New Book Reveals How Audience Testing Transformed Top Hollywood Films

Kevin Goetz Audience-ology
Goetz: Courtesy of Kevin Goetz; Audience-ology: Tiller Press

A man who made a career out of telling powerful people in Hollywood what they don’t want to hear is now telling everyone what that was like.

Kevin Goetz, founder and CEO of audience research firm Screen Engine/ASI, has written a book, “Audience-ology: How Moviegoers Shape the Films We Love,” with Darlene Hayman that looks back on three decades of using test screenings to help studios and other clients fix their films before release.

That often means he’s put in the position of informing Hollywood’s most prominent executives and creatives about what consumers don’t like about productions they’ve spent years of time and hundreds of millions of dollars working on under intense pressure.

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“I often feel like the doctor coming out and having to give the prognosis or the diagnosis, and you know, often it’s, ‘if you don’t change the DNA of your child, he or she is going to have a very rough life,'” said Goetz on the latest episode of the Variety podcast “Strictly Business.” “Or, ‘your child is absolutely nearly perfect and don’t do a thing.'”

In “Audience-ology,” Goetz enlists a who’s who of Hollywood luminaries with whom he’s worked to share their experiences with test screenings, including Jason Blum, Ron Howard and Chris Meledandri, who wrote a foreword to the book. The author also provides ample insight on how audience testing was instrumental in shaping the final cut of some of the most iconic movies of the past 30 years, including “Fatal Attraction,” “Thelma & Louise” and “Cocktail.”

While Goetz shares never-before-told accounts of how these memorable films could have ended up very differently without his contributions, he concedes there’s only so much he can reveal due to the contractual obligations that come with being in his business. I can’t reveal many of the truths that are in the book because I’m under strict confidentiality agreements,” he said.

But even when he’s not naming names, there’s plenty of light shed on a part of the movie-making experience that often remains in the shadows. Goetz notes that while there’s some folks in Hollywood that aren’t open to audience testing, more often than not the people he’s working with embrace the opportunity to get crucial feedback, no matter how painful it can be to absorb.

Said Goetz, “And those are the filmmakers, obviously, I enjoy working with most, and many of those filmmakers are some of our best filmmakers, our greatest filmmakers. They are not afraid to hear the unfettered truth.”

“Strictly Business” is Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and SoundCloud.