We are in the home stretch on editing our film Take Me Home and felt it was the perfect time for a focus group screening of it. My producing partner Mike Hobert called around and found a great little screening room in Santa Monica that would work with our budget. Check them out here: Santa Monica Screening Room.
Our editor Damien LeVeck saved the film to Blu-Ray and we projected it. It looked great! We had a full house of about 40 people (most not knowing anything about the film). It's important to invite people who don't know much, if anything, about your film and even better if they don't know you.
Having a focus group screening allows you to stand back and watch how an audience reacts to your film. You can see if people seem engaged or bored or happy or scared or uncomfortable by any moments in your film. It also lets you see and hear if the jokes or scary moments are working for an audience. It's very easy to get too close to a project and not realize that what you are finding charming and funny or scary actually falls flat in front of a new audience.
Because we didn't have a lot of time after the film, we passed out the questionnaire first and asked that everyone respond to the questions immediately following the screening. It's important to offer a written questionnaire so you can get feedback from every participant. Include multiple choice answers, like Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor. This allows for a range of response, instead of a simple Yes or No -- which doesn't tell you as much. You can also do a verbal Q&A but definitely get a written questionnaire filled out by everyone.
It's a good idea to have the questionnaires be anonymous so people can feel comfortable about being completely honest. However, you should ask for gender and age range of the audience member. That way, you can get some stats on how certain demographics are responding to your film. This will help you figure out if you are hitting your target audience.
You may be surprised and find that you have an audience in a different gender or age bracket than you had expected. Use your findings to create targeted marketing campaigns. For example, if you find your film appealing to a young audience then focus on that age bracket and the best way to advertise to them. A young audience may be great for internet marketing whereas a much older audience may need to be reached in a very different realm.
For us, we had worried about the likability of one of the lead characters. But what the focus group proved was that we shouldn't be worried. She was chosen by half of the audience as their favorite and only one person listed her as least favorite. Seeing that has focused our efforts to the real problems in the film -- which seems to be the pacing in the first act.
So back to the editing room! And feeling very confident about the film! And that is a great feeling.