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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

April 2, 2009 at 2:33 PM

Outside filler and no popcorn: The mysteries of preview screenings

I’ve been off the screening circuit for a little while due to a week’s absence (family medical leave; all’s on the mend now), but today am back, running around town for a noon screening at the Seven Gables, a quick stop back at the office, and then a 4 p.m. at Pacific Place. Since people always seem to be intrigued by the nuts-and-bolts of preview screenings, here’s a quick Q & A:
Q: How early do you get to see movies?
A: Depends. Sometimes weeks ahead; sometimes the day before the review is due. Today I’m seeing “Absurdistan,” which opens next Friday, and “The Soloist,” opening April 24. In general, smaller arthouse releases screen earlier; big Hollywood movies screen closer to their release date (presumably because there’s more worry about illegal copying).
Q: Have you ever illegally copied a movie?
A: Like I would know how. Sometimes at screenings there are security guards who search everybody’s bag and confiscate cellphones, and it’s always funny when they look at mine — it’s sort of vintage, and doesn’t take pictures or do much of anything. In fact, it rarely even sucessfully makes calls.
Q: Where are preview screenings held?
A: At regular theaters; most often Pacific Place, Seven Gables or Oak Tree (but they can be anywhere).
Q: Who else is there?
A: For daytime press-only screenings, usually there’s just a few other writers there. (Today at noon there were three of us.) At evening screenings, generally the crowd is made up of what I’ve heard publicists refer to as “outside filler” — people who’ve gotten passes from radio stations or whoever’s sponsoring the screening. I’ve gotten to the point where I recognize some of the regulars. The question is: if they’re outside filler, am I inside filler?
Q: Do you see them for free?
A: A couple of weeks ago, at the screening of “Monsters vs. Aliens,” my ten-year-old niece stared at me with the kind of scrutiny I’ve seen my cat give to a bug and announced, somewhat accusingly, “Aunt Moira, you get paid to go to the movies for free.” I pointed out that I get paid to write about the movies I attend for free, and that the REALLY good job would be just to get paid to go to the movies, but she would have none of it — she’d figured out the scam on which my life is based. But yes, it’s free — and free for all those outside filler people, too.
Q: Do you get free popcorn?
A: No. And in the daytime, often there’s no popcorn at all. This is, of course, very wrong. I usually sneak a can of Diet Coke in, though.
Despite the popcorn shortage, it’s a nice gig and these days I’m very, very lucky to have it. Even if it does mean going to the “Hannah Montana” movie next week.

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