News Column

Behind the scenes at the movies

July 14, 2013


July 14--When customers arrive at Yuma's Main Street Cinemas to watch blockbuster movies on the silver screen, they expect the theaters to be clean, the popcorn to be fresh and the movies to play uninterrupted.

Those duties fall squarely upon the shoulders of the theater employees, who know that while their jobs may be thankless, they are nonetheless essential.

Without the theater employees "it would probably be pretty hectic and crazy," said Brian Cox, assistant manager at Main Street Cinemas.

"You'd have trash everywhere and have to take care of everything yourself. Here we like to have people come in and feel comfortable, like they are at home. They don't have to worry. They just come in and tell us what they want and we give it to them" along with "comfortable seats and a nice big screen to enjoy."

After purchasing tickets, the next stop for moviegoers is often the concession stand.

Concession stand attendant Nicole Wakamatzu can be found there making fresh popcorn, hot dogs and nachos, and serving up sodas and candy.

She believes snacks and drinks are essential to the movie experience.

Movies would be "boring with nothing to munch on," she said. "It would be lame."

Arguably the most important snack at the movies is popcorn, which Wakamatzu has learned to make just right.

"I think I make pretty good popcorn," she said, noting the popcorn she makes fresh is far superior to the variety made in microwaves at home.

But making fresh popcorn does have its challenges. The machine, which uses hot oil to pop each kernel, can burn the unwary.

Wakamatzu learned this the hard way when she was a rookie at the theater -- evidence of which can be seen as a scar in the shape of a heart on her right wrist.

Serving customers at the concession stand can get very hectic, especially during the weekend when most movie patrons come to see films and are in a hurry to get to their seats before the previews are over.

"Oh yeah -- it gets hard sometimes," Wakamatzu said, although she noted she prefers it when the theater is busy. "It goes by faster."

The next stop is the individual theater where the film that moviegoers want to see is being played.

But starting the movie isn't as simple as inserting a Blu-ray disc into a machine and pressing play. A projectionist must first splice several reels of film together after they arrive in a box, and mount it onto a large projector.

The projectionist must then keep a vigilant eye on the equipment throughout each movie to ensure the film is progressing at the right speed and the audio syncs up properly.

This means the projectionist often has to watch a movie over and over again -- whether it's an instant classic or a terribly made film.

"It is an unfortunate perk," Cox said, adding the projectionists know exactly when an audience will laugh or scream in terror during scenes.

"A lot of people like to go in there to hear all the people because everybody goes crazy during parts like that. It is pretty enjoyable to see people enjoying themselves."

After the movie is over, the credits roll and the patrons have left the theater, it is then the job of ushers to clean up all the popcorn on the floor, the spilt sodas, and the various other food items and trash left behind.

Often working alone, they only have 20 minutes, at most, to clean up the whole theater room.

Angel Gonzalez, an employee who has worked at Main Street Cinemas for about two years, has become very efficient at this task.

"When I first started I thought it was going to be easy, but once you get into it," you see how dirty it can be, especially when kids "drop popcorn everywhere," he said. "We've got to sweep every little crumb."

The ushers have even less time to clean during busy days, which is made even more difficult because there is more trash to pick up.

"We've got to do it quicker," Gonzalez said.

The employees have learned to gauge how long they have left to clean the theater rooms based on the music playing during the credits, Cox noted.

Spilt soda proves an extra challenge, since the usher is forced to spot mop before the soda can dry and get sticky.

Some of the grossest duties an usher faces is scraping off gum from the bottom of seats, or melted candy from the floor.

"Some of the candy we have, like the Milk Duds, get stuck on the floor. We've got to" work harder "to scrape them off because the caramel gets stuck to the paint on the floor and it chips the paint off, too."

Gonzalez pointed at several spots on the floor in one of the movie theater rooms where this had happened to illustrate his point.

The film audiences that cause the most messes are those attending kids' movies and horror flicks, Cox said.

"I'd say kids' movies, and then horror movies would be the top two you'd have to worry about the biggest messes. Sometimes they will drop stuff like crazy."

Without the ushers, the theaters would be "a giant mess," Gonzales said, adding that even though most people don't stop to thank the ushers for cleaning up the theater or the bathrooms, he knows his job is important. "I wouldn't want to sit with a whole bunch of trash next to me."

Chris McDaniel can be reached at or 539-6849.


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