I’ve been working at cinemas for 10 years now, and have been a manager for 5 years.. I originally applied for the job just to get by, but before I knew it the years had passed. It’s an enjoyable place to work, almost like being back at college, with young people who are sociable, who make it fun. We used to get into so many different antics – we would play hide and seek during shifts and have water fights even with the customers around, we’d get away with murder.
Currently I’m scheduled to do 39 hours a week, but it’s more like 50+. I’m supposed to get days in lieu but it rarely happens. When you step up into a management role, you are required to have open availability, so you can be scheduled for any time. We can show films starting as late as 10:30pm, so we don’t get out of work until 2am sometimes. The perks are pretty good, though. Discount on the food is massive, and you get unlimited tickets for yourself and friends.
I host private screenings all the time; I find it hard to come in to watch a film on my day off when I work there all day. On a night shift when we close, I put on a screening by myself; the films are digital now and they come with keys, which unlock the day before the release. I call up people and let them know there’s going to be a viewing, word goes around and everyone turns up at the backdoors. I once had 120 people turn up! I tell then not to put it on social media because it’s illegal, but they don't listen, I’ve even seen them snapchatting it, they can’t resist.
Some people find it a bit stressful working in a cinema, mainly because of some of the guests that we get; they can be difficult, they can be really rude, and disrespectful, usually over silly things like vouchers. Even if you explain specific terms to them that are out of your hands, they kick off, they get rude, they make threats, calling you all sorts of names simply because they're not getting what they think they’re entitled to. We’re just trying to do our jobs but they don't see it that way.
If a guest is being rude, I tell them that the screen is sold out. We’re trained to give refunds and complimentary passes, but if a guest is being a real prick, I make them work for it, I say, “there’s no more I can do for you, write an email” – whatever part of the company they write into, it’ll get sent to the original cinema, so the complaint just comes back to me and I can take my time with it.
The hardest issue that we face is when we need to remove people from the screens. We can’t physically touch them and neither can security, so we don’t really have much power or influence to get people out of films when they cause a disturbance while the film is still on. It’ll normally happen when it’s really busy. For example, during a recent screening of Batman vs. Superman, people were sitting in the wrong seats and they didn’t want to move because the film had already started, but the people that paid for those seats wanted to sit there, of course. You have a sold out screen of 300 people listening to a debate about seats. It turns into a situation where you have to refund the whole audience because of two guests not wanting to move.
I once had to ask an old man to move to his correct seat, and he replied with “fuck off back home”. This was someone older than my parents, it shocked me, and I wasn't expecting that. Another time, there was a group who came in, three white guys, one black guy and a girl. I was a supervisor at the time and I was called to help evict some people from a screen for sneaking into a sold out movie and being abusive. I was polite and told them to leave – the film wouldn't start until they did. One of the white guys told his black friend: “listen mate, speak to one of your own, tell him we’re not going anywhere”. The black guy then started to speak! I couldn’t believe that. They left in a drama, throwing their food everywhere.
The one thing that really surprises people is that we buy our popcorn ready-made, we don't make it on the premises. When I was training some new staff, one girl was so offended after we showed her the storeroom with a pallet of 32 bags of ready-made popcorn on it that she said she wouldn't buy popcorn ever again. We also use syrups to make the soft drinks. I don't know why syrups are controversial amongst staff either, but this one caused a massive stir, people couldn't believe it. They didn't expect it to be syrup in a box that then goes through a tube that then mixes with soda water, like it's some kind of sorcery.
On one of my first shifts, I went in to do a screen check, and I saw a couple in the far corner in the more expensive seats, where they shouldn't be – a couple of “jumpers” that I knew I would have to send back to the standard seats. As I got closer, I could hear the groans and the moans – they guy was getting a hand job! I had to leave the screen to compose myself; when I went back in I tried to make as much noise as possible, telling them that they had to leave. No shame. You get that a lot. Recently we had some CCTV footage of two guests waiting until all the other guests had left the screen and then got on top of each other and going for it with their clothes on.
Overall I would say the job is pretty decent. You get to meet a lot of people; you get to learn some interesting things. Before I was a manger, the worst thing would be to clean the toilets. People are so filthy, especially when they’re not in their own homes. Even if it’s just mopping up the urine on the floor, it’s horrible. Historically in every cinema I’ve worked in, the women’s toilets have been the worst. In one cubicle I found blood and shit on the walls, around the seat, on the floor! Women’s toilets are just shocking. Graffiti on the walls, tissue wet with piss stuck on the ceiling.
One of the weirdest things that happen is pigeons flying about in the cinema. We have to catch them ourselves and put them in bags to dispose of. It’s actually comical, a total of three managers trying to get this pigeon into a corner of the building away from the guests; we catch them by cornering them, scaring them to fly into the window multiple times, dazing itself until it flies low so we can either hit it or catch it in a bag. The pest control company that we work with told us after a while that it wasn't worth calling them out because they're only going to keep killing them with a pellet rifle. The worst thing about killing them this way is that they cannot take the shot in public. If we call them out we have to clear the whole foyer – no one from the screens can come out, sometimes we have to block whole floors off. The blood splatter was the worst; it splattered all over the counter. When we catch them we just put them in a bag and release them outside, but the guys who come from pest control shoot to kill.
The whole company focus now is guest service; if you come out of a cinema screen and say the screen was cold, there was a disturbance in the screen, or water on the floor in the toilet, you’re going to get complimentary tickets. As long as you voice a complaint, 9 times out of 10 you’re going to get something back because we can’t afford to get bad press or feedback. Especially if you write in! At one cinema we caught out one person who wrote in complaining about a film that hadn't even come out yet. When we get forwarded a complaint, they tell us to deal with it, which really just means apologise and send complimentary tickets.
The biggest lie I get told is to do with age, kids trying to get in. I get them asking me to speak to their mum on the phone to prove their age. The fact that you’re saying that says a lot.
Any kids’ release is just horrific. Families in general are just unreal, they complain about how expensive the food is, but when you go into the screen after the film and you find whole cartons of popcorn turned upside down. Ice cream and pick and mix everywhere... It’s like they have food fights in the screen. You need all kinds of chemicals, mops, hoovers, freeze sprays, to clean up after them.
When I started, big films like Avatar were huge for the cinema, but now a film like Kung Fu Panda 3 is already up for pre-order on Sky while it’s still out in the cinema. The turnover time is so short. Now everyone has apps and boxes to stream films. The film Creed suffered loads because of this; it was already leaked a whole month before it came out and it showed when not enough people turned up.
Certain types of films can encourage violence – Straight Outta Compton is one such film. Every cinema had extra security because of it for the opening weekend. It’s always for the late showings, you’ll have groups of guys coming in and anything can set them off. It can be that the queue is too long, they’ll cause a fuss and someone else in the queue will say something and then it kicks off. Surprisingly Planet Of The Apes is another! I personally had to stop four fights in screenings of it. One guy was tackled two feet off the floor and it nearly threw him over a balcony. And one of my co-workers got assaulted by a guy with a fire extinguisher for intervening in a fight between two of the guests. He lost loads of teeth and even part of his finger for it. All for trying to stop a fight in a cinema.