When I got my first job in a cinema aged seventeen, I definitely didn’t think I’d still be working there when I was 23. But here I am, scooping popcorn for a living and sweeping the exact same popcorn off the floor twenty minutes later. Originally, I didn’t even get the job. I only got the call when somebody else dropped out. Dad called me “the best loser” but I think “the worst winner” has a better ring to it.
Like any job there are pros and cons, and “typical hours” isn’t a phrase that really exists in the world of cinema. You might start work at 9am, hopping on the bus with the rest of the morning rush, or you might finish at four in the morning on a Saturday night, battling the drunkards for a taxi home.
“I’ve been at work!” You desperately plead with the taxi driver. “There’s absolutely no chance of me throwing up in the back of your car! Please, pick me!”
As I said, there are no typical hours. Just shifts. All day, every day...
The Morning Shift
The Holy Grail of shifts. The suckers from the night before have stocked everything up for you, and you have nothing to do but throw some popcorn into a warmer and smile gorgeously at the people who come in. Unless you’re hungover. Then you resist the urge to vomit in the little staff sink in the kitchen, willing every single customer who walks through the door to suddenly change their mind and walk back out.
The morning shift has always been my favourite as there’s time to chat. I have a lot of time for the seniors who shuffle in to ask if we have any live operas coming up. They’re always very polite and full of interesting stories, and they’re usually bored enough to stick around and have a good natter. Unlike the woman who once stormed up to me with “GET ME A BAG OF MALTESERS” only to be reminded by her young son that the proper phrase is “Please may I have.”
At the end of your morning shift you swan out buoyantly, waving goodbye to your co-workers who’ve just arrived to start the dreaded afternoon shift.
The Afternoon Shift
Fancy going out for breakfast? Or getting some scran tonight at that new, hipster AF new place in Hockley? Nah, sorry, you’re on the afternoon shift. You start at 11am, giving you no time to effectively utilise your morning, and you leave at 6pm; wanting nothing more than to go back to bed because your feet hurt, you smell like popcorn and you suspect you’ve done your back in bending over to sweep everything up.
If you didn’t know, people in cinemas eat like animals. What happens to you all? Do you just forget where your mouth is when the lights go down? Are you guessing? Also, feel free to just leave your shit all over the place. Honestly, I love it. I love picking up your half-eaten chocolate bar, and I especially love picking your orange peel out of the cup holder, you animal.
I’ll admit that the afternoon shift isn’t all bad. On a quiet day, it gives you a lot of time to sit and chill out. Especially in a little independent cinema that lets you work on your uni essays, read books, and rock up with an adult colouring book to fill the time. I once read an entire book during a shift and served about two people. It was great.
The Night Shift
It’s a bit of a mixed bag, to be honest, and you can be in for a bumpy ride. Generally starting around 6pm, some lucky ducks are allowed to leave at 10pm. But, if you’re the one closing, it’s a bit like the boat scene in Willy Wonka. There’s no knowing where you’re going. Will it be a quiet night where everyone is tidy and you’re out before midnight? Or will it be the opening weekend of a new Star Wars film, that leaves you crawling through the rows of seats, weeping and trying to fish out a stray Maltesers packet at three in the morning? You just don’t know.
And, oh, the things you find when cleaning a screen... A used condom? It’s happened. A bottle full of actual human wee? Could you really not stand to miss three minutes of the film? A child’s nappy? Yes, absolutely. A suspicious, singular pill. Well, whatever it takes for you to enjoy the latest Marvel film, I guess. But also, miraculously unopened packets of sweets. Yes, thank you, I will have this pristine bag of Cadbury Nibbles, you fool.
When it comes down to it, I love working in a cinema. It’s not something that I’ll do forever, but when you manage to grind the managers down enough that they allow you to have a private, singalong staff screening of High School Musical, with everyone dressed in onesies and shamelessly helping themselves to the popcorn, it can be alright.
And for all the moaning customers who insist that your popcorn is so salty that it could actually kill a child – yes, this was really said to my face – there are the customers who will chat to you for ages about their favourite films and ask you about yours.
Plus, unlimited free films is never going to be a bad thing, is it?