Blade Runner Movie Home Page

Paul M. Sammon Interview

What is BR?
News & Views
BR Fun
BR Game
BR Magazine
BR Comic
Site Info
Search Site is the Home of Blade Runner - the current Blade Runner FAQ, news, resources, links, quotes, scripts and everything else Blade Runner.

Blade Runner
Blade Runner
Buy this Mini Poster at

Any Comments?
Please e-mail the Webmaster

Want the DVD? Or the BR Game? Don't know which books or music to get? Maybe you'd like a Deckard action figure? Make sure you check the BR Related section for all your BR choices.


N: There were changes imposed on the film due to early test screenings. Do test screenings work? If you take a film that is aimed at a certain group of people and show it to a general audience, surely it is obvious you are going to get a large chunk of the audience saying they don't get it? If you try to make a film for such a general audience, do you not end up with the homogenized and empty films that dominate Hollywood?

PS: Absolutely. But you have to understand the studio mindset and a few other variables.

Occasionally you will hear a studio exec state otherwise but believe me, the vast majority of them do not give the tiniest of shits about the quality of the films they release. Good, bad, mediocre - who cares? Just so long as it's marketable, and profitable. That observation comes from someone who worked within the studio system for well over a decade, by the way. In fact, I distinctly remember that the first shock I had when I initially started in the system was how so very, very few upper echelon studio execs really cared about movies. Or even knew much about them. It was like working alongside a corporation of plumbers, you know? It was just another job to them.

Here's another example. I was talking with a good friend of mine, an indie film director, not too long ago; we were basically sitting around swapping war stories. Then he mentioned a mutual acquaintance, another director whose overriding desire had always been to work within the studio system. And this guy had gotten his wish; he's been working on studio films for nearly 25 years now. Anyway, my friend said he'd once asked this acquaintance what he thought the two most important things a director working on a studio film could do to make his position as comfortable as possible. Number one, this guy replied, was to make sure your first day's dailies looked good; that way, the studio would assume you were doing what they were paying you for, and turn their attention elsewhere. The second most important thing was to always remember that the studios didn't care about how hard you were working or how hard you were trying to make a good film. All they wanted was a marketable product.

Therefore, test screenings are very important to the studios, since they're convinced that these events are the first indicator as to whether you've created that product. But these screenings are inherently flawed. As you just said, if you test a film that's specifically targeted at a certain group - let's say young women - what do you think the response is going to be from the young men in the test audience who had no idea that they were going to see a romantic comedy? That's the first flaw; often, test audiences have little to no idea of what kind of movie they're going to be previewing. So you've already skewed your results.

Furthermore, I know of very few directors who like test screenings. Some of them will put on an agreeable public face about the experience and say, "Yes, these screenings help us weed out what audiences don't like." Privately, though, they loathe the process. I mean, some studios and directors first decide to make a film based on the quality of its script. So why fuck with that after the fact? The answer, of course, is to try to find a way to squeeze a few more bucks out of your pocket. But the end result often slices away at the very qualities that got the film made in the first place; the first things to go are the little details and connective tissue that gave that script its unique voice. And god help the film that confuses a test audience.

A good example of that one would be - well, how do you think Ridley Scott felt after all those 18 year olds turned in their response cards following BR's initial test screenings in Denver and Dallas? I mean, here was an audience that knew very little about the kind of film they were going to see; they'd just assumed, because Harrison Ford was in it, that Blade Runner was another action picture ala Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark. Which it most definitely is not. So it's no wonder that that audience said they were depressed and confused by the film, especially by its ambiguous ending. A response that led to that ridiculous, ride-into-the-sunset climax being grafted onto BR at the last moment.

Now, maybe if test screenings were more generalized - do you like or dislike this film? - I'd be more forgiving of the process. At least that single question would give you an early indication as to how your movie was going to be received. Even if the response might have been tainted by the fact that you simply drew in a bored or inappropriate audience that was pissed off because the theater's air conditioning wasn't working that night.

To be completely even-handed, though, sometimes test screenings actually do work to a film's advantage. RoboCop, for instance. That movie originally ended with a little montage of scenes showing that the Nancy Allen character had survived her wounds and was recuperating in a hospital, followed by another MediaBreak about the arrest of the obnoxious TV comic who keeps saying, "I'd buy that for a dollar!", followed by a shot of Robo sitting in his TurboCruiser prowling the streets of Detroit. Well, all that was dropped after Robo's test audience said they felt the film should end right after Robo's asked his name by Dan O'Herlihy, and Peter Weller replies, "Murphy." That test audience was right; it was a better ending. But that sort of helpfulness is rare. Test screenings can now result in so many changes - deletions, additions, new endings - that you have to wonder why they made the original film in the first place.


  Back     Index     Forward