Making a video that no one sees is equivalent to singing in the shower. The results may be great, but no one will know. So how do you get people to see your work? If you have deep pockets, you could buy an hour’s worth of air time on a local network affiliate to get your opus in front of the people. The downside of this route, other than the negative impact on your bank balance, is that you don’t get to see your audience react to your work.
A better alternative may be to organize a "screening" for your video. Think of it as a Hollywood movie premiere on a smaller scale. For a screening you would set up a way to view the video (the screen in question), appropriate audio support (amplifiers, speakers) and a comfortable place for your audience to sit. In return, you get to see if the viewers laugh, cry and applaud during the pertinent moments of your show. In this article, we’ll show you how to host a successful screening using a little equipment and good planning.
Money Isn’t Everything
Audience feedback is especially valuable if you’re planning to sell your video later. Your viewers become a marketing test group, giving you information to make adjustments to your program. And if your show works on every level and the audience jumps to its collective feet in ovation … well, that’s pretty nice, too.
But even if you have no monetary aspirations for your videos, a screening is a good idea. Nobody wants to work in a vacuum. Getting feedback from your peers helps your skills grow. If you belong to a group of videographers, suggest a group screening to them. If several group members show their work, it takes some of the performance pressure off each of them–and you’ll have a guaranteed minimum audience, your fellow videographers.
A practical reason for a screening is that it gives everyone a deadline to work against. When the show must go on, you can’t make the excuse of "I’ll finish that project when I have the time." When you have a concrete date to show your work, you are more likely to finish on time. And perhaps the best reason for a screening of this type–it’s fun to show off your work.
House Lights, Please
So how do you go about setting up a screening? That depends on how many people will be attending. Don’t rent the local auditorium if you don’t need that large a space. Michael Handler, a professional videographer in San Francisco, created a documentary about a week-long Jazz Camp. Because music was so important to the show, he wanted people to hear the audio using the best equipment possible. He held the screening at his house, with an audience of between ten and fifteen people.
"Maybe there’s some ego in here," Handler says, "but I wanted to relive some of the video moments, get … reactions and get the praise or the boos. You can’t get that feeling when you ship the finished video in a box."
Size Is Important
In this case, Handler had all the equipment he needed at home. If you expect a larger crowd, there are some rules of thumb to use, according to Steve Hutsenpiller, corporate communications specialist for Harris Corporation.
"For example," Hutsenpiller says, "a 26" monitor is good for 20 to 40 people." The shape of the room is also a factor.
"If you have 400 people in a room that is not deep, but wide," Hutsenpiller says, "then you need two screens, one on either end of the room. Each screen can be smaller, but you need two of them."
Hutsenpiller also says that the speakers built into TV monitors will work for small groups, but if the crowd is large, then a public address (P.A.) system should be used. When possible (such as in a hotel meeting room), the audio should be fed into the P.A. system (hard wired in the room) but supplemented with a separate amplifier and speakers. He says that for 200 people he would use a 100-watt amplifier and two 100-watt speakers on either side of the screen. These speakers should be placed far enough away from the screen to give the stereo sound a feeling of separation.
If you do use smaller monitors for a large group, you will need to get them up in the air; otherwise, the folks in the back rows will see the heads of the people in front of them instead of your video. There are carts made for this purpose that will put the screen several feet above the floor.
Free Is Good
Many hotels will prepare a screening room for you if you rent one of the facility’s meeting rooms and then rent the equipment from another provider. Of course, you can pay several hundred dollars for this convenience, which may be more than you had in mind.
When Vince Courtney, author of children’s books and an independent producer, wanted to show his program, "Scary Stories for Kids", he got on the phone.
"I called the public library’s media director," Courtney says, "because I knew they had a wide-screen projector as well as a room to view it in. And, of course, it fulfilled the pre-mandated requirement of being free." Free is good since large screens run into hundreds of bucks to rent.
"My purpose for the screening was several fold," Courtney says, "I wanted to get the reactions of parents and kids to the video. I asked a number of different age groups of kids to be there to gauge how scary it was. I also brought along popcorn and sodas to make it fun for the kids and give it more of a movie premiere feel.
"It gave the cast and crew a chance to watch the fruits of their labors and enjoy the audience reaction. The library was very helpful. All we had to do was clean up our mess after it was over."
Public facilities, such as libraries, are a good bet when you want to hold a screening for free, but you may be able to work out deals with other types of venues. Sports bars and coffee houses often have big screen TVs already in place. The key to approaching a business for a screening is to remember the reason the business exists: to make money. The question a business owner will ask (directly or indirectly) is what’s in this for me.
It’s All Economics
You will be excited about showing your video, but when you approach a business owner, be pragmatic. Tell the owner that you expect 50 people to show up for your screening and that these people will be hungry and/or thirsty. Ask the owner for a time when the business usually has no one in it, a time the owner would love to provide services to your hungry/thirsty audience. Courtney has also set up this kind of screening.
"Many bars think it’s cool to premiere something and will be more than happy to help," he says. "And they usually provide pretzels or peanuts so their patrons will be thirsty and order beer, beer and more beer."
Rules of Order
If you put together a screening for several videos, each from a different producer, you need to set some ground rules. To keep your screening from sinking into chaos, decide what your rules are and stick to them.
Let’s say you’re putting together a festival for short videos. Determine what "short" means and let everyone know what it is. If the cutoff is ten minutes, and someone brings an hour show, put your foot down. Give him the option of showing the first 10 minutes or nothing at all. It doesn’t really matter what the rules are, as long as you enforce them.
Decide in advance whether you will let the producers pontificate about the programs. This may be great fun, but have a set amount of time for speeches or the first orator might chase away your audience.
Will you allow the audience to make comments on the videos? If the folks watching are tactful and have an understanding of what the producer accomplished, this could be a great way to get feedback. But unbridled criticism can crush a budding producer if it’s too biting.
Hosting a screening takes planning and work, but there is no substitute for a live, spontaneous audience reaction. Producing a video, after all, is merely another way of communicating your ideas. Make sure that someone is listening … and watching.
William Ronat owns a video production company.
Screen Size-to-Audience Ratio
|Size of screen||Number of viewers|
20 – 40
7.5 x 10 (12′)
9 x 12 (15′)
300 – 400
If the room is very wide, but not very deep, you will probably need two screens, one on either end of the room.
*Source: Steve Hutsenpiller, Harris Corporation