How a Cinema is Run


How a Cinema is Run

The manager of the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square,

London—one of the most luxurious of West End picture houses—describes the hundred and one duties which fall to the lot of one who controls a super-cinema. Duties whose sole aim is your comfort.

by H. W. Crull

THE cinema-manager, to most film-goers, is just a man in a dress-suit who stands in the foyer, bowing urbanely to occasional distinguished patrons, or waving an imperious hand to the brass-bound attendant. He looks decorative— but what does he do ? The manager is paid to secure the comfort and contentment of his patrons. This means You.

In my own cinema, I am responsible for the comfort and happy entertainment of between 50,000 and 100,000 film-goers every week. In common with most other managers of supercinemas, I find that it involves working about fourteen hours a day.

Let me describe an average day in the life of the manager of a " super.” He arrives at the cinema at 9 a.m., in time to inspect the house thoroughly before the first show. He looks for defective bulbs in the dozens of house-lights which spangle the theatre. He scrutinizes seats, carpets and walls for any sign of slack work by the army of cleaning-men who work from midnight until 5 a.m., or the charwomen who follow them at 6.30 a.m. He will be in his place to watch the first show at ten o’clock. He listens carefully to the sound and notes the intensity of the picture-beam. If he detects any fault, he communicates at once with the projection-room. He

satisfies himself that the programme is running satisfactorily, the lights are dimming and rising unobtrusively, and that a hundred details are faultless. Then he takes a last look round his gradually-growing audience, and moves off to his office.

There he finds the morning’s mail awaiting him. The manager of a " super ” receives hundreds of letters from patrons each week. One will suggest a new tune for the organist to play in the interval. Another has left a pair of gloves behind. A third indulges in some fulminating criticism at the expense of the gentleman who smoked an ultra-violent cigar in the next seat to hers last Friday matinee. Many letters contain helpful and constructive suggestions and these the manager always welcomes.

When he has read these and the dozens of business communications which arrive with them, he spends hours until lunch-time dictating the answers, fixing appointments and arranging last-minute details in the day’s routine.

A hasty luncheon and the manager is back at his desk. Visitors arrive. First comes the representative of the sign-makers who look after the theatre signs. The manager goes over with him the designs for forthcoming display. Next come representatives from newspaper advertising depart-

meats ; for the manager is, in many instances, responsible for the cinema’s advertisements in the Press.

New curtains have been designed for the proscenium, and his next visitor brings him samples of material for the great drapes. The cinema-organist wishes to try a new programme of musical numbers and calls at the manager’s office to discuss their suitability in relation to the week’s programme.

So the afternoon passes. Meanwhile the manager will have found time to watch the progress of his matinee-show, receiving reports from the box office, as to the numbers admitted, the formation of queues, and so on. Throughout the day he maintains constant touch with his various officials. In all he may control as many as a hundred workers.

In my own cinema I have a " service staff ” of forty. These, the uniformed men of the house, are under a chief of service, an assistant chief, and five captains, all being supervised by myself and my three assistant-managers. On the technical side there is the chief engineer, with his staff of six engineers and six electricians who are responsible for the lighting, ventilation, and general mechanics of the building. Then there is the chief projectionist, with his six assistants. He is lord of picture and sound, all matters relating to the projection and sound-system coming under his direct control. Special attendants placed about the auditorium keep a minute-by-minute log of the shows. They note down any breaks, in film or sound, any momentary failure of light, or, indeed, any of the dozens of tiny incidents which happen in even the best-run cinemas and which call for correction.

There is an accountant’s department, with a chief accountant, a treasurer, a junior accountant, and six cashiers. In the restaurant there is a manageress

and twelve waitresses; six chefs work in the kitchens below.

During my day I must find time thoroughly to inspect all these departments, as well as the tailor’s shop in the basement, where the uniformed staff’s liveries are valeted and kept in trim. The “ service staff,” in addition to their daily inspection by their own officers, parade weekly under the manager’s eye. “ Credits ” are awarded to all those whose efficiency or conspicuous courtesy to patrons warrants special reward.

By the time the evening comes the manager will have watched the ‘‘ change,” as we call the exodus and influx of patrons between programmes. He keeps his ears open and catches many useful criticisms in the remarks of the departing film-goers as they leave the theatre.

The evening deepens in the streets outside. The manager, in that famous dress-suit, is still at his post. Sometimes there is the personal appearance of a star to be carefully stage-managed; or some celebrity may visit the cinema whose special comfort must be quietly arranged. Is the programme running right, to the nearest half-minute ? Is that ” short ” providing the necessary contrast to the second feature which follows it ? Does the big picture come easily and naturally on top of that ? The staff are at their posts. The programme is running smoothly. The whole house, stalls and balconies, is well filled with contented patrons. The organist has played his big ” number,” or perhaps a stage-show has successfully paved the way for the big picture, now well under way.

A last look round his cinema and the manager walks through the specially-decorated display in the entrance-hall—another of his little efforts—and sets his face toward home. Time, 10.30 p.m.



The world film encyclopedia, 1933




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