For all the years I lived in Connecticut, I used to feel I was missing out, as I saw offers for advance screenings of films dropping into my inbox and plastered on various websites. But, alas, the screenings were focused on “major cities” and it hardly made sense for me to take a two hour drive to capitalize on an offer to see a film I could catch a few weeks later for all of $10. But now that I’m in New York, I’ve discovered that while these screenings are plenty convenient, the cost could be much greater – to the tune of $5 million for an inappropriate tweet.
That’s not a typo. An e-mail offer for a screening of Ron Howard’s Rush this evening, from the site previewfreemovies.com, has an extensive list of caveats about who can attend and what they’re able to say – or more accurately, everything they can’t say – if they accept such a gracious offer. I’d be out, according to their requirements, right off the bat, because they wish to prohibit anyone from the entertainment industry, market research or media from participating, since the screening is being done for market research purposes. I would say this is a pretty sloppy way to assemble a representative moviegoing sample in New York, but presumably they want “average viewers,” whoever they may be, not us media elite (what, me elite? ha!).
Now it’s worth noting that Rush screens tonight and opens Friday, so this isn’t a test screening that might result in edits and reshoots; all they can gather at this point is how the audience feels about the film. The methodology seems different than that used by Cinemascore, which one reads about, so who the results of this effort are seen by is an unanswered question. But the movie isn’t about to change in the subsequent 72 hours (now that many films debut on Thursday evenings around 9 pm).
What gets my goat about this “invitation” is the lengthy list of warnings and potential liabilities you undertake by participating. While I understand the concern about surreptitious filming (we know that bootlegs of shoddily shot screenings copntribute to movie piracy, and should be averted), the idea that a tweet or blog about a film could ruin someone’s finances is something else altogether. In this case, it’s pretty preposterous, as the film has already been screened at the Toronto Film Festival (and I’ve seen tweets about it), but this language is in place for many such advance viewing opportunities.
Frankly, I have a sneaking suspicion that if an attendee posted a few words or even a few paragraphs online that were laudatory about the film, all concerned would turn a blind eye to the praise. But if anyone of influence happened to express negative opinions, the potential for action rises. While I doubt that any company would want the negative p.r. of swooping down on some innocent Facebooker who didn’t mind the fine print, I bet they’d put the fear of god into them as an example, so they can run their marketing they way they like, with “average moviegoers” as tools to be used, rather than customers and potential supporters.
Please don’t moan to me, movie marketers, about how social media has ruined the preview process and upended your efforts; every industry has had to adjust to the revolution. But if you want to know what people think, it should be an all or nothing proposition – you get your info, but so do friends and family and followers of those you drag in with your offer of marginal value, unless you offer them something more valuable than the right to see a movie a few days early, while being subject to draconian penalties. The public shouldn’t be bought so cheaply while assuming a ridiculous risk. So I just might see Rush when it opens – and say anything I darn well please about it,wherever and whenever I want.
For the record, here’s the language that appeared in the e-mail invitation itself, verbatim:
By attending this private event you agree to all of the following:
- A Photo ID or Passport is required for admittance.
- The audience at this screening may be recorded for research purposes. By attending, you give your unqualified consent to the filmmaker and its agents and licensees to use the recording of your person and appearance and your reactions for its review in any manner in connection with the purpose of this recruited screening.
- No one over or under the above-listed age group or infants will be permitted into the theater, and if you accept this invitation, you and your guest represent that our ages are BOTH within this listed age group.
- No one involved in the entertainment advertisement, market research or media industries, or anyone who writes, blogs or otherwise reports on media in any form or forum whatsoever will be admitted.
- By accepting this invitation and attending this screening, you agree not to disclose any of the contents of the screening prior to the release of the movie to the public. If you are discovered to have written about, posted or disclosed in any manner any of the contents of the screening – including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, blogs or any other social media outlets, we will pursue all of our legal rights and remedies against you.
- The theatre is overbooked to ensure capacity and therefore you are not guaranteed a seat by showing up at this private event.
- There is no charge to attend the screening, but as a condition to admittance, audience members are required to complete a short questionnaire following the movie.
- No audio or video recording devices will be allowed into the theater, including but not limited to camera phones and PDAs. If you attempt to use a recording device you will be removed from the theater immediately, forfeit the device and you may be subject to criminal and civil liability.
- Audience members consent to a search of all bags, jackets and pockets for cameras or other recording devices. Leave any such items at home or in your car.
- All non-camera cell phones and pagers must be off or on silent mode during the screening.
- Anyone creating a disturbance or interfering with the screening enjoyment of others in the audience will be removed from the theater.
By accepting this invitation and/or attending the screening event, you acknowledge and agree that neither you nor your guest(s) are guaranteed admission to the theater, or any specific seating if you are so admitted, and that none of you are entitled to any form of compensation if you do not get admitted into the screening or if you are offered seats that you choose to decline.
And here, also verbatim, is the language that appears in a scrolling box on the actual RSVP form. This is where it gets expensive:
CONFIDENTIALITY AND NONDISCLOSURE AGREEMENT
THIS CONFIDENTIALITY AND NONDISCLOSURE AGREEMENT (“Agreement”) is made and entered into by and between Screen Engine, LLC, a California limited liability company, dba previewfreemovies.com, (“Company”) and/or its affiliated or related companies and clients, and you, the individual confirming your attendance at this event (“Individual”). For good and adequate consideration, the receipt, adequacy and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, Individual hereby agrees as follows:
Individual is or will be a guest of Company at a market research event for the purpose of viewing “works-in-progress” creative content that may be associated with movies and other media (the “Creative Content”) In the course of Individual’s viewing of the Creative Content, Individual may acquire or may be exposed to information (including, without limitation, information that is written, oral, photographed or recorded on film, tape, or otherwise), as well as any as-yet unreleased creative content. Individual agrees that he/she shall not, during the term of this Agreement, or thereafter, in perpetuity, disclose or cause to be disclosed (or confirm or deny the veracity of) to any third party or use or authorize any third party to use:
(1) Any information relating to the Creative Content, the business or interests of Company, or Company’s Affiliates, that the Company and/or its Affiliates has not revealed to the general public;
(2) Any information developed by or disclosed to Individual by Company, Company’s Affiliates, or by any third party, which is confidential to Company, its Affiliates, Clients and/or which is not known to the general public;
(3) Any information that Company, or its Affiliates instruct Individual not to disclose or confirm. The information described in (1)-(3) is hereinafter referred to collectively as the “Confidential Information”
Individual acknowledges that maintaining complete privacy and avoiding disclosure of Confidential Information are critically important to Company and its Affiliates, that Individual would not be given access to Confidential Information if Individual were not willing to agree to these terms, and protect and preserve that privacy and confidentiality, and that Individual’s full and strict compliance with this Agreement is a fundamental inducement upon which Company is specifically relying in allowing Individual to view, hear or learn of the Creative Content. Confidential Information is and shall remain the sole and exclusive property of Company and its Affiliates, and, during and after the term of this Agreement, Confidential Information, even when revealed to Individual, shall be deemed to remain at all times in the sole possession and control of Company and its Affiliates.
a.) Without limiting any other provision hereof, Individual shall not give any interviews regarding or otherwise participate by any means and in any form whatsoever, including but not limited to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, You- Tube, MySpace, or any other social networking or other websites whether now existing or hereafter created, in the disclosure of any Confidential Information or any other information relating to this Agreement, the Creative Content or the business of Company or its Affiliates. If Individual is contacted by a journalist, a representative of the media or other third party who requests that Individual disclose or confirm or deny the veracity of any of the Information covered by this Agreement, Individual shall reject said request and/or issue a “no comment”, and Individual shall immediately advise Company thereof.
b.) Company shall have the right to confiscate, (including seize and destroy the contents of) cell phones, cameras, PDAs and any and all other infringing devices, and take all necessary measures to protect its rights.
c.) Individual agrees that any breach of this Agreement will cause Company and its Affiliates and Clients incalculable damages. Such damages include all costs of any nature associated with the Creative Content, as well as the incalculable management time necessary in creating and distributing the same. Accordingly, Individual agrees that in the event of breach of this paragraph, Individual shall pay Company, upon demand, as liquidated damages, the sum of Five Million Dollar ($5,000 000.00) plus any actual out-of-pocket expense, as well as any attorney fees expended in enforcing this paragraph.
The provisions of this Agreement shall be binding upon and shall inure to the benefit of Company, its successors and assigns and to the benefit of Individual and his or her successors and assigns.