May 20 • 12:08 PM

Thriller movie gives thrill to Imlay couple

Johnsons pre-screen 'Traitor,' which opens in theaters nationwide today

Cherie and John Johnson’s vacation in Santa Monica, California led to a unique Holly-wood experience.
August 27, 2008
IMLAY CITY — The new spy thriller movie 'Traitor' that opens today provided a little thrill for a local couple a few months ago.

John and Cherie Johnson were strolling down the streets of Santa Monica, California last March looking for a place to stop to eat. They were with another couple, good friends from Grand Blanc, Michigan.

The Johnsons are familiar with Santa Monica—John's livelihood as a commercial real estate broker takes him there on business from time to time.

As they strolled along the Fourth Street Promanade, a middle-aged man approached the foursome with an unusual question.

"Are you into movies?" he asked.

John says the man went on to explain that a new spy thriller starring well-known actor Don Cheadle is being pre-screened. John asks what that means and the man says, "You can watch the movie, it's free."

So John, Cherie and their friends show up at the movie theater at 6 p.m., fill out a questionnaire and agree to complete an evaluation form at the end of the screening. They also had to promise not to give away anything about the ending of the movie.

"I found out later the guy was with a marketing research company," John says. "Their job is to get audiences into the theater and show the movie and find out the reaction."

As big fans of Don Cheadle, the Johnsons and their friends were thrilled at the chance to see a movie starring the actor for free. They returned to the theater, got into a long line and answered some questions while waiting to be seated.

"They were looking for a focus group to answer questions after the show," Johnson says. "They wanted people who were really into movies."

The Johnsons fit the bill. They watch at least one movie a week either at the theater or on tv. The market-researcher explained that they take the audience input, write it up and give it to the producers for consideration before the movie's release.

"They may make some changes, tweak this and tweak that," Johnson says. "It's like test-driving a movie."

And it's a good ride, Johnson says. The foursome really enjoyed the show.

They're also chosen for the focus group, and answer a host of questions like 'how did you like the ending?,' 'what about the interaction of the actors,' 'what would you change?,' and the like.

The market-researcher explains that the movie's sound and scenery aren't completely wrapped up, but Johnson says they didn't notice anything amiss about it. The movie's a good one as far as they're concerned.

"It has a really great ending," Johnson says.

Now that the movie is opening nationwide today, Johnson says he and Cherie and their friends from Grand Blanc are just as excited as they were about the pre-screening adventure.

"We're going to get back together and go see it again," Johnson says. "It'll be interesting to see what changes they made. I thought the movie was cool with a very unique ending."

The pre-screening experience was pretty cool, too, Johnson adds.

"It was a unique opportunity and interesting to see how they go about it," he says. "Santa Monica's a pretty cool place and it was an added bonus. There we were just walking down the sidewalk looking for a place to eat and this opportunity springs up. It was an interesting experience."

'Traitor' is billed as a spy thriller drama that centered on an undercover CIA operative who's working with a terrorist group. The operative, played by Cheadle, becomes a terrorist suspect himself. 'The truth is complicated,' the movie tagline says.

John Johnson operates New Century Property LLC on Cedar Street in Imlay City.

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