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My Story: More Movie Savings

by contributed by Kathy

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I'm an avid movie-goer and read with interest the tips in Cheap Movie Thrills by Joanne Coley. I've done most all of them and still do. But I have a much cheaper way to see movies. Most for free! And before they are released. I see all the latest releases and rarely, if ever, pay to see a film these days.

In most major US cities, the movie promotion companies host preview screenings. This is their way of building word-of-mouth and many of them invite the local critics as well. They would hold a critic's screening in any case and have to pay to rent out a local theater screen, so why not invite some of the public as well?

I go to these screenings about two to three times a week. Not only am I seeing films before the general public and not having the story line ruined in advance by the critics or the ad campaigns, but there are often extra perks at these screenings. Sometimes they have giveaways, such as a piece of chocolate for at the Chocolat screening or Halloween goodie packs at Monster House. Sometimes they do trivia contests or random door prizes with items to win like radio station t-shirts, film posters, etc.

At some screenings, the actors, directors, and writers may attend and give a talk or Q&A afterwards. You could not pay for the added value you get in being able to ask David Lynch or Gael Gaicia Bernal their thoughts behind the film you just saw.

So how do you get into these free preview screenings? Easy!

  • Many of the passes for these preview screenings go to your local radio stations, newspapers, and other local media outlets for free giveaways. Enter as many of these contests as you can. Go to the radio stations' and newspapers' web pages and look for a contest entry page. Bookmark them and check them daily for contest updates.

  • Join your local film groups. Here in DC, I am a member of a film society that has exclusive members-only screenings as well as substantial theater discounts and free passes to other area screenings. We can often bring a guest along for free. There is an annual membership fee of about $40, but if you go to just five movies in one year, you are ahead in dollar value.

  • Once you attend a screening, ask other people in line how they got their passes. You'll often find out about other groups and lists you can join for free that will alert you to these screenings. I am on at least five of these in the local Washington DC area and they cost me nothing. When a screening comes up that they need to fill, I get an email message and RSVP if I can make it.

Two caveats:

  • Go early. Most of these screenings are overbooked. If a theater fits 300, they may give out 1,000 passes. At most screenings, being there an hour or so before the film's start time will be just fine. At popular ones, such as DreamGirls, try to get there even earlier. It is always hard to predict which screenings will fill up and which won't. Occasionally, some screenings are just a quarter or half full for whatever reason and you could just walk in at the last minute and get a seat. If you do not like waiting in line, you can take your chances.

  • Do not enter contests or RSVP for screenings that you cannot attend. You will get removed from lists immediately for being a no-show. If you RSVP and some emergency comes up that prevents you from attending, alert them ASAP so that they may give your pass to someone else. The screening organizers are trying to fill all the theater seats and it is rude as well as selfish to hoard passes that you do not use. They collect passes and check lists at the door.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by

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  • Check out Cheap Movie Thrills for more great movie-going tips.
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