Saturday, December 15, 2007

Welcome to the Circus

New at Since Last Week:
I Am Legend

HOOOO, BOY! Do I have stories to tell today! Refill your coffee and settle in—because this one’s a long one.

Monday morning, I skipped a screening. First of all, it was Monday morning. Second of all, it was a documentary about skiing. And third, it’s December. I don’t have time to watch skiing documentaries on a Monday morning. So I skipped. That meant that my first screening of the week was Tuesday night.

Tuesday night’s screening was I Am Legend. This was one of those movies that everyone’s been looking forward to for months. Not only was everyone looking forward to it, but this particular screening was the only pre-release screening. It was the only chance the press would have to see it. So pretty much everyone was coming. And, apparently, so was everyone in town.

Typically, I leave home an hour before an evening screening—sometimes more. Usually, that gives me enough time to drive to the theater, get a parking spot, make my way into the theater, and get a seat before the theater people start letting in the general public. Yeah, it’s early, but it guarantees that I’ll get a decent seat—and it means that I have some time to catch up with my esteemed colleagues before the movie starts.

This Tuesday, I was a little worried that I might be late. My husband was planning on joining me, but he had a meeting until at least 5:30. So I made sure the rest of the gang knew we’d be there—though maybe a few minutes later than usual. Fortunately, though, the meeting didn’t go too long, and we were able to make it to the theater at a decent time. We arrived at around 6:20 for the 7:00 screening—and by the time we got to the theater, there was already a line down the hall and through the lobby.

So here’s the thing about screenings: there are always more passes than seats. The studio wants to make sure the theater’s full for the screening, so they give out a ton of passes. It even says so in the small print on the passes. Most of the time, it’s not a problem—but that does mean that, from time to time, the reps have to turn people away. I Am Legend was one of those times.

There are times when it’s good to be press—and this was one of them. It meant that we got to walk past all the people who were still waiting in line in the lobby. I went up to the guy at the door and told him I was press, and he let us in. As we walked down the crowded hallway, I saw the rest of the gang standing at the door, waiting to get in. Jason waved and motioned for us to hurry, so I trotted down the hall to catch up. As I did, I was met with all kinds of shouts from the peanut gallery.

“HEY! The back of the line’s BACK HERE!” they called out.

Actually, it was a good thing I was running—because otherwise, I probably would have gotten myself beaten.

So at that point, I knew we were in for an interesting evening. After all, people are never happy when they get turned away from a screening—even (or perhaps especially) if it’s a free screening. People get angry. I’ve heard that one of the reps once got her car keyed by angry people who were turned away. It’s stupid, but it’s true. So we got ourselves settled in, saved seats for Kevin and Neil, and braced ourselves for what was to come.

To be honest, I don’t even know how to begin to explain the insanity that was Tuesday night. First of all, let’s just say that the theater was packed. Usually, there’s someone at the door, counting people to make sure they know when to stop letting people in. Apparently the count was a bit off—because too many people were allowed in the theater. This meant that many of them ended up standing in the aisles—or on the stairs—looking for that one open seat. That meant, of course, that they were eyeing our saved press seats like a vulture eyes a dying bunny rabbit. Fortunately, Kevin and Chris made it into the theater in time to get some seats, and Neil showed up and took his seat, too. He said that they almost didn’t let him in, and he had to pull a “Don’t you know who I am?” to fight his way in.

After Neil showed up, it turned out that we had two extra seats. There just happened to be two sad-looking young guys standing right by us, so we decided to give them the seats. They were so happy and so grateful. But the second they sat down, the rep swooped in and asked who they were with. The two guys looked so befuddled. But apparently there’s weren’t enough press seats saved. (We later heard that they’d only held 15 press seats—for the only screening of one of the biggest releases of the month.) So the poor guys had to give up their seats again.

Fortunately, those two guys handled it really well. Yeah, it sucked. And I felt really bad for them. But they didn’t throw a fit. That was still to come.

So seats in the theater were so in demand that people would do anything to get them. At one point, one empty seat turned up in the middle of the upper section of the theater, sending two grown men racing to get it. They raced through the aisles, up the stairs, and over all the people in the row. Seriously, it was a circus. For those of us who already had seats, it was sad—but highly entertaining nonetheless.

But one of the guys ended up with the seat and the other one ended up having to leave. As he was walking out, some woman got up and announced that there was another empty seat available. As the rep tried to explain that it was being held for someone, the woman stopped halfway down the stairs and yelled out, announcing to everyone, “No! That seat is open because I’m leaving. My son got thrown out, so I have to go—even though I waited in line for an hour to get seats.” In a way, I felt bad for the crabby old lady. Yes, it sucks to wait in line for an hour. And yes, it totally sucks that her son was the guy who didn’t race to the extra seat quickly enough. But I have no pity for someone who throws a fit like that. She laid into poor Brook, who was working the theater that night—even though it wasn’t Brook’s fault. At that point, I just wanted to give the poor girl a hug—because she looked like she was ready to cry. Or have a nervous breakdown. Perhaps both. And I couldn’t blame her.

So after all that, there was still another problem: two members of the press decided that they could show up at exactly 7:00 and demand to get seats. Now, I realize that we’re one of the big reasons why they have these screenings. We’re there to review the movies and give them more press coverage. And that’s why they let us in before everyone else—and it’s why they save us seats, just in case we can’t get there an hour early. But there’s definitely a reason why most of us get there ridiculously early. We know that people with free passes don’t take kindly to those “Reserved for Press” seats—so they rip the signs off and take the seats anyway. We know that sometimes the reps forget to save seats for us. We know that sometimes the theaters fill up. And it’s just easier to get there early, get out of everyone’s way, and hang out for a while. And if we’re going to be late, we make sure that someone knows we’re coming—so we’re sure to have a seat waiting for us when we get there.

Of course, as I said before, this isn’t usually a problem—which is a good thing, since there are a few press members who are infamous for always showing up at the last minute. But screenings aren’t usually this popular. In fact, I’ve never seen people waiting in the lobby like that, just hoping to make it to that line in the hallway. But we knew it was going to be crazy. It’s I Am Legend. There’s one screening. It’s Will Smith. Of course everyone’s going to show up. So, for one thing, the reps should have saved more than 15 press seats. But, at the same time, our colleagues should have known better. If you’re going to be late, at least let someone know that you’re coming. As David pointed out, those reserved press seats are a privilege—not a right. And if the theater’s that packed, and it’s ten minutes before the screening, the reps have every right to give those seats up to some guy who actually showed up an hour early because he wanted so desperately to see the movie.

So here’s what happened: because of these two press members, two more people were thrown out—after they’d been so relieved and overjoyed to actually get seats. The first was (understandably) quite upset, and the press member who was taking his seat threw an attitude and said, “Yeah, like you’d lose your job if you didn’t see this movie.” Okay, now if it’s that important that you see this movie, don’t you think you could show up on time?

Meanwhile, the second press member was getting a seat, too—which meant that the poor guy who had raced through the theater to get a seat got ejected from the theater.

So all of us who had been there on time (or who had let other people know that they’d be a little late, since they had to work until 6) watched the whole thing in horror. You see, people already resent us. They harass us in the hallways for walking right into the theater when they’ve been waiting in line for a half hour. They get pissed off when they don’t have their choice of every seat in the theater because a couple of them are reserved for press. But at least most of us get in there, sit down, and shut up. We don’t harass them or taunt them. We don’t let them sit down, only to take away their seat and tell them that they’ll have to leave. And those who do just make the rest of us look bad.

So anyway…once everyone was settled in—and the rest of us were all buzzing about what had just happened, I looked at Bill, who was seated next to me, and announced, “This is the most entertaining screening I’ve been to all year—and the movie hasn’t even started yet!”

Eventually—to our great relief, that was the end of the pre-screening show. And the movie did eventually start—though a little later than planned. Once again, though, we ended up seated behind a bunch of people who felt the need to talk through the entire movie. Worst of all, though, was the fact that someone had actually brought a baby to the movie. First of all, it’s a PG-13 movie. There’s no need for a baby to see it. And second of all, you got a free pass. Pay for a freakin’ babysitter. Instead, though, these people brought their baby, who cried and laughed and babbled through the entire screening—until Kevin complained (twice) and finally got the inconsiderate parent (and the babbling baby) thrown out. Really, though, it makes me sad to think that someone else got thrown out so the entire crowd could listen to a baby babble through the whole movie.

Needless to say, the post-screening banter was less about the movie itself than it was about the pre-screening entertainment.

In fact, the same was the case the next morning, when a few of us met up to see The Water Horse. John doesn’t sit by us at evening screenings (or perhaps we don’t sit by him—since he was here first). He prefers sitting way up front (something to do with the legroom and the quick getaway). So we compared notes on the previous evening’s events. And as more critics showed up, everyone added their two cents to the discussion.

On Wednesday night, there were a couple of screenings, but I ended up taking a much-needed night off. But the discussion continued on Thursday night, when a bunch of us met up for dinner before a late screening of Sweeney Todd.

Really, this week was a big week: both I Am Legend and Sweeney Todd, two movies that we’d been looking forward to seeing for ages. Actually, I’d been looking forward to seeing Sweeney Todd since I first heard it was being made. Up until last week, I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t be able to see it until Thursday night—the night before release—thanks to next week’s screening schedule insanity. But this last-minute screening popped up on the schedule, and we all decided that it was much more important than the screening of P.S. I Love You. To celebrate, we all met up for happy hour before heading to the screening.

Since it was such a last-minute screening, it was held in a tiny theater. Still, there was a line when we showed up. We walked up to the security guys, and Neil announced, “Hi. We’re cool.” The guard gave him a funny look, and the rest of us laughed and explained that we were press.

“Ah,” the guard said. “Then you are cool. Go on in.”

We took our seats and continued the chatter, comparing notes on screenings—and the award screeners that we’ve been sent. And we all took note of the obvious improvement when one of Tuesday night’s press members showed up at six minutes before the screening instead of one or two. Fortunately, it wasn’t a crowded screening, so there were plenty of seats left.

Since I’m not really supposed to talk about the movie until it comes out next week, I’ll just say that I wasn’t disappointed—and I’ll leave it at that.

The week concluded with another screening on Friday morning. Apparently, There Will Be Blood was a popular one—since all kinds of press members came out of the woodwork for it. There were people we rarely see (because they don’t actually review movies anymore) and others that we’d never seen before. Personally, I wouldn’t be coming out of the woodwork for a 2½-hour drama on a Friday morning, but I guess that’s just me.
Fortunately, the screening went off without a hitch—until about 2/3 of the way through, when the speakers started crackling. I had a flashback to last year’s The Pursuit of Happyness screening, when, about 2/3 of the way through, we got to a reel that was backwards and upside-down, causing us to sit and wait for an hour before watching the end of the movie. I was a little worried that it would happen again—this week, nothing would have surprised me. As the speaker crackled again, Jason announced, “It’s White Noise! There’s a ghost in the theater!”

“What’s he trying to tell us?” I asked.

“That this movie’s way too long.”

Eventually, though, the movie ended—without interruption. I had lost all feeling in my legs, and I seriously had to pee. So it was good to get out. When it was over, John and Clay and I went out for a late-late lunch at a new little restaurant down the street. John and Clay bickered like an old married couple. John and I gossiped like a couple of teenage girls. And Clay and I discussed how much of a snob John is. So, pretty much, it was lunch as usual. The food was good, and the company was even better.

Next week, we’re in for a long haul. It’s nice that we had some scheduling changes—so we can actually see more of the movies that had all been scheduled to screen at the same time—but it means that we have that many more screenings to attend. We’ve got screenings on Monday and Tuesday morning, as well as Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night. If I want, I can go to a Thursday night screening, too—but since we’re packing our bags and heading out for our Christmas travels on Friday afternoon, that might be a stupid idea. But, then again, that’s never stopped me before. So we’ll see…

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