If you’ve never heard of movie focus groups before, they are a fun and easy way to experience new films – at no cost to you! In fact, some groups allow you to get paid! People just like you have seen blockbuster films Dirty Dancing, Halloween, Pretty in Pink, and E.T. BEFORE all of their friends – for free.
Though I don’t recommend a gown or tie, movie focus groups definitely feel like an exclusive event worthy of celebrity treatment.
Are you intrigued yet? Suspend your disbelief long enough to read this article. We’ll spoil all the juicy details for you 😉
How do movie focus groups work?
Studios spend a hefty amount of cash per film to buy out theaters for test screenings. They recruit consumers to watch the movie for free in exchange for honest feedback.
Before receiving an invitation to a movie focus group, you may have to fill out a questionnaire first, describing your demographics and interests. Studios don’t want biased reviews, so if you work in the entertainment industry, bets are probably off. Critic and media screenings are separate from focus groups.
Once you are invited to a screening, you will receive an email or ticket voucher that you take to the theater the day/night of the screening.
You usually will receive some basic information about the film. You may be able to guess what it is, but often not. The more popular the film, the less they typically disclose upfront. Generally, studios keep it a secret to avoid bias and spoiling their target audience.
Before viewing, the moderator might ask you to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) stating that you will not share any details of the film until it is officially released.
The movie will likely be in post-production, which means details like CGI effects, subtitles, sound quality, etc will be missing. Sometimes, even key storylines are still in development, represented by storyboards.
This can be a weird experience, but it’s fun to see what movie production is like behind the scenes. Also, it means there is still an element of surprise if you watch it during the official release
After the film, you will fill out a questionnaire to give your opinions and insights about the film.
Can you get paid as a test audience member?
In most cases, your participation is rewarded with the free movie. However, there are a few cases where you may be able to get paid a few bucks as well!
- Perform in-theater checks. The Penny Hoarder has a good article on the process.
- Sign up for gig jobs in the entertainment industry. Try searching ‘movie screener.’
- Start a blog and become a movie critic.
Keep in mind that these opportunities are slightly different from the movie focus groups that we describe above, as studios typically keep paid and/or ‘professional’ screenings separate from audience tests. But there are still some methods to get a free movie plus extra cash!
Alternatively, some paid focus groups may observe data about what you regularly watch at home.
What’s in it for them (What’s the catch?)
Anything free is getting harder and harder to come by these days, so you may be incredulous that you can actually get a $40 night out for (nearly) free – concessions not included. But it’s true! And totally legit. Here’s why:
Market research companies and studios perform movie focus groups to test if a movie appeals to the target audience. Making movies is no easy or cheap endeavor, so forking out the extra cash to make sure it translates well on screen is a worthwhile investment, at least from a studio’s point of view (directors tend to disagree).
In line with most focus groups, companies pay to have their ideal consumer give honest feedback so they can change or confirm their strategy. Movie focus groups are pretty similar to product tests.
Though an upfront investment, audience feedback can end up saving a production hundreds of thousands of dollars, and perhaps more importantly, their reputation.
As noted above, there is some amount of work involved, so it’s not something for nothing. It’s a pretty sweet deal, though, especially if the movie turns out to be good.
Do screenings actually make a difference?
YES. As a test screener, you have a significant impact.
Quite a few blockbuster movies were tested in front of an audience and changed as a result. For example, Goodfellas director Martin Scorcese cut some scenes that were too violent due to audience feedback. Pretty Woman was also changed to be lighter from it’s original, darker storyline.
Of course, sometimes you won’t have much of a legacy… some movies are deemed unfeasible or made unrecognizable after feedback from a test audience.
Rest well knowing that you saved hundreds of thousands of people from a terrible time and money waster. Thank you for your service 😉
How To Be Successful
Movie focus groups are easy to be good at. You arrive, get seated and watch a movie. But there are some tips that will make your time a bit easier:
- Show up early. Screenings are usually overbooked on purpose to ensure max capacity. Avoid being turned away by arriving 30-60 minutes early.
- Don’t bring your phone. If you do, make sure it is far away from your tempted fingertips. Security is very strict in these cases, and you can get a quick boot if they see even a flash of your screen.
- Fill out questionnaires as detailed as possible. The more valuable your feedback, the better the final cut. Plus, it won’t hurt for studios to be appreciative of your opinion.
- Bring photo ID just in case to confirm your identity.
- Be prepared to stay. Sometimes moderators will invite a few people from the audience to participate in a more detailed discussion group about the film. Extra incentive is usually included for your additional time
- Always check the sign-up for future screenings (if you want to be invited again, of course.)
Following these tips will help make your experience a smooth and pleasant one. Well, at least as pleasant as you can control.
Where to find movie focus groups?
Movie focus groups can be pretty elusive if you don’t know where to look.
Until recently, they were usually discovered in-person. Typically, screeners are hobbyists who already know the best opportunities and places to search.
Getting started can be tough, but you’ll have a head start if you follow the suggestions below.
Websites are a major and convenient way to find movie screenings in the digital age. Here are a few of the most popular ones. Sign-up for these sites to receive emails when a test screening is in your area.
Mining forums and search engines are a great way to keep up with movie news and local screenings from fellow movie buffs and enthusiasts. It’s always a good idea to find a community to hang out with on the internet to exchange valuable information.
There are plenty of sites and forums to choose from. Some may better suit your taste than others. Here are a few general suggestions to start with:
- Movie Forums
- Facebook Groups
The second most popular way (besides the sites listed above) that people find test screenings are just being out and about.
Organizers are typically found around malls and movie theaters during the day (any random day, which is the tricky thing) with a clipboard and may ask a vague question such as: “Do you mind answering some questions for me?” Unfortunately, the only way to strike gold is your natural intuition to say yes.
It doesn’t always happen that way. Some organizers directly ask if you want to see a movie for free. Hopefully, you’ll remember this article and say yes!
Other less risky ways are to browse bulletin boards/postings around town and having actor friends/quasi-famous friends “influencers” (easy if you live in LA or New York). They frequently get invited to things like this.
College campuses are a great hub for movie screenings and focus groups in general, especially if you live in a college town. Movie screenings are typically organized by your student government body. Be sure to get involved and sign up to receive notifications for events.
In my experience, movie focus groups are only available to students, but you may find luck if you ask!
Check existing memberships
Credit card companies, your corporate job, associations, etc are also well-known for handing out tickets, either from a sponsorship… or maybe just from a friendly peer.
Try to keep an eye out for postings and don’t be shy to expand your network! You never know what may come of it, though I recommend you only build genuine relationships.
Are movie focus groups worth it?
Even with the emergence of virtual movie focus groups, these opportunities are still a bit scarce these days. Studios are slow to adopt virtual focus groups due to the method missing the group dynamic integral to theatrical experiences.
Moviemakers, on the other hand, hold generally unfavorable opinions of test audiences – virtual or not – for fear of their art becoming generic or predictable at the hands of a mass appeal. And their opinions do hold some truth. Typical American happy endings – for instance – may be a result of catering to test audiences.
However, movie focus groups are an exciting, though volatile, opportunity for enthusiasts.
Luckily, there are plenty of other focus group options to choose from, and you’ve chosen the right site to find them!
If you don’t live in a fancy film location, don’t worry! We always update our newsletter with the best focus group opportunities across the U.S. and Canada. Some opportunities include taste tests, mystery shopping, product tests and more!
And if free movies OR paid in-person focus groups aren’t enough incentive for you to leave the house, I get it. We also list the best online paid surveys, as well as related opportunities such as free samples that are mailed directly to your residence.
I pride myself on delivering the best value for you to get paid through easy and fun experiences. Stan’s Gigs was built from my own passion earning some side money from focus groups while going through college. I hope to pass on all I learned to you.
Is there anything else you would like to learn about? What questions do you have? Let me know in the comments below!