For the past month we have been test screening the film and revising based on (private) audience feedback. This process has been highly productive. People have told us the film is very powerful, and dramatically shifted their perspective on the issue, while also offering us useful feedback to make the film even more powerful.
Since many of you may not be familiar with the test screening process, I’d like to break down what that looks like in this update.
- If you’re interested in the behind-the-scenes process, give this a read.
- If not, just know the film is currently on track to finish post-production early summer, exactly as planned.
How The Test Screening Process Works
Several people have asked me – how do you use test screenings?
Test screenings are about listening to what the audience is saying, and noticing how that changes as you change the film.
For example after our first screening we got the note: “The film is really powerful, but the pacing is way too fast.”
After our next screening we got the note: “The film is really powerful – especially the middle and end – but the opening is way too fast.”
Did you catch that? If you’re tracking changes, you’ll notice that between the first and second test screening we fixed the pacing issues in the middle and end, and just needed to do more work on the opening.
Based on tracking these changes, we can see the film improving. (If you want a longer perspective on the re-editing process, you can read a post on the directors personal blog here.)
People unfamiliar with the filmmaking process often assume the edit they see is what the final film will be. In reality, it’s much closer to reading a draft of a paper, looking at the sketch for a painting, or listening to an early demo track for a pop hit. The final product will be a dramatically different experience.
We also track what the audience believes before and after the film, so we can see if the film changed their perspective. This is self reported, but already more then one test screener has gone out of their way to tell us “your film changed my life.”
How We Use Audience Feedback
After one screening someone said to me, “It must be difficult to get all these notes. How do you keep the film from becoming committee?”
Mainly, we listen to the intention behind the note, not just the note itself. For example, if an audience member says: “What that person says in the film isn’t clear – so you should put in voice-over explaining what they meant and why they’re wrong.”
Simply telling the audience what to think in voice-over isn’t really the style of the film, nor would it be fair to our interview subject (and we do intend to be fair to all our interview subjects, even those some may disagree with). However, the fact that a moment isn’t clear in the film may be a real issue that needs to be addressed – and one that I as a filmmaker can find a more creative solution for.
Second,we also look for patterns in the feedback we’re get. If all the notes are about pacing, then I might do a edit just looking at pacing issues. If all the notes are about tone, then do an edit just working on tone. Once you can find a theme and address that, you aren’t dealing with a thousand little nitpicks, but a single unifying goal.
Third, we pay attention to where the notes are coming from. There are several moments in the film that play very differently to people unfamiliar with this issue then to people who’ve been following it a long time.
For example, the first time a picture of a circumcision appears on screen – not a video, a still picture, one that has been on many protest signs before – my test audience of people unfamiliar with this issue gasped. People who’ve been following this issue a long time don’t even blink, and wouldn’t realize that’s actually going to be a major moment for most viewers. I suspect there are going to be a LOT of moments like that where audiences surprise people involved in the issue with their reactions.
We pay a lot of attention to how different groups react to different moments in the film. The goal from the very beginning has always been to have a film you can hand to someone with zero knowledge on this subject, and say “here, watch this,” and they’d be an expert by the time credits roll.
We also recognize that no matter how much we revise this film or how perfect we make it, people will have all sorts of reactions that have nothing to do with us. However, because this issue is so personal, controversial, and brings up so many unconscious issues, it’s even more important that people see this film and discuss this issue.
I expect we’ll be revising the film for at least another month. Then comes final post-production – music, sound, graphics, etc.
In other words – it’s all on schedule. Can’t wait to share the film with you all.