variety (among others) have already published reviews (all very unfavorable). But failing to get the film out for wider press exposure sure doesn’t look good. From a marketing standpoint, I imagine the PR firms think they’ve gotten the news out to the film’s target demographic without the help of the press. We’ll see.
Equally troubling, though, is the failure of the film to properly show up on the movie-going public’s radar through the usual channels aside from the press… that is, the websites that people actually go to to find out about films and where they’re showing. If you look up the film on iMDB, for instance, the poster doesn’t appear with the listing. Neither Boxoffice Mojo nor The Numbers (which track openings and receipts) even list the film as opening on April 18.
But get this: If you try to find movie times at Fandango, you’ll find data that conflicts with Expelled’s “Theater Locator.”
In the Seattle market, for instance, the Theater Locator tells me that the film will be playing, amongst other places, at the Uptown and Pacific Place. Well, somebody had better tell the theaters, because no screenings of Expelled are listed for those theaters on Fandango. Perhaps the Theater Locator is listing private screenings in addition to public screenings; but if that’s the case, it’s not very helpful. You’ll only be able to get tickets to those screenings via private parties, and proceeds won’t count toward official boxoffice tallies. (And be sure to use the ZIP look-up option on the Theater Locator, too; the market look-up isn’t smart enough to know that Redmond, Bellevue, and Kent are part of the Seattle market.)
The film’s producers are now claiming that the film will be opening on over 1000 screens. One thing they’ve certainly got to know: how many prints of the film have been struck. I just hope they manage to get those prints to the right theaters, because right now, it doesn’t look like the left hand knows what the right is doing… and neither hand has managed to figure out how to communicate properly through the mouth.