A small industry screening took place a week or two ago – and here’s a story of a movie studio going out of its way to make a special effort.

It wasn’t the biggest story in the world of movies over the last couple of weeks, but on Sunday 27th March a major Hollywood studio did something a little special, and I wanted to acknowledge what it had done. It’s a little bit of an internal film industry story really, but one worth telling.

The background first. Whenever a big family movie comes around, studios tend to try and liven up the traditional press and industry screening of the film. As such, rather than hiring out a screening room and getting people through the door, they shift the big preview show to a Sunday and make it more of a family event. Then, they set up what’s regularly described as ‘fun in the foyer’. It generally means some variant on activities for kids, perhaps some balloons and a bit of face painting. All for half an hour or so before the film itself begins. They’re very busy mornings as a rule, but with a really lovely feeling to them.

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These screenings are for press, and for those who work in and around the industry. But of course the challenge for some families is that a huge crowded screening with an awful lot of bustle is the last thing their kids would want to go along to. As such, they’ve not been suitable for everyone who’s been invited.

I’ve got a very vested interest in initiatives for youngsters with special educational needs (SEN being the general acronym here), and whilst they’re still limited, a growing number of cinemas around the UK offer, for instance, autism-friendly screenings. You can read more on those here.

These screenings tend to be very special for parents/carers of children who struggle with the standard setup of a multiplex screening (not just for the children: for the understanding amongst other parents/carers too when a child won’t settle/be quiet/other things). Long may they continue, and I very much hope more and more of them make it onto the schedules.

Going back to what happened a week or two back. I want to tell this story for two reasons. Firstly, that I think what happened was wonderful. Secondly, it might just be one of those things that where someone has led, others will follow. I should explain that the studio concerned actively asked me not to publicise this in advance of the event, and didn’t want publicity for the screening it put on. That it also shouldn’t be confused with publicising the film itself. Hence, I’ve left a gap of time before doing so. Yet also, I want to acknowledge that it’s the first studio I know of to make such an effort for such a screening.

With all those caveats in place, the studio is Paramount Pictures UK, and the film in question was a special screening of Sonic The Hedgehog 2 that took place days ahead of the film’s opening.

Popcorn at the cinema

Paramount offered a ‘standard’ family industry screening on that Sunday morning, but a little earlier on the same day had offered a SEN-specific showing as well. Wonderfully, it fully committed to this too. It put together a two-page sheet of information for the youngsters attending the screening and sent it to them in advance, explaining that they were going to get to see the film early, to meet Sonic, to do some arts and crafts, to go up lots of stairs and then see the film early. It wasn’t as busy, the lighting could be more relaxed, and the emphasis was on giving a bunch of youngsters who might not always get to enjoy an event such as this a wonderful morning at the movies.

I’d suggest it was mission very much accomplished too. Some of the pictures coming out of that screening are just wonderful. And I hope this becomes, over time, the norm rather than the exception.

I acknowledge again that this is, of course, still fundamentally a story about a non-public film screening, with a closed invite list. I appreciate it’s a privileged position to be invited to such an event. However, I also think this is how things change. This was a screening for an industry where people have the tools to make more things like this happen, and it takes, I believe, people to take a leap to show that such events work. Imagine a movie premiere being like this. Imagine a film festival.

In this instance then, the leap was taken by a major film studio that wasn’t after an iota of publicity for putting on such a screening. It did it because it felt it was the right thing to do.

I think that’s something worth celebrating and saluting, and I hope it demonstrates a path for other film studios – of all sizes – to follow.

“I am one of the first people in the world to see it because I am a superhero, just like Sonic”, reads one line on the sheet of people given to the attendees.

To the people who worked hard to make this screening happen at Paramount: please apply the superhero tag to yourselves as well please. You know who you are. And I’m very glad you exist.

Images: BigStock

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