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Lights! Camera! Ballots!

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 3/11/2015 David Macaray
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"If my books had been any worse, I wouldn't have been invited to Hollywood; if they had been any better, I wouldn't have gone."--Raymond Chandler

No one is going to tell you that Hollywood is, first and foremost, all about the "art," the "inspiration," the "creativity," and that any endeavor that is remotely concerned with "commerce" is of secondary importance. No one is going to tell you that. Every movie ever made--even David Lynch's "Eraserhead," and Lars von Trier's "Dogville"--was made in the hope of turning a profit.
At the same time, despite Hollywood's putative obsession with the bottom-line, that doesn't mean the studios (not just the indies but the majors) haven't produced hundreds of sensitive, meaningful and undeniably artistic films, because they clearly have. But still, the movie business is a business. Which brings us to the pesky topic of "test audiences."
Some years ago I read that there were only three directors who wielded "final cut" privileges, meaning that the studio, per contractual agreement, couldn't change so much as one visual frame, one line of dialogue, or one note of music without the director's approval. Those three directors were: Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen. Again, this was a few years ago. There may be more today (just as Kubrick, Altman and Coppola may once have had that privilege).
It was a bit shocking to learn that the estimable Martin Scorsese wasn't included on this list. That meant that not only could Scorsese be second-guessed by any number of "non-artistic" types, but his movies could be shown to test audiences in San Jose, California, to determine how they should be changed. A test audience can force a respected director to change everything from the central narrative to the musical score.
For instance, if a test audience overwhelmingly preferred a happy ending to a sad one, or indicated that a minor female character should be made more appealing, or that a particular sequence should be either beefed up or slimmed down, the studio is going to insist the director make those changes.
After all, it's the paying audience that will ultimately determine a film's success or failure, and if a test audience clearly indicates that they positively hate the movie in its present form, the studio risks financial disaster by ignoring them.
On the other hand, when a film director allows a random audience to dictate his or her artistic choices (i.e., allows themselves to be at the mercy of mob rule), where does cinematic "creativity" come in? Where does that leave the "art"?
What if before being published, Edgar Allen Poe had been required to submit to a test audience of readers, and what if the overwhelming majority of those readers had found his material to be "too depressing" or "too gratuitously morbid." Would the publisher have urged Poe to "tone it down" a bit?
The same for Picasso. What if a random sampling of art aficionados had convinced the gallery owners that Picasso's work was both pretentious and silly? Would Picasso ever had gotten the exposure he deserved?
The year is 1939. The epic film, "Gone With the Wind," is about to open across the country. But because it had been test-marketed in Atlanta, the ending has been changed. While Southern audiences didn't mind the romance or degradation, they objected to having the North presented as victors. They urged the studio to depict the Civil War as having ended in a tie. No problem.

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