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Because I’m such a frequent moviegoer, people often ask me how to get into early screenings. With some time and perseverance, you should be able to get passes to plenty of advanced screenings throughout the year.

Why are advanced screenings so popular?

• You’re seeing the film before it’s officially released – sometimes weeks or months in advance. It’s refreshing form an opinion of a movie before you’ve been overwhelmed by reviews, advertisements, or opinions of friends and family members. Also, it’s just gratifying to see a film before anyone else.

• They’re free! These screenings are put on by studios to show the film to members of the press (who in turn provide free coverage of the film) and to create positive word of mouth among moviegoers. Audiences are much more likely to recommend a film to others if they didn’t pay to see it. That’s why you should be skeptical of films that aren’t screened in advance. 90% of the time, it means that the studio doesn’t have any faith in the movie.

• No commercials and no trailers. Commercials and trailers are exceedingly rare at advanced screenings, meaning the film actually starts on time.

• You’ll usually get the opportunity to share your thoughts on the film with a studio representative, if you choose to do so. Occasionally, directors, screenwriters, producers, and even cast members will show up at these screenings to gauge reaction to the film. This is most common in Los Angeles, but it does happen in Chicago, New York City, and other markets. Personally, I’ve been to screenings with directors Ben Affleck, Paul Thomas Anderson, Michael Mann, and David O. Russell in attendance, three of which held a Q & A session.

• Other freebies! Free posters are relatively common, as are pre-show giveaways. I’ve even seen entire audiences given vouchers for free popcorn and soda.

How to get in:

1) Live near a large city. If you’re within driving distance of one of the top 50-75 metropolitan markets in the US, you’re in good shape ( If not, screenings might be difficult to come by.

2) Websites like are the best online sources for passes. Create an account and you’ll occasionally receive invites by email. does a great job of cataloging screenings by city. Follow these sites on Twitter and like them on Facebook for the latest info. In my experiences, most of these sites are not overly spammy. The more often you check them, the more likely you are to get passes.

3) Radio, TV, and print contests. Visit the contest page on the website of your local radio station, TV station, or newspaper.

4) Credit card companies occasionally offer advance screening passes to cardholders. American Express and Visa Signature do this quite frequently.

5) Make friends with a film critic! Be their +1!

What to do once you have a pass:

1) Arrive at least an hour early to avoid sitting in the front row. Two hours for higher profile releases. Most screenings will have at least 10-20 seats reserved for members of the press. Screenings are intentionally overbooked, so it is possible to be turned away if you’re not there early enough.

2) Get a seat before you make your way to the bathroom or concession stand. The theater will fill up quickly.

3) Don’t save seats unless you don’t mind dirty looks or the occasional swear word tossed in your direction.

4) Once the film starts, don’t use your phone inside the theater. Don’t even remove it from your pocket or purse. Security will assume you’re recording the film and will throw you out without hesitation. It’s best to turn it off, but at least set it to “vibrate” and leave the theater to take a call or read a text.

The downside to advanced screenings:

• Some audience members are only there because it’s free and they have nothing better to do. These people will not always be the friendliest or most polite.

• Movie theaters aren’t making any money on these screenings (aside from concession sales), so they may not put you in the most high-tech or most comfortable theater. Those theaters (IMAX, for example) are usually reserved for paying customers.

• You probably won’t have an extra seat next to you if the theater is near capacity. Also, you’ll probably have to deal with people coming and going fairly often, at least before the movie starts.

Happy moviegoing!

-J. Olson