Being Paid to Watch Movies: The Dream Job?

Seth Rogen and James Franco in The Interview

Anyone who knows me or has read my blog will know that I am a devout cinephile. I adore films and all the creativity and magic that goes into making them. So while I worked as the Entertainment Deputy Managing Editor I was, essentially, paid to watch new movies and then to write what I thought of them. The dream job?

Pretty damn close…

Except…

There were a huge amount of “non press only” screenings where the critics and reviewers had to share the cinema with the “general” public.

Except…

General public was not really the correct term for the “people” who attended these early screenings. Speaking to the studio reps who ran these events, along with the local radio “personalities” and online film clubs, et al, there was a core group of folks who attended as many of these “free” shows as humanly possible.

This was a problem. You would think that getting to see films for free, some of which were not due for release for weeks, would be a great deal all on its own.

Wrong!

There were little groups, or subsets of cinema goers who felt “entitled.” Let me explain.

In the screenings, the studio reps and the folks who helped to set up the non press only screenings, certain rows of seats were cordoned off for the press and VIPs. Generally anywhere from one to four rows would be reserved. When I first arrived in Vegas, it had become standard practice for any press or VIP seats still vacant before the feature started to get filled by the general public.

This became a real problem where certain members of the public would hover around the empty seats and if one were, for example, being saved for a press member who had gone to the toilet (yes we do use the restroom) there could be scuffles. In one instance a journalist was punched by a member of the public.

That particular incident resulted in the rules changing. There were still people who, despite getting a film for free mind you, felt entitled to sit in the “good seats.” Their perception was that these seats must be better as they were reserved. Not so. They were just a few rows set aside without consideration as to viewing or position. Full stop.

It seems that Vegas was the exception and not the rule. Studio reps from Phoenix were amazed that the cinemas in Nevada had this problem. But then, Arizona reps had never opened up the press seats to the general public. Their viewpoint was that Mr and Mrs Public with their kids and neighbors were already getting a free film so “Shut up and sit down.”

The other “problem” in Las Vegas was that the huge amount of disabled viewers who got their free films, would argue over where they were going to sit. Despite the fact that there were places set up specially for them, they would complain and get quite angry if they had to sit in their motorized carts. Rather than take it up with the cinema owners, who are responsible for the amount of disabled seats, they would rip into the reps.

I learned quickly to despise the screenings that were not just for the press. In the beginning I did not mind the presence of “civilians” with attitude. Then they became intrusive, annoying, loud, talkative and were not even watching the film. At one point in a rather serious film, the fat couple behind me and another reviewer would not stop talking, loudly, throughout the entire film.

Finally I could take it no longer and turned around. “Do you mind?” “No,” the fat man retorted. I looked him in the eye. “Oh really?” He looked away and thankfully he and his wife shut the hell up. Afterward the studio rep told me off and said you should have told me, they would have been removed. I thanked her and said the next time I would.

What is amazing about the whole thing is that with cinema prices that go through the roof why not enjoy your free film? Why go there to talk to your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, neighbor, et al. You are there to watch a MOVIE.

Even worse was that these “entitled” idiots would fight to sit with the press, and once they got their way, they would would invariably make so much noise that you could not hear the film. Or constantly text their mates or keep getting up and down to look for folks they knew so they could brag about their great seat.

I remember explaining to one mentally challenged individual, he must have been as no one can be that stupid…can they? That most of us were paid to be there, it was our job. He sneered, “It must pay good.” One local critic sniffed and replied, “If you call $10 per article good, then yes!”

The whole thing had a Catch-22 feel to it. On the one hand, having a “real” audience in the cinema was, in a lot of ways, preferred. You could gage how well the film went over with the masses. This was especially important at “kids” films. It was easy to see which studios got it right. There were no, “Mummy I need to wee, I’m hungry, I’m thirsty.” You were also hard pressed to hear parents saying, “Sit down, five more minutes, let’s go out for a minute.”

Other times, the audience were an intrusion full stop. At one film, which was supposed to be a drama, a man and his family sat and laughed uproariously throughout. In that particular instance, I did complain to the rep and was told, “Sorry, he’s a regular and somewhat special.”

The one drawback to “press only” viewings was that your colleagues in the cinema, which was deserted except for the few of us who could make it, were mostly a jaded bunch. If the film was comedic in nature it was rare to hear anyone laugh. I suppose I broke all the rules and would, if it warranted it, really react to the film.

If it was funny I laughed. Sad, I cried (Yes, I cry at movies, silly old sop!) and if the film was really special and required a myriad of emotions, I provided all the reactions necessary. As I said, I love films. Even the “bad” ones.

Very few of my reviews were negative. I alway try to point out the positive things in movies although there are exceptions to this, I do try. My good friend Jacob Tiranno, and fellow member of the Nevada Film Critic’s Society, (and my “movie buddy”) liked the fact that I tried to see the best of the productions and would not slam a film that tried but did not deliver.

On the subject of Jacob, he does a podcast, on iTunes and on YouTube, head on over and give him a listen. I’ve done a few with him and he has a great show. Tell him I sent you. Also, stop by and check out the Nevada Film Critic’s Society a great site where a number of folks give their view of films on offer.

So in essence, being paid to watch movies was the dream job. Despite the intrusive audience. Although to be fair, there were a few folks who were great finds. A young and gorgeous civil rights lawyer was so nice I found myself wishing I were years younger…and taller. There were others, people who were cinephiles, or the next best thing to, and could intelligently talk about what they had just seen.

Like the interaction with the celebs I miss the free movies (Who would not?) and hopefully I’ll soon have a set of wheels that can get me to some Arizona cinemas as the reps still email me with offers of viewings. Until then I’ll watch my DVD collection and dream of that perfect job.
4 March 2015