For nine months now, I’ve been partaking in the phenomenon of catching free advanced screenings of films I’m anticipating. The experience has come with its ups and downs, so I thought some of you might like to know a little of what’s involved, since the old saying goes that nothing in life is truly free.

The whole process begins with access. If you live in a big city, odds are that you have the same sort of opportunities I do. Screenings can sometimes happen the night before a film opens, or other times a few weeks in advance. Presentations are put on by radio stations, tv stations, local businesses, and the like as a way to advertise and stoke word-of-mouth for the film. The trick is keeping an eye out for such things. It can sometime involve liking something on Facebook, creating a particular retweet on Twitter, or entering you name and email address into a draw.

In short – the ticket never comes to you; you always go looking for it.

The next step has been particular to my experience. Depending on the film and the timing of the advance show, desire for access can run high. Take Monday night for instance where I got in on the premiere of HUNGER GAMES. Seeing people I know trying to get in on the event too is a little tough to shoulder sometimes. Passes come in pairs, and given that I am married to a movie nerd, dibs on that second pass are assumed. So while I’d like to offer up my plus-one to many of my good friends, it only happens some of the time.

That doesn’t stop them from trying and repeatedly making their hopes known, mind you. Knowing this is sometimes tricky, because for all I know I have five friends trying to get into the same show. So even if Lindsay does drop out at the last minute, how does one play favorites? This likely wouldn’t be a problem for many of you folks, but it’s an odd downside to having a circle of friends all interested in the same thing.

Back to the matter at hand – tickets acquired, guest confirmed, time to hit the theatre. When time comes to hit said theatre, it doesn’t quite work the same as a regular trip to the multiplex. Remember when I said that nothing is free? Well these showings might not cost you money, but they do cost you something else: time.

The PR groups that run these events want the house as full as possible, and the only way to assure that is to oversell the event. I don’t have the number handy, but I have to believe that at least 25% more passes are handed out than the joint can hold. They state clearly that admission is not guaranteed, so if it’s something one wants to see badly, the onus is on them to make it happen. What this means is getting to the theatre early…way early…at least an hour early.

Ask yourself what your time is worth. If you live in Toronto, is an hour of your time worth $13? If so, then skip the free show and go when it’s convenient and you can walk in fifteen minutes ahead of the credits.

But assuming you got lucky and won a contest, decided which of your friends you like best, and got to the theatre an extra hour ahead of time, all should be smooth sailing right? Not quite. There’s one last thing – your cell phone.

More often than not, the final condition to seeing a movie early-and-free is to hand your cell phone over to a private security company the studio hired to work anti-piracy. They make you check them, like coats at a nightclub, and keep them in paper bags. See, the studios believe that you might possibly record some of the film ahead of time and put it up on YouTube or the like – even though instances of that are decreasing dramatically. So to prevent such copyright infringement, they go totalitarian and get all phones handed over. Sometimes this leads to unpleasant incidents.

Before I leave the cell phone issue, I am puzzled by one thing. Even after they make everyone hand in their phones – phones they remind you they are not responsible for losing by the by – you’d think that would be the end of security. Nope. Not only do they wand you with a metal detector on the way in, but they also have their guards in the cinema, sometimes moving up and down the aisles, watching for any stray technology that might have eluded their crack team.

So to summarize: You’ve entered at least half a dozen contests, chosen one friend from a gaggle of “pick-me’s”, got to an oversold multiplex more than an hour early, and don’t even have your mobile gizmo to entertain you or allow any contact with the outside world.

But hey…on the bright side…you saved yourself the price of admission!