When I went to see Pixels this past weekend (my review), AMC ran a cutesy cartoon before the picture showing how to exit their theater in the event of an emergency. I don’t normally go to the AMC theater near me, so I can’t tell if this is something they normally play before a film or if this was a direct response to the tragic shooting that took place in Louisiana. I remember that shortly after the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, that same AMC theater (as well as the Regal theater that I normally go to) played a similar promo showing how to access the emergency exits. It reminded me of the PSA’s they play that kindly ask people to refrain from talking or using their phones during the movie. I have a feeling that both pieces are equally as effective in achieving their goals.
I’m sure that the “what to do in case of an emergency” snippets are a way for the theater chains to claim that they are doing something about an issue when they really aren’t (again, just like the enforcement of “don’t talk, don’t use your phone” rules). It’s ass-covering, pure and simple. But, what can the theaters do? To be fair, there’s never going to be a way to permanently stop a crazy person from doing something crazy, but there’s a simple solution that would ensure that such a response could be met with optimal speed and efficiency: a theater employee should be present during the entire screening. We used to call those “ushers.”
Now, I know this is going to come off as a stuck up movie-goer taking advantage of a tragedy to help optimize his theatrical experience, and I’ll completely cop to that. In the same breath, I’ll make the argument that theaters can better their patrons’ sense of safety while also bettering those patrons’ time at the movies.
Have a single usher for each theater (sorry theater chains, but actually doing something about a problem will mean spending money on it, and creating jobs isn’t a bad way to spend that money) who also acts as the person tearing tickets for that theater. Once it’s showtime, the usher can move inside the theater and still collect tickets from any latecomers (which these days, it seems like a majority of audience members are latecomers). The usher would then remain in the theater for the duration of the show, acting as both an enforcer of common courtesy and a first responder should an emergency occur.
The usher would have a way of immediately summoning security officers employed by the theater via some kind of device (a single emergency button, a walkie-talkie, an app on their phone or a personal handheld device provided by the theater. Someone smarter than me can figure these particulars out) if a situation merited such a response. Those security officers should also make regular rounds through all the theaters, showcasing their presence at the very least.
None of this sounds particularly enjoyable for the average attendant, but some kind of measure needs to be implemented. I can’t see movie theaters adapting metal detectors, pat-downs, or any other options that would hinder their patrons’ experience so directly (and I wouldn’t want them to), so what options are there? It’s a fair argument to say that these occurrences are too rare to warrant any serious reactions (and they hardly seem to affect box office returns at all), but why wouldn’t the theater chains want to do their utmost to make their patrons feel secure? (Answer: spending money)
Something needs to happen with the way the big theater chains handle audiences and their safety, and I’ll admit that my idea isn’t anywhere near the definitive answer, but at least it’s something more than just throwing together a lazy PSA. If theaters really care about the well-being of their patrons, then they would show it.
What do you think, Chewers? Do you have better ideas that could be used to combat these kinds of tragedies (ideas directly involving the theaters. If you all want to get into debates about gun control and politics and such, I’m steering clear of that powder keg)? I know this isn’t my most eloquent or thought-out post, but these events always get me really depressed, and talking about it with fellow film lovers is an appropriately cathartic exercise.