Roadshow theatrical release

Theatrical release format / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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A roadshow theatrical release or reserved seat engagement is the practice of opening a film in a limited number of theaters in major cities for a specific period of time before the wide release of the film. Roadshows would generally mimic a live theatre production, with an upscale atmosphere as well as somewhat higher prices than during a wide release. They were commonly used to promote major films from the 1920s60s and build excitement.

Roadshows had a number of features that distinguished them from normal releases. There would be an intermission between the two "acts" of the film, with the first act usually somewhat longer than the second. Films selected for roadshow treatment were typically longer than the usual motion picture, lasting anywhere from slightly more than two hours to four hours or more, counting the intermission. There would be no short subjects accompanying the film, and rarely any promotional trailers. Screenings would be limited to one or two a day, sold on a reserved seat basis, and admission prices were higher than those of regular screenings. Souvenir programs containing photos from the film, photos and biographies of its cast and principal crew, and information on the film's production would be sold, occasionally along with other merchandise. Similar to touring theater productions, films would be presented in a city for a limited number of weeks before the physical filmstock was moved to another city. Finally, while not every roadshow was intended for this, roadshows would sometimes act as a predecessor to modern focus groups to measure audience reception. When this was done, audience members would be encouraged to write their thoughts and feedback on cards, and producers would use the feedback as well as monitoring the audience to gauge which parts of the "long" version of a film should be cut for shorter runtimes during the wide release.

Roadshows were profitable and effective in the early years of cinema, when films spread by word of mouth and releases were more gradual. Societal changes in the 1960s and 70s dulled the prestige of the "event" style, however. Fewer ornate theaters in the style of movie palaces existed by the 1970s, with more movie theaters adjusting for efficient but unromantic buildings unsuitable for fancy events. Roadshows evolved into limited releases after the 1970s, as the faux live theatre appeal began to wear off and more films opted for a "blockbuster" approach of opening to as many theatres simultaneously as possible.