Killing the Cinema Industry

How rude cinema patrons keep movie lovers at home

Is it Sky TV or the internet that makes cinemas struggle? Is it home cinema systems and cheap DVDs? No... it's audience behaviour.

Why do many of us prefer to watch films at home? Are we lazy? Are cinemas too expensive? Do we not care about cinema?

Well, perhaps. But some of us love film, feel passionate about seeing it in theatres, and are happy to leave the house and pay a little for this special evening out - which is less than theatre, concerts, meals, and a night of drinking and clubbing.

Except that we get our night out (or day) ruined by other cinema goers. I recall an unfortunate evening in a towering Cineworld. I'd come 100 miles to see a special film on its opening night. I suspect that a load of teenagers assembled at the foyer and randomly chose out of the 18 screens a film that might do to chomp and answer their phone through. Clearly several had picked wrongly - and found the emotional drama rather different to what they wanted. But it was what I had very much come for. A particular pair near me were regularly making phone calls, crunching, getting up. They lay in wait and kicked me on the way out for daring to tell them off. I mentioned this to the Cineworld staff who said could have come and found them - but why should I get up, missing the film I wanted to see that the girls clearly didn't?!

One of my bugbears is that many cinemas don't have staff in the auditorium. As well as Cineworlds, the British arts chain Picturehouses are among those rip your tickets as you enter the auditorium area and leave you to it. Some independents told me that they are legally obliged to have staff in the theatre with you, and that suits me (though perhaps not the staff if they have to keep seeing the same films).

I wrote to Cineworld about the above incident, who ignored my letter. It may not be their fault how patrons behave but they can try and do something about it - staff in the screens is a big start. Cineworld began showing a silly advert where a frog sings about all his pet hates in the cinema - a nice way of asking people to behave differently. And Orange also have their trailer about 'don't let a mobile spoil your movie'.

I think that mobiles have been rare as a movie spoiler, though even having them on is like a little torch which distracts others. I was shocked in Romania where people freely made and received calls in the cinema. British culture does reinforce that mobile use in cinemas is not allowed, but patrons find other ways to annoy.

I nearly exclusively go to art and independent cinemas, and yet I have suffered as many aggravation there as in the multiplexes. And it's not hoards of teens either.

It's arty to some to skip the trailers and arrive for the feature - but this is arrogant. These people come in noisily, expecting to take up the best seats and ask others who did get there on time to move to do so. I've seen people ostentatiously take off coats, discuss where to sit, stand up for several moments right in front of the screen.

I sometimes wonder if I'm attending the bladder problem and Attention Deficient Disorder screenings. I know we provide special screenings for those with babies, and also for autistic people so that they can move around and make noise as they need to. So perhaps there's these other groups too that I'm unaware of, or maybe there's a game called 'when your seat lights up go to the loo and bar'. And nearly everyone's seat must illuminate. (I do not mean any unkindness to those with genuine ADHD or bladder issues).

I've seen the Spanish Armada - a film I travelled 250 miles to see in a special cinema - augmented by groups of modern cinema goers head's bobbing in the ocean on their way to the loo. Why anyone would chose the highpoint of Elizabeth The Golden Age to wee beats me. It's not as if the Electric in London doesn't give you a special pre feature break to empty your bladder and buy whatever you need.

I've heard conversations continue well into the opening credits. To me, when the curtains open, all mouths shut. The trailers are part of the experience. Arts cinemas are showing amateur shorts at the very start at the mo. I say - shut up and let the film makers have their 90 seconds of glory.

And as for when the certificate page appears - that's definitely hush time. And if there's silence for the first moments of a film - you do not fill it with gossip or comment. Film makers have put so much thought into those opening frames - do not ruin it!

I often feel a little nervous as I enter the cinema. I don't want my movie ruined and I don't want a fight with my fellow viewers either. I'm not afraid of confrontation but it doesn't add to my evening out. I realise too that if I'm having a hissing match with the chair swinging crunching gang that I'm causing further disturbance for other viewers.

I'd like to propose an etiquette for cinema, to be disseminated by as many means as possible. And I'd like it enforced by peers and cinema staff.

Remain in your sears. Pretend it's a fairground ride.

Go to the loo before entering the theatre.

People who leave cannot be readmitted

NO alcohol in cinema - I am sick of breathing in other people's fumes closer than if I'd gone to the pub with a mate, and smelling strangers getting drunk next to me

Do not lean, kick or put your feet on the row in front. Even if seats are free, remember the chairs are attached and the whole row is affected by your leg movements

Keep rustling to a minimum ... and discourage selling noisy and smelly foods/drinks

Do not talk once programme has started - and that includes whispering as it's just as disturbing

Strictly no mobiles on

Do not ask those already sitting to move, especially if you are late. Choose your seat swiftly and quietly

Do not skive the ads - it spoils film for others. Get here on time

If ads are too repetitive, cinemas should look to changing that and not advertise the film starting later - the billboard shouldn't say: 2.00 programme starts; 215 movie starts. Advertise the 2pm only

Do not allow latecomers - after trailers end there should be no admittance and patrons should know they will forfeit their ticket if they are later than that.

Cinemas can help by:

having staff in the auditoriums (or just outside) and popping in

Quietly closing doors

Greater legroom

Not selling tickets for particular seats - allow people to chose their own

Having ushers who show later people to seats - ensuring they cause minimum disturbance to others - ie on the edges of empty rows, near the back

Not allowing people in after trailers end

Discouraging people from making others move

Not selling food or drink which disturbs - by smell, noise or the behaviours it induces

Stop the ads which say 'you can still get a coke' - discourage people from leaving seats

No-one wants to feel policed and afraid to relax and enjoy themselves, but neither should we feel our cinema tickets are wasted and what should be a time of pleasure, transport, challenge becomes one of frustration and combatance.

Even great cinema supporters feel that they'd prefer to see films at home rather than put up with movie theatres - and then the industry takes a blow… and the great palaces of film return to bingo halls and hulks of emptiness. Not because no-one wants to see films but because we don't want to see them under those circumstances. In Britain, I hear that many films make a loss at the box office and cinema only survives through subsidy, meaning that especially the arts and indie films may be at risk if patrons don't come out and see them whilst on theatrical release.

So - this is not a personal plea but one for a life changing art form to remain.


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