Today marked the end of my career in cinemas. It has been 23 years now, and it was with a mixture of sadness and relief that I walked through the theatre doors for the last time today after being made redundant for the second time in two years.
I never planned on a career in movie theatres. I love movies, sure, but I always thought I’d be a filmmaker or an actor. I went to drama school in London to make the second one a reality, and it was there I fell in love with film. Thank you, Museum of the Moving Image.... When my drama school class fizzled out because of the number of drop-outs, I decided to go to university instead, majoring in theatre and film.
In my first year, I joined the local film society and soon became a member of the committee. One of the committee members’ jobs was to run the projectors for the society’s screenings. In those days, most of the films we screened were from the society’s 16mm film library. I quickly became confident in running the 16mm projector and eagerly waited for the days we had 35mm films so I could learn to project that too.
I volunteered to work for the International Film Festival and was given numerous chores from ticketing (in the days before computerized ticketing systems), publicity and marketing to carrying films between venues.
When a new cinema opened in the city, I was first in line to apply. After a chaotic opening night, I was one of the first of the new staff to be picked as a supervisor. I didn’t know it then, but my career was born on that night.
I only worked there a few months, as a supervisor and a projectionist, before disagreements with the management led me to leave. It was temporary. A year later I was called by the then-operations manager and asked if I’d like to return as assistant manager. I accepted.
A year or so later, I took over as the manager when the then-manager left to pursue other things.
After that, apart from a six-month period when I moved to Sydney, I’ve managed cinemas. I managed a large (and growing) complex in Melbourne for five years, then moved back to New Zealand after my first child was born and was headhunted for a role here. I was at that job for over 8 years before being made redundant when the business changed hands for the third time in my tenure as manager.
I was lucky enough to get picked up by another local art-house almost right away. But now, after a year there, restructuring of the management team has left me redundant again.
There have been so many changes to the film business in the time I’ve been in it, most significantly, the move from 35mm film to digital. Reporting and ticketing has been computerized and is so much more efficient and easy. The whole way films are released has changed, with almost every title going to almost every cinema in town. With so much competition for people’s entertainment dollar, and the number of platforms films are now available on, audiences have shrunk and changed. When I was a student, going to the movies was a very viable form of entertainment; almost every Friday night we went down to the Paramount for the late show. Now students rarely go to the movies, preferring to download movies to their iPads or computers.
But there will always be a place for cinema. There is nothing like sitting in the dark with a roomful of strangers, sharing the highs and lows of a great story playing out on the big screen. Even after 23 years in the business, I still get a little thrill when the lights start to fade and the screen lights up.
Sometimes the film is great, other times disappointing. But going to the cinema to see a film will always beat seeing it on a TV screen in my book….