Sneak-Preview Etiquette

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There may be more than one sneak preview of a film.

Seating is first come, first served. Screening sponsors always distribute more passes than tickets, so you should arrive 60 to 90 minutes before show time to maximize your chances of getting tickets. For big movies, such as the next James Bond film, you probably should arrive even earlier than that.

Passes usually admit one or two people. But if the pass admits two people, both people have to be there for you to get two tickets. So, plan your arrivals accordingly. Otherwise, you can only exchange the pass for one ticket — and all the tickets may be gone by your guest arrives.

Do not sit in seats with Reserved signs on them. The film distributors require a certain number of seats to be set aside for movie critics and other special guests, whether or not they actually attend the screenings. These seats usually stay reserved throughout the screening.

Whenever possible, please fill out the Comment slips offered to you by the screening facilitators. Getting prerelease feedback from film reviewers and sneak-preview audiences is the main reason why studios have advance screenings. Sometimes the screening facilitators will reward your participation in this Comment program by giving you a pass to another advance screening.

Leave your cell phones and other picture-taking or recording devices in the car. The film distributors do not allow these electronic devices at sneak previews. If you have one, they will make you take it back to your car — probably at the worst possible moment for you.

Please do not sign up for movies that you do not plan to attend. Moreover, if you sign up for a sneak preview online, and you later find out that you cannot attend that screening, please go back to the website and release those passes. When you sign up for passes and do not use them, you keep two other people from enjoying a free movie.

For sponsored screenings, you can pick up passes at the sponsors’ locations. There are also word-of-mouth screenings, which may distribute passes at different locations, such as Readers Corner bookstore on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, or through individuals. For your convenience, I have listed both types of screenings above. (Note: I do not list paid sneak previews.)

Even if you don’t have a pass, if you know where the preview will be playing, and go at least an hour early, you can usually get in on someone else’s pass or pick up an extra pass at the theater. Just go to the head of the line, tell the screening facilitator that you need a ticket, and wait for your chance wherever they exchange passes for tickets.


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of the Triangle Arts & Entertainment Free-Film List, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of advance screenings of films in the Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill area of North Carolina.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.

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By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).