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.
Exhibitors acknowledge that they're in tough this fall. Usually, there are several summer holdovers to help pay the heating bills for some of their theaters, but this year only "Back to the Future" appears to have the strength to carry it very far into the fall.
Inevitably, there will be hits. "The Terminator," "Private Benjamin" and "The Big Chill" all made big money in the fall. The industry cliche that a good movie will find its audience is only true if its audience is going to the movies, and for the next few weeks, the film-going audience is going to be older and more selective.
With apologies to film makers not mentioned, here's a look at some of the adult-oriented pictures receiving special handling this fall:
"Agnes of God" (Columbia). Norman Jewison directed this adaptation of John Pielmeier's Broadway play about the relationship between a nun (Meg Tilly) accused of killing her illegitimate child and the psychiatrist (Jane Fonda) called in to evaluate her. It's being opened in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago Sept. 13, and wider Sept. 27.
"Marie" (MGM/UA). Sissy Spacek stars in this true story about a woman who gets an appointment in Tennessee's parole system then blows the whistle on the corruption she finds there. The studio tentatively plans a limited release Oct. 11 with a wide release Nov. 1.
"After Hours" (Warner Bros.). Griffin Dunne and Rosanna Arquette go through a series of nocturnal adventures in New York City. It opens Sept. 13 in New York and Los Angeles with other cities to follow.
"Plenty" (Fox). Meryl Streep is stirring up Oscar talk again, this time playing an English woman haunted by memories of her experiences as a fighter in the French resistance. It will open Sept. 19 in Los Angeles and New York.
"Mishima" (Warner Bros.). It was an award winner at Cannes, but Paul Schrader's biographical study of the politically controversial Japanese author Yokio Mishima (it was filmed in Japan and is in Japanese with English sub-titles) is one of the fall's hardest sells. The studio is opening it in Toronto and New York next month; its future beyond that is undetermined.
"Eleni" (Warner Bros.). Peter Yates directed this drama of survival and obsession based on Nicholas Gage's research into the death of his mother in Greece in 1948. John Malkovich, of "The Killing Fields," and Kate Nelligan star. It opens in New York Nov. 1 and in Los Angeles Nov. 15 with future markets to be determined.