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How to Score Free Screeners Before New Movies Come Out

Illustration for article titled How to Score Free Screeners Before New Movies Come Out

Photo: Antonio Guillem (Shutterstock)

Your average cinephile might itch with anticipation before a new blockbuster release, but unless you’ve got a legitimate critic’s platform, you’ve got slim chances of receiving that coveted screener. Luckily, it’s probably easier than ever to become something of a movie critic, provided you’ve got the necessary writing chops and willingness to badger publicists. Here’s how you can get ahold of movie screeners.

Start writing about movies

Screeners aren’t available for just any movie aficionado—plenty of people are enthusiastic about film and look forward to the Academy Awards, but unless you’re writing about movies regularly, it’s going to be difficult to convince a publicist to send you a screener.

Your chances are probably better than they were in the heyday of old media, though, when professional critics occupied a vaunted niche at big newspapers and magazines. To that end, you can start out small, writing about movies on your own blog or pitching movie reviews and criticism to news outlets, including smaller film blogs where the barrier to entry might be lower.

You can also start by writing audience reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and earn your stripes by eventually becoming a verified reviewer on the site, or pitch any of the more established independent blogs that began as upstarts built from scratch.

In any case, there’s good advice out there on how to start your own film blog, but you should only dive in if your passion will sustain you.

Get accredited

Though there’s no formal process that works across the board, the main way one gains this kind of legitimacy is by publishing articles and showing your body of work to a publicist who can send you screeners.

Everyone’s route to getting accredited is a bit different, but a Patheos blog from 2015 explains some of the insights that film publicists and marketing firms will be interested in if you decide to knock on their doors:

You should be able to provide circulation numbers (or analytics for Internet publications). How many people read your reviews? How frequently do you publish? (Do you write one 400 word review a month for a local newspaper or several reviews per week for your own blog?)

Join a film critics society

Belonging to professional societies can open large doors for earning screeners—but, of course, there are typically some barriers to entry before a society will let you join (even the smaller ones). If you’re a freelancer, look into local film critics circles and for a membership with the Editorial Freelancers Union; if you’re lucky enough to be on staff somewhere, you might push for a union contract with the Writer’s Guild of America or another union representing writers. Belonging to such an organization only further solidifies one’s reputation as a professional writer. (Lifehacker and its fellow G/O Media sites are members of the Writers Guild of America, East.)

Moreover, if you’re really serious about getting screeners, you’re going to have to review the movies promptly, so the gatekeepers know you’re not just trying to commandeer free swag. But above all, you’re going to have to ask—perhaps repeatedly—for publicists to send you screeners.

When all else fails, look for free screenings

If you’re finding it hard to nab screeners you can always stay on the hunt for screenings, which are basically public events where the movie in question is played for an audience. Of course, screenings still aren’t safe in this pandemic era, though with vaccines in circulation and new cases on the wane (for now), it’s possible you could queue up for one within the year.

There are various websites that cater to would-be screening attendees. Sites such as Gofobo and STX Screenings, as well as screenings offered by various production companies that you can refer to. For many of these sites, all you have to do is input your zip code to be presented with screenings in your vicinity that still have availability. These events are usually intended for invited members of the media, but regular non-media folk are often invited. This, at the very least, might nudge the ball along for you, especially if you’re trying to make inroads with PR people who can send you screeners once your bonafides are more obvious.

A note of caution, though: Screeners may sound wonderful, especially as we spend ungodly amounts of time isolated and at home, but be careful what you wish for. Once you avail your address and inbox to certain publicists, you might soon be buried under an overwhelming deluge of emails and DVDs.

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