Remember Whensdays | The Movie Line

One day, toward the end of October, my phone kept buzzing over and over again. I was driving so I didn’t get it, but my phone kept buzzing. I pulled over thinking something was wrong. Nope.

It was alerting me about the final Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Trailer and “Tickets on sale Monday night!”

Moments later, I passed the multiplex at a local mall and seeing the marquee made me wistful. That’s because, I can handpick the perfect seats in the comfort of my own home, no line required.

And, that’s what I was melancholy about: no premiere lines.

The premiere line, in case you’ve not lived it, was an accidental social gathering that happened with major movie premieres. It existed before 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, but that was the film that brought the concept of waiting with hundreds of friends you never knew into the mainstream.

star_wars_manns_chinese_theater
‘Star Wars’ at Mann’s Chinese Theatre in 1977 (Courtesy of Photofest)

For decades, it was the only way to assure yourself a seat. And, guess what? Sometimes you still didn’t get one! You could spend all that time in line and you wouldn’t know you were out of luck until the theater manager waived you away. Moreover, you could get inside the theater, ready to see the movie with all of your friends, then find out only individual seats were left, so you would end up sitting separately.

The Plan

As with anything, your chances of success are better if you have a plan. I was the planner: took the day off and knit together a group to join me on the adventure. You see, this wasn’t an hour or two, this was often an all-day affair. My personal record was 19-hours. To be fair, I have heard of people in warmer climates who went more than 24.

star wars lines
Source: AP Photo/Nick Ut

Here’s how to make that happen:

  • At least two people make up “the spot.” You need someone you trust to watch things while you pee.
  • Bring blankets, sleeping bags, or tents as necessary. No one wants to spend the day listening to someone whine about being cold.
  • You’ll need recreational activities to entertain the group (e.g., games, cards, books).
  • Bring snacks and drinks. You can order pizza to the line, but if the delivery person can’t find you, someone else will probably buy the pie from them.
  • Pick a group diplomat, in case you have to deal with non-fans who don’t understand how a line works. You know, people who shove like it’s hockey, when they’re upset.
  • A “Go Time” sub-plan: Who is dumping your stuff into cars? Who can get to the middle theater seats fastest? And, most importantly – who among you has the stones to hold the ground when people start insisting you “can’t hold seats!” while your friend is in the bathroom?

Sounds like drama? It was, but when the fanfare started on that screen, and you were watching in a sold-out auditorium of real fans, it was worth it.

A Better Plan

By the 2000s, single theaters or non-corporate theaters were dwindling. Competition for big films — Star Wars prequels, Lord of the Rings trilogy, Marvel opening weekends — was tough. Then, the 7 p.m. on Friday premiere died and was replaced by a 12:01 a.m. show, taking the “midnight movie” beyond The Rocky Horror Picture Show to blockbuster status.

MHM LOTR
Line party coverage for “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” in Des Moines Register, December 18, 2003

At this moment, a bad line experience gave me an idea. What if premiere lines were actually organized? People counted, bathrooms available, and someone was in charge.

So, I approached the best theater in town, a little independent named Merle Hay Mall Cinema, with a 60-feet screen, THX sound, and 800 seats. My request was if they would like to do a premiere for Star Wars: Attack of the Clones? The manager loved the idea of competing with the big guys, but he didn’t have enough staff. So, with the help of my cousin, we ran the whole thing… pro bono.

IMG_20141216_193533
Moviegoers take their places at Merle Hay Mall Cinema

Then, I took it up one more notch. With the show sold-out hours in advance, why not entertain people? I arranged for a live “game show” with old friends who had a new set for their DJ Service they wanted to test. (It cost me a few seats and popcorn.) Add a cosplay contest, and BAM, we were in the midst of a “mini-con!”

I spread the word via Internet chat rooms, wrote a press release, and worked with TV stations that covered us with live-shots during broadcasts and with the newspaper that provided articles in advance.

That day, it looked like the only place in the city Attack of the Clones was opening was our little indie. Fans were ecstatic and, until it lost out to chains, it made MHMC the place for premieres.

SW Rise of Skywalker
Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm, LTD

Planning for the Future

If we want to make premieres fair for all theaters and eventful for all fans, let’s consider what worked in the past and use what is clearly working today:

  • Sign-up for on-sale alerts. Follow the film on social for possible advanced screenings.
  • Decide who is buying the tickets, and how many friends want to sit together.
  • Get the alert. Sign-on to an app as fast as you can. Buy the best seats.

That’s it. Done in minutes. And everyone benefits.

And so that’s why, at the end of October, I became a little wistful as I got those alerts. While I will never miss 12-hours of sweating or freezing, I do mourn the loss of that cinematic experience with a bunch of strangers who, for one day of merriment, shared an adventure to see a film.

Everyone with a plan, leading to one goal – THE must-see movie.

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