Not a day goes by that I don't read Cracked.com. It's a wonderful source of inspiration and bizarre trivia that has led to hundreds of articles I've written, in addition to the fact that the site is just all around amazingly funny. That said, I got a little sad when I read this list of things that are horrible about working in a movie theater.
Not that the list is in any way inaccurate or anything. You do in fact smell like multiple layers of popcorn for pretty much your entire life, people that want a special batch of popcorn with no salt or butter at all are annoying, people are actually just in general annoying, and blah blah blah. It's more or less the same complaints you'd hear from any basic food service job really.
Still, I loved working in movie theaters. I worked in a local four-screen, then when it became a dollar cinema, then a googleplex, then finally as chief of staff at the Landmark River Oaks (My favorite!) for a period of five years. I actually started the process of becoming a union projectionist before digital technology sent that job path down the path of the dodo. Except for this gig, which nets me free video games, access to pretty much anything I want, and a paycheck for writing Doctor Who fan fiction, it was the happiest employment of my life. Because...
You Get to See Things Most People Would Miss: I'm going to draw mostly from working at River Oaks and Jacinto City's little four-screener because I got fed up with Tinseltown pretty quickly. My favorite moments were when we would have midnight staff screening on Thursdays. This was obstinately to check the print to make sure there were not problems with the splicing and such, but it was really an excuse for theater employees and all their friends to get a little early access to the latest releases a day early.
I'm not talking about stuff like The Avengers, either. I mean little weirdo pics like the Marquis De Sade biopic Quills, the cheesy ridiculousness of Con Air, and my personal favorite, being the first people in Houston to really find out what The Blair Witch Project was all about. The screenings were pretty open, so I invited all kinds of friends to sit in a very low-key atmosphere as we watched Sex: The Annabel Chong Story or the latest French import. I saw some of my favorite movies this way.
The Swag: My house is full of stuff that was handed to me after it was used for marketing. Tshirts, posters, stand-ups, and in some cases 35mm trailers which I'm pretty sure now they weren't actually supposed to give me. Screw 'em, I'm not handing off anything to do with The Velvet Goldmine I don't have to!
I've got dog tags from 28 Days Later, a cardboard stand-up from Dark City, soundtracks from Run Lola Run and Boys Don't Cry, and God knows what else tucked away. It was always a nice little thing, to be able to call dibs on the promo materials. It didn't make up for the fact that you made next to nothing, but it did make you feel a little special.
You're Never Without and Entertainment Option: I can't speak for anyone else, but I went to work at movie theaters because I liked watching movies. To this day it's my favorite kind of night out. And when I was working in the industry, whatever days I wasn't on call I was usually still there catching up on whatever I might have missed.
Sure, I could also just stay home and watch the Netflix queue, but the act of going out is in and of itself therapeutic. Instead of just sitting around broke and watching TV alone, you call up a buddy and go catch Titanic now that it's eking out it's last few dollars on the smallest screen in the googleplex. Of course, this is all before I learned that some theaters now have the ability to let you play video games on their screens, which if it had been a thing when I was working I would have shown up early when the theater was closed and had the most epic Mario Kart tournament ever!
The Quiet Was So Nice: Especially in smaller theaters, there's the rush, then the lull. Everyone shows up at once, gets their snacks, files into the theater, and then they pretty much stay there for an hour.
These times at River Oaks were the best. I worked with a lot of interesting people, so I was never without fascinating company discussing films from a lot of different viewpoints. I read a lot of good books. Some of my coworkers studied, or we'd horse around while doing the basic cleaning it took to maintain a theater.
I especially liked the holidays. I've had a lot of family members pass around Thanksgiving, so it's not the most cheerful of holidays. I always volunteered for the Thanksgiving shift at the movies, and would munch on homemade turkey and stuffing brought from various family meals while a few folks decided to spend their holiday watching flicks. It was just a warm time with a lot of room to think.
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You Really Are Part of the Magic of Hollywood: I watched a lot of stupid training videos were Cinemark and Landmark went out of their way to convince me that I was the gatekeeper to the movie experience and that I should appreciate that role. Teenage cynical me just rolled my eyes, but I grew to understand it's totally true.
Going to the movies is really an amazing thing. It's like church but there's robots and stuff as well. There's people going on first dates, and people escaping bad situations for an evening, and kids learning to experience wonder, and you really are the first step towards that.
More than anything else, I liked selling people tickets, answering questions, getting them their snacks, and wishing them to enjoy the show. I always meant it honestly, and felt a good deal of pride when they came out talking excitedly. It's sounds corny, but what do you expect of a guy that spent every day in a house of make-believe? I look at people like Robert Saucedo of Alamo Drafthouse and Rob Arcos of Sundance and I can't help but be a little envious. I love writing with all my heart, but working at movie theater will always be one of my fondest employment memories.