Moviegoers in San Diego and Orange counties got an early look last week at Richard Attenborough's "A Chorus Line," a movie that won't be released until November or December.
Audiences were recruited in Seattle and Chicago for screenings of Peter Yates' "Eleni," a film based on journalist Nicholas Gage's research into the death of his mother during the Greek Civil War.
In mid-October, paying customers in Denver and Salt Lake City will decide whether "Wild Geese II," a British-made adventure film will be seen anywhere else.
It's tune-up time for the film industry, a period of pre-season research screenings, marketing strategy sessions and collective crystal-ball gazing. The kids are about to return to school, freeing a few of the country's 20,000 theaters for the use of adults, and compounding--for Hollywood--the difficulty of selling product.
"The season moves away from teen-oriented product to adult product," says Steven Randall, marketing head of Tri-Star Pictures. "A lot of movies need special handling."
There will still be plenty of movies aimed at a broad audience, including action films with most of Hollywood's reigning macho men--Charles Bronson ("Death Wish III"), Chuck Norris ("Invasion USA") and Arnold Schwarzenegger ("Commando"), followed at Christmas by the champ himself in "Rocky IV."
But the swing is definitely away from such high-concept movies (those with plots simple enough to be understood by focused movie executives) toward stories where character and dialogue are at least as important as special effects.
More than money is at stake. The last quarter of the year is the traditional planting season for Academy Awards, and though the blockbuster-minded studios seem less inclined each year to gamble on commercially difficult films that may pay off only in prestige, most of the year's Oscar nominees will be introduced in the next four months.
The Oscar buzz (hype in its embryonic stage) has already begun, with Columbia's "Agnes of God" and "White Nights," Universal's "Out of Africa," Tri-Star's "Sweet Dreams," and Warner Bros.' "Eleni" generating much of the commissary talk.
But the immediate business at hand is getting people into theaters during a time when school, weather and television are working to keep them elsewhere.
"Generally, the fall is a time of less box office activity," says Marvin Antonowsky, president of Universal's marketing division. "You're dealing with a new TV season, the baseball playoffs and World Series and other entertainment options."
Movies skew toward adult audiences in the fall, not because Hollywood feels it owes us anything, or because it would be embarrassed if "Weird Science" dominated the Academy Awards, but because adults don't have homework and 10 o'clock curfews to deal with.
There are 50 major studio movies scheduled for release during the remainder of 1985, and 20 of them are marked for special handling, meaning the studios aren't committing the $4 million to $6 million it would take to open each of those movies simultaneously in 800 or more theaters.
Some, like Warner Bros.' "After Hours," an offbeat urban comedy directed by Martin Scorsese, will be platformed-- opened in showcase theaters in New York (almost always), Los Angeles (usually) and Toronto (frequently), hoping to garner good reviews and box- office numbers that will help elsewhere.
Others, like 20th Century Fox's grave robbers' yarn "The Doctor and the Devils," will get a limited release--opening in several cities--with a wider release, based on its box-office performance, to follow.
There are signs all over the schedule of studio fall twitters.
"Touch and Go," a Michael Keaton comedy, briefly appeared on the release schedules of both Universal and Tri-Star, and both studios reportedly tested it with research audiences last week.
Universal, which has first refusal on all Kings Road Production films, which made "Touch and Go," won't say what happened, but Tri-Star's Randall says it will be a Tri-Star release, probably this fall.
Other movies that have been on the fall schedule are falling off.
Paramount confirmed Thursday that it has withdrawn "Lady Jane," a historical romantic drama set in 16th-Century England, from its fall schedule. And Universal, which is showing Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" as an Oct. 4 release, won't say whether it intends to go ahead with it or not.
"Inside Adam Swit" was set to be an October release by Tri-Star, but is now in limbo. Randall says the movie is being tested with a new title, "My Man Adam," but no decision has been made about releasing it.
Meanwhile, after showing two other titles, Disney has settled on "One Magic Christmas" for its Capraesque fantasy about an angel who drops in to bolster a depressed family during the holidays.