Friday, May 27, 2011

Cinema Stories: A Recent Good Deed

I work pretty regularly at my local cinema; selling tickets, distributing oversized popcorns and making coffees for the old timers etc. But more often than you might expect, part of the job is to make the decision for the customer about what film they are going to watch that day/night. There are people that come to the cinemas with no idea what they are going to watch. I find that unnatural. As far back as I can remember, I have made the trip to the cinema with an agenda to watch a specific film.

Of course, it depends on the person, but for the impatient and often late people that turn up and demand, "What's good?" or "What's Barnaby's Choice about?" or "Give me a run-down of every film you are showing within the next minute" (while I cut you off if you mention subtitles), I find little to admire. Get your shit together, people. The second quote, which I have heard on two occasions refers to 'Barney's Version' of course. But, because we work there, they believe we know everything about every film that is released (including what's playing at a rival multiplex), the kinds of films they interested in, and what fits into their schedule ("I have to be out by 6pm"). Often, it is quite easy to select a film. More often, it is not so.

Well, the other day I went through one of these processes of discussing the various films we were showing. I have seen nearly all of them, so I often prove to be very helpful. This lady and her husband were very nice and wanted to make an informed viewing decision. With the cost of going to the movies these days, I sympathised, but still felt daunted by their trust in a complete stranger to decide what they should see. I ended up recommending Incendies and talked them out of their more favoured selection, How I Ended Last Summer. After the film, they came over and especially thanked me for my patience, my detailed mini-reviews, and my final recommendation. They are yet to see a better film this year, they said. I agree.

Well, I felt quite proud of myself, and it is one of the features I like most about the job. The fact that I watch and review a lot of films and have a passion for cinema is what makes me an excellent cinema employee. Most employees feel that this is not a necessary trait, and it's not. But to get through the day without being overcome with frustration at the frequent bizarre questions, I think it pays to know a thing or two about film. Your average customer does not. I certainly do not want this job forever, but for now I'm pretty content with it.


  1. Aww, what a nice story!

    Working in a video store, I often get asked the same stuff. But I am so shy when it comes to recommendations, because I know that 95% of people here don't want to watch the movies which I like to watch (i.e. Winter's Bone, Somewhere, {insert small film here}). It's going to get worse when Black Swan comes out on DVD, because I can't recommend that film at all, even though I love it to bits.

    So usually, I just lie and say some comedy like Life As We Know It is really good because that's practically Dannevirke's definition of 'good'. But I'll always put a staff pick on some really good films, like Winter's Bone, Somewhere and The King's Speech. When I work tomorrow, I'll be recommending the latter like crazy.

    Oh, and most employees in the movie industry don't give two craps about movies. No one at my work knows anything about movies, and they pretty much hate everything I love, and continue to think I'm wrong. Hell, none of them even know what won Best Picture at the Oscars this year. That pisses me off to no end, because so many uninformed choices are made. Oh well, it's always good to have people like us around!

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment :P

  2. I'm so jealous of all you who have a job at a cinema or a video store... Me want too!

  3. That was interesting, although I've gone to plenty of festival films blindly, I've never actually gone to the multiplex without having my choice already made. I didn't realize a lot of people do that.

    Anyways, I still waiting to hear what Barnaby's Choice is all about...

  4. @ Stevee - It sounds like you have your work cut out for you trying to recommend films at your video store. I bet you cringe almost every time DVDs are placed on the counter. "Really, you want to watch this?" Haha. If I have seen a terrible film (like when I worked in the city) and people asked me about the film, I found it hard to lie. "Have you seen Clash of the Titans? Is it good?" I convinced so many ppl away from that film, which essentially is a better experience for them than the one above! Thanks for the comment Stevee. Good luck with the Black Swan recommendations.

    @ Lime(tte) - Very often it is not the job you think it is cracked up to be. I left a HUGE cinema in the city (which hosted premieres and stuff) because I hated it after a couple of years. Now I work at a small independent cinema, and love it! The perks are great, but it comes down to how much your cinema actually cares about the FILMS they are showing, and the atmosphere they create for filmgoers. That's what makes it enjoyable, because you can actually watch and recommend good films, not deal with people frustrated by the price of 3D films.

    @ Bonjour Tristesse - Well, saying that I am going to a few films at the SFF I know little about. But, yeah, never have I gone to a cinema without a film in mind to see. Barnaby's Choice was what a customer incorrectly called 'Barney's Version' (the Paul Giamatti film) and even after I corrected her and said 'Barney's Version?' she heatedly insisted the former! Haha. Crazy. Cheers for the comment!

  5. nice story,
    I have kind of given up recommending films to my friends, I've just had to accept are tastes are just about as different as can be.
    In fact if they like a film, then there is a large change I'll hate it, and vice versa. Very strange...
    I'd like to recommend all the great films I watch, but I'd just come off as a snob in there eyes.
    And I've always had a problem talking about cinema to those with no cinematic knowledge, if you see what I mean. How can you explain that a certain actor gives a great performance if the do not know how to recognise a great performance when they see one ?!

    But anyway, I'm rambling, I like the post very much. A good deed indeed!

  6. a fun post. i've had that pleasure myself having worked in cinemas and dvd stores. most recently however i worked part time in a local indie dvd shop and as stevee pointed out the staff there didn't like movies, didn't watch anything that hadn't just finished playing at the multiplex etc and on shift would put basketball and madonna dvds on the tv. sorry to match your good story with a bad story! i did however instigate an auteurs section which made me feel awesome.

  7. I wasn't really prepared for customer questions when I first started working at my video store. It soon became my favorite part of the job.

    "So let me get this straight. You want my opinion on these movies and you'll judge how to spend your money based on those opinions? I'm flattered but please don't hold it against me if we end up disagreeing."

    If customer inquiries is a common enough happening at the multiplex, I'd argue that having a knowledge of the product should be a necessary trait even if it's not in the job description. As the saying goes, it's better to be trusted than to be liked. They may not always see eye to eye with your taste, but by winning over the paying customer's trust, it will strengthen the business. And maybe if the right people witness that high-quality service, they'll reward you with more than just a compliment. You never know.

    Thanks for this post. Brought back some good memories.

  8. Hey Ian. Thanks for the comment.

    It's great to know that we have shared some similar experiences in our professions. You're exactly right, it is a very flattering decision by these people to value our opinions so much they are willing to take a chance on them, but it can be a very rewarding part of the job. Sometimes people really go about it the wrong way, which is annoying for us and disadvantaging for other customers waiting. I have never been tipped for a recommendation, but a hand-shake or a personal thank you means all the world sometimes, and often helps you to forget that last grumpy customer.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and for following!