Online service bows evaluation division

OTX, the online test-screening service long used by the majors, is looking to take some of the risk out of the pricey bets made to produce movies.

The company, which was acquired by French research firm Ipsos earlier this year, has launched a script evaluation division that will assess the playability and marketability of screenplays before they’re produced.

OTX doesn’t “claim to be able to predict box office based on a script,” said Vincent Bruzzese, prexy of worldwide motion picture group at Ipsos OTX. “Nobody can do that. We don’t know the screen count, the P&A, the competition. There are so many factors to take into account, but we can give an assessment of a script’s potential. We know what people will respond to.”

The service can be compared to the kind of coverage that’s already done internally at studios and production shingles, or by outside script reading services. But OTX is looking to broaden the scope of script assessment by using many of the same tools it employs to test-screen and conduct tracking for pics before they unspool in theaters.

The timing could be perfect for OTX considering studio chiefs and film financiers are more cautious than ever about greenlighting projects — hence the emphasis on studio fare with built-in brands. Yet OTX’s process of relying on past releases as a guide could also result in still more cookie-cutter fare bowing at the megaplex.

OTX’s new division will essentially compare a script to other pics in its genre and identify its target demographic and box office potential, as well as potential marketing messages.

Creative elements are analyzed and compared with similar pics to suggest how audiences might react to scenes, based on a database of research OTX has assembled over the years. Recommendations are made to address any negatives. The scripts are also pitched to 1,500 moviegoers to gauge their interest in wanting to see the film.

Each report costs $5,000.

“One of the most important questions this multistage process answers is ‘Should we make this movie?’ Bruzzese said. “Over the years we have been asked to evaluate scripts from a large number of theatrical clients and our resulting track record convinced me to finally centralize this service for the industry.”

While studios have deep enough pockets to make changes to a film during the post-production process, independent producers don’t have the kind of coin to make last-minute changes, especially if a film doesn’t test well.

The service could also be used by film buyers and foreign sales agents when choosing which projects to pick up.

“There is a difference between a film that one wants to make at a price, financed through foreign sales and planned for a platform release that involves very little risk versus a movie that would need a strong P&A commitment to recoup its negative cost,” Bruzzese said. “We understand this and take the context of the request into account with each project.”

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