Confessions of a Cinema Worker
Ever since the world was introduced to the pandemic, the once mundane activity of going to the movies has become somewhat of a rarity. For the longest time it seemed like the only way you'd be able to catch a new film was by paying an absurd $30 fee on Disney+ or wait until the production got out of development hell to maybe rent it on-demand a few months later. But as we near the end of 2021, it seems like the movie theater industry is thriving more than ever before and nobody knows that better than the people who serve you popcorn, sell you tickets, and clean up the theaters after a show...
I began working at a local movie theater around six weeks ago and I've learned a lot, not only about the job, but about people, and how your favorite productions came to be. And if you've never worked in or around a movie theater, let me teach you about what exactly goes on behind the scenes, and behind the screens...
To get this out of the way, yes, we know the food is too expensive. It's because most theaters don't actually make money from ticket sales, those profits go to the studios, and the money we make from selling concessions is pretty much what keep your favorite cinemas in business. So if you love your local theater, pick up a pack of Junior Mints.
With that being said, let's get into the real stuff. First of all, being a movie theater employee is by far the best job I've ever had, and I'd recommend applying to anyone whose either eager to learn more about the film industry or someone who just likes a fun work environment with amazing coworkers and benefits.
To retail workers, their busiest day comes around once a year in the form of Black Friday, when hundreds and hundreds of enthusiastic couponers rush into stores to pick up some early Christmas presents before everything sells out. For cinema workers, our busiest days comes every time a new Marvel or Disney movie finally releases, and nobody has it harder than the poor souls forced to work on opening day of Spider-Man: No Way Home. For those who don't know, Marvel's latest contribution to the film world has already grossed over one BILLION dollars at the box office despite only being out for less than two weeks. Every time I am scheduled to work in the front box office I know my shift will consist of six hours of telling people "I'm sorry we're completely sold out of Spider-Man tickets." And to be fair, it's one of the best Marvel movie in years, just make sure you reserve your seats ahead of time.
Around mid December when Spider-Man was mere days from premiering, I remember feeling sick to my stomach, worrying about the lines upon lines of people that would be showing up, the three hour rushes, and general stress that comes with a big movie premiere. When the day finally rolled around, it was just as busy as I expected, but it was probably one of the most enjoyable shifts I've ever had. Dozens and dozens of people came in wearing head-to-toe spiderman costumes, giving out high fives and fistbumps to the employees. It was so sweet to see so many little kids, giddy with excitement to see their favorite superhero on the big screen. I've never had so much fun at work, it's the kind of experience that only comes with the premiere of a highly anticipated movie. Seeing how much something like a movie can bring so many people together and offer so much happiness is without a doubt my favorite part of being a cinema worker.
But you can't have all those guests without them all leaving something behind. Packed movie theaters always result in some of the biggest messes for the poor ushers who have to clean it up. More often than not the usher team consists of only 2-4 people who sometimes have to sanitize an entire 200 person theater in less than fifteen minutes. More often than not its the movies meant for children that are the messiest but that's a given, and we don't mind cleaning up some spilled popcorn because kids will be kids. What we DO mind is cleaning up the heaping messes from the Rated-R showings consisting of exclusively adults. And let me tell you, if you still rely on someone else to clean after you past the age of ten, you need that large bucket of popcorn thrown right back in your face. Nothing makes us more annoyed/confused than walking in on the messiest theater of the day at a Resident Evil or House of Gucci showing. The best part of ushering is getting to catch the last twentyish minutes of movies before we have to start sweeping. Just know that if you see a bunch of teenagers start to clean the first couple rows before the credits stop rolling, it's our way of saying "yeah we see you, pick up your stuff!"
Being a cinema worker hasn't only taught me a bunch but it has also affirmed a lot of my assumptions about the theater industry. Mainly, that movie theaters are a place for blockbusters. Small, independent, art films rarely ever sell tickets, even if they have big stars in them. I worked at my theater for the entire run of Mike Mills' C'mon C'mon starring Joaquin Phoenix and the most people I saw in a showing at once was three. Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza has been selling significantly better, however it's clear that a good portion of viewers are only there because they couldn't get tickets to Spider-Man.
Working at a movie theater certainly does have its ups and downs but it's taught me more about people than any other job has before. It's the perfect way to make money for anyone with a passion for film. And just one last piece of advice, get a kids pack at concessions, I promise it's worth it! ;)