Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Some Awful, Awful things I learned while working in a movie theater.

Internet, my readers are really kind of mean. Not even mean, really, just really negative. Last week they chose to subject me to an hour and a half of peeing myself via a discussion on horror, this week they want to hear about how awful movie theaters are. Really, I do worry about them. I wish my readers were more glass-half-full type of peoples. I'd love to see them suggest, maybe, an article about the most adorable puppies in the world, or the various methods of executing a successful high five, but nope. Nope, this week they want to hear about indescribable fluids and used condoms. Go you, readers. Go you. You disgust me.

But then again, I am an enabler. I wouldn't be writing about this if I didn't allow you to indulge in your sick, sick, sicky sick sick fantasies. Really, I have only myself to blame. Really, it's like I almost want to recount how awful my time working in a movie theater was, as if I'm not done disliking it yet, and never may be. Because working at a theater sucked. Not as bad as, say, professionally getting my dick kicked, but still. It's up there.

Some Awful, Awful things I learned While Working in a Movie Theater

Let me start with some brief instructions. I've separated the gross stuff from the people stuff so that people with weak constitution stats won't have to worry about treading a minefield of poop and people who just want the poop won't have to worry about reading all the boring people stuff.  If you want the poop, go down to where the BIG LETTERS start. 

So in the actually-not-very-fateful summer of '09 I started work at [NAME WITHELD, PLEASE DON'T SUE ME]. Originally, I started in the box office, selling tickets. Let's talk about that for a minute. The Box Office is a relatively small, well, box. It's about 5x7 with a little desk area in the back for paperwork/hiding from gunmen. Now, there are stools in the box office, but no one's allowed to use them so long as there's someone on the porch. There is always someone on the porch. In box office, you get very good at standing in one place for eight to ten hours. Granted, this is something that happens a lot in a lot of other jobs and that's fine, that's not really what I'm going to complain about. It's a silly policy, in my opinion, but okay. That's their deal. 

Really, my time in Box was relatively short, about three months. In that time though; I learned two things: My theater had very low hiring standards, and customers are terrible, terrible liars. 

I got hired with another kid, about my age, let's call him 'Ryan.' Ryan, you have to understand, was high enough to high-five all the members of Pink Floyd. All the time. There was not a day of the week he didn't come into work high on bars. Ryan was a nightmare to work with because not only did he refer to me (and customers!) as 'foo' and 'bro' but he was to put this gently...A sack of bricks could outsmart him. 

Yeah that...That's pretty much on the nose.

Ryan was ultimately fired for stealing from the register in a frankly too-brilliant-for-him scam and being caught in a just-brilliant-enough-for-him way. I won't get into details because, well, I don't want to be accused of giving anyone ideas but let me just say that both the scam and the way he got caught were impressive in their own ways. 

As for the customers you encountered in Box, well...between the old people asking for refunds because they didn't realize that their movie had swearing in it, parents who couldn't be made to understand that yes, they have to be in the R-rated film with their kids, and kids who frankly did everything they could to piss me off...

A lot of what they did was fight and lie to get their way. Stuff like "No, really, I'm totally eighteen, I just forgot my ID." "You never saw me walk in, but I'm just heading back inside. I had to take a smoke. from my car which I just parked." "What do you mean I can't just leave my kid here? You're not a daycare? FALSE ADVERTISING!" 

One of my favorite box stories went something like this. I got a phone call from the guy in the box next door.

"Hey Tom, see that girl in the yellow sweater?"


"Card her. *click*"

So she comes up and asks for an r-rated movie

"Okay, can I just see your--"

"FUCK YOU!" and she storms off.

One of the larger annoyances was how often I heard the same thing over and over again. All of those fakey fake made-up sentences? I heard those many times in a week. One of the more common things was accusations of price-gouging. Now usually, this was not directed at me (usually), and to an extent, I understand. Prices are high. I worked at one of the most expensive theaters in the state. I'm also the guy who sold you and all the people in front of you their ticket. Did it occur to you that maybe I know that? The worst part is, it's not even technically the theater's fault. If you want to blame anyone for your $9+ ticket, blame Warner Brothers, blame MGM, Blame Universal and Paramount. You see, how it works is that when a movie is released, the studio that releases it gets something like 95% of the profits in the first week. Then that'll go down maybe five percent every subsequent week the film is in the theater. That's why Avatar  was in theaters so long, Theaters loved it because it kept making money and now it was making money for them. with 5% of a nine-dollar ticket, you will, over the course of the day, maybe pay for the act of selling the tickets, and all that implies. This is also why concessions are so expensive; the theater has to make a profit somehow and with ticket sales tied up by the studios, all that was really left was the food.

Yes, you're getting screwed by it, yes it's a crapshoot, if you don't like it, go write a letter to a studio head. They care less than your congressman. 

Really though, I'd have to say that the absolute worst part of working in the Box office was a joke. Just one, single joke. When someone handed me a $20 bill or higher, I had to mark it with a counterfeit pen to make sure it was legit. I dreaded doing this because every time I did, every time, without fail the person I got the bill from would say "It's good, I made it this morning!"

Those exact words.

Hundreds, if not thousands of times.

Eight hours a day. 

And they all want me to validate their sense of humor by laughing.


I still hear it in my sleep.

It didn't take much of this to send me over the edge and cause me to start loosing track of money. Some people might say that I'm just awful at math (which is true, I'm notoriously bad) but I choose to blame other people for my shortcomings, so there.

So I got sent to the place where they put employees who screwed up, but not bad enough to fire or punish by being put in concession; Usher. As you may or may not know Ushers aren't just the people who tear your ticket and direct you to your your theater, no, in fact, ushers don't just do anything. Ushers do just about everything that isn't covered under the very specific venues of Box, Concession and Projection Booth. Sometimes we even did their jobs, too. Officially, what we did as Ushers was tear your ticket and direct you, keep the halls and lobby tidy, maintain the bathrooms, act as loss-prevention, kick teenagers/rowdy customers out, clean theaters after they let out, take out the trash, back up concession when they were swamped (which was total crap because when Concession was backed up, by the very nature of the thing, so were we) and all of that sounds very neat and tidy. There were a few problems though.

Remember how low the hiring standard was for Box Office? The people who handled your money and credit cards? How low do you think they are for the ones who handle your trash? Let me put it this way; we have something called "Now seating lights" When we call over the radio that a theater is cleaned, the light for that theater goes on and then goes off again fifteen minutes after the show starts. Done. You now know how to work the Now Seating Lights. I trained an usher who was then trained by four other ushers and after three months, he could not puzzle out how that was supposed to work. I wish I could say that was an exception to the rule but...No. Nope. There were a lot of them. He was the worst; most of them picked it up eventually, but we're talking a good month before a lot of them got it down.

And that's just the people I worked with; never mind the customers. As an usher, not many people were willing to give you much respect at all when you had something to tell them like "You can't bring your kid/stroller/food in" "There's no show at that time, maybe you looked at the wrong theater?" or "Nope, you should put that cell phone away" but when something invariably went wrong: they got double charged, their food was bad, their show got stopped, it was immediately up to the Ushers to fix it, whether it was their fault or not. I'm not saying we were realistically expected to fix a film reel or give a refund for bad food ourselves, but if that didn't happen, we got held responsible for it by the customer and I've gotten more than one complaint from a person who was angry about something totally out of my control. Again, I understand it to an extent. Ushers are just generally the closest people at hand in a uniform and since people have trouble understanding compartmentalization, we clearly know everything about anything that goes on in the theater (which was true, so long as it was gossip).

I should qualify all of this. Not everyone was horrible, not everything was shit. I worked with some genuinely smart and useful people, many of whom I am still friends with. I met many customers who were polite and understanding (The most surprisingly helpful group? Twilight moms. No, really. They were all gems.) who didn't complain about silly things. Generally though....

The internet is so full of ways to help me visually convey my frustration.


So let's talk about poop, people. People poop. They have to or they'd explode and that'd be really really gross. We've been pooping since birth and we've had our whole lives to master it and frankly, we have no excuse for messing up barring something truly awful like hearing the brown noise or having to carry your poop in a bag. Somehow, people at [MY UNNAMED THEATER] managed to mess it up. Every damn day. I'm not just talking small stuff like forgetting to flush or even peeing on the seat, we're into realms as egregious as missing the bowl entirely with your poop. I don't get that. You've ran the race, you made it, you suceeded, you're on the toilet and you...miss? I'll never forget the first time I walked in on that. There was poop everywhere, On the floor, on the seat, on the silver bits, under the bowl and seat and the bowl itself? completely empty. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE TO DO ACCIDENTALLY?

And then there's the vomit. Oh yes, people vomited at my theater as I would imagine they do at most theaters, all the damn time. Just about every day. I haven't vomited in years, how they manage to do it every day, I'll never know. Once I made staff leader, I decided that you weren't officially an Usher until you'd cleaned up some vomit because damn if you weren't going to come across it sometime anyways and you needed to be prepared. Because I am a naturally sadistic person, I would compare vomit to sex in front of the new hires. I would say "Cleaning up vomit is like having sex; the first time you're scared and maybe feel like throwing up, yourself. After that though, it's no big deal and maybe even a little fun."
Scaring New Hires was almost as fun as kicking out teenagers.

People have sex in the auditoriums. No, really. Like, all the time. We had a code for them and everything. Paradoxically, we weren't actually allowed to use that code because if we did, everyone dropped what they were doing to come see (which is something to keep in mind if you've ever thought about doing it) but yeah, when you go to a theater, I'd say that, depending on the size, you've got between a 1/8 to 1/3 chance of sitting in a seat someone's sat in while not wearing pants. Which in itself is disgusting because those seats do not get cleaned very often.

Which brings me to the stuff we found in theaters...Oh God...
Condoms are fairly common (Both used and unused), as are children toys. Sometimes in the same theater. On at least one occasion an adult toy was found and amazingly, she came back for it. A female friend of mine once said that a guy left his belt and a sock in a theater, came back for the belt and left a sock. During the release of the first, crappy 3D Alvin and the Chipmunks, I found an unmistakable viscous white puddle on the ground near the top row. I choose not to dwell on that.

Don't purchase hotdogs. At the end of the day, my theater would wash off whatever hotdogs didn't sell and sell them again tomorrow. If they didn't sell that day they'd do it again and again until it sold or turned green.

For the love of God, do NOT let your kids lie down on the floor. The night staff shampoos the carpets every night, but consider that; they have to shampoo the carpets every night.

Oh, one last thing. At my theater, at least, a medium bucket of popcorn holds the same amount as a large bucket. Before you go screaming about price gouging again, when you buy a large, you're paying for an extra refill as well. It's just that most people forget and so essentially do end up paying more for the same.

And that's nearly most of the terrible things I learned while working at a movie theater. Really, I don't imagine most were as bad as mine, but mine was pretty poorly handled in general.

As per usual, be sure to vote in the poll for next week's topic! Next week is all happy topics, so there! Also be sure to come back this saturday for a SUPER SPECIAL SATURDAY BONUS POST!

Thank you, goodnight.


  1. in a movie theater! I worked in one as well. I never made it to the ticket booth because I would have anxiety attacks. I was mostly in concessions because I could handle that. I also had short curly hair *because of a perm* and I was cute and tiny so everyone loved me. And there was this one giant African American man who I remember had a keychain that had some animal on it. And I remember saying oh, look at that (insert animal here) and he freaked out and I'm pretty sure he thought I thought he had an erection of some sort...Also we would tell our new hires that the projection booth was haunted. THAT was fun. And I always wondered if the manager had sex in the room where they locked the candy in...Thats just the beginning of my stories. Then I went to work for The Disney Store and the Assistant Manager would do drugs in the bathroom...

  2. I'm surprised you didn't mention any of the managers. Or the GM. Or getting accused of stealing from wallets or purses. How the lost and found was rigged. how the maintenance jobs involved nepotism. Or how they worked us to death on midnights. Or how they handles hours. Or that we had to mop puddles up outside after it rained. Or the graffiti we had to erase. Or how the managers went after everyone that we trained. Or how much drugs and sex that went on between most of the employees. Or how some of the managers would sleep, get high, leave work during the work day. Or how about when our trash compactor broke so the GM got a large trash bin that we were made to climb on top of, jump on the trash so that more refuse could be dumped in? Or the problem of gossip. Or all the car break ins because of security cops would be inside watching movies on the job. Or how there was a massive bee hive that moved into one of the theaters where they housed a children's movie in for months at a time? You've hardly scratched the surface on how degrading and completely awful that job really was.