Walter Mencken 9:01 a.m., April 29
Edwards Mira Mesa Finally Gets Wise to Free Refill Scam
pass-whore [pahs hawr, hohr or, often, hoor]
Social misfit whose only joy in life lies in their ability to continually get his/her paws on complimentary tickets to evening promotional screenings.
So here they are: the dog-faced cineplex soldiers, the regulars, the pass-whore professionals, manning the multiplexes of San Diego county. From AMC Palm Promenade to UltraStar Hazard Center -- from Edwards Mira Mesa to the La Jolla Village -- they were all the same: men and women in butter-stained Dacron and only a soft drink cup to mark their passing. But wherever they went - and whatever they saw - you can bet it was on the cuff.
Hollywood is under the crazy notion that critics won't find comedies funny or chick-flicks weepy unless we have an audience to validate our feelings. I don't need 400 people to cue me when to laugh or cry, yet studios still insist upon combining press and promotional (aka "word of mouth") screenings. Word sure does travel fast in these parts. For as many critics who attend these advance showings, there are five-times the number of pass whores, a loyal band of freeloaders who miraculously find seating at virtually every evening screening.
It's no trick to win a pair of free passes, if all you want to do is win free passes. Barely a week goes by where one can't consult the movie section of The Reader and find an ad offering the chance to grab a couple of freebies. Radio stations always hand out complimentary tickets to fast-fingered dialers. The pass whores can't all be the thirteenth caller, and seeing how it's doubtful that many can address an envelope, how do they manage to attend all of these promotional screenings?
I wake up every day and thank God for four things: my parents, my health, and that I never have to pay to get into cinema dispensaries. Mom and dad were a blessing, my wellness a gift from above, but damn if I didn't work my butt off for the privilege of getting into movies for free. Credit the PW battalion of harried tubs with devising their own underground railroad to spread the word. There is even a website that lists a schedule of screenings that's frequently more up to date than mine!
Many night time press screenings are co-sponsored by radio stations. Before these shows, station reps and on-air talent are dispatched with music and sound system in tow for a little pre-show loudness. A cute little boy named Chance used to entertain the crowd by dancing before each movie. In return, the station reps would give him some type of promotional item, say a hat or t-shirt. The deejays soon got wise to the kid and began holding back on the premiums. Devising a better rat trap, the tyke would now approach the crew and deliver a pity pitch in exchange for swag. "It's not for me," he'd say, with doe-eyes glazed over, "it's for my cousin who's in the hospital." On one such night, I sat behind Chance and his dad. "Wow," said the proud papa when examining one of his little dickens’ pieces of ill-gotten gain, "this should go for a lot on eBay."
The gift of free movies is never enough for these bozos. They bring knapsacks filled with used large popcorn bags and soft drink cups to take advantage of each theatres’ free-refill policy. A large popcorn can easily feed six, but the PW insist upon stretching it to sixty. Before each show, the putan disgrazia pass their "recycled" containers amongst themselves before making a bee-line for the candy counter.
Movie theatres make their money off concession sales, not box office take, and it's always baffled me why chains don't keep a closer watch on free refills. I generally don't like to eat anything that I can't easily transport. The contents of the lawn size popcorn bags and silo-shaped Coke containers barely fit down the aisle, let alone my gullet, so I seldom find myself in need of a refill.
The high price of popcorn causes many of us to skip the snack bar, but last night was the screening of Hugo, and I was feeling generous. Hugo, a Paramount Pictures release of a GK Films production personally directed by Martin Scorsese, opens nationwide on Wednesday. Check local listings for a time and theatre near you. The woman in line ahead of me was just wrapping up her purchase of a large popcorn and soda. "Hold onto your receipt," the chipper concessionaire at Edwards Mira Mesa advised her. "You'll need to show it if you want a free refill."
I had seen attempts to reign in this type of offense in the past, but never with any consistency. Nowadays, the design of the bag is generally dictated by images from upcoming movies. During my time as a theatre manager, the bags all carried standard corporate artwork. Theoretically, if you took good care of it, one bag could last for months. We were instructed to use a red Sharpie to scrawl an “X” on the bottoms of bags and cups for same-day refills. Don’t think that once word got out, there wasn’t a run on red Sharpies at the nearby Office Depot.
Times are tight and as much as I love movie theatre popcorn, the stuff is outrageously overpriced. But it does go to support a good cause, and when I have a few extra bucks, I don’t mind upping a theatre’s per-capita. If we don’t support the movies, and theatre exhibition as we know it ceases, it’s up yours.
(How ironic is it that the first thing on my agenda after writing this is to call the local PR firm and see if there is any Hugo swag floating around. Alas, no baseball caps this time, just a pair of Marty mittens and a scarf. BRING IT OVER!)
More like this:
- Curtain down on Reading Cinemas' 40-Foot Films series — Jan. 3, 2014
- The best corn in San Diego isn't popped in a movie theatre — July 1, 2013
- Let's all go to the lobby to make a down payment on a bag of popcorn — Sept. 4, 2012
- Give Your Sweetie the Gift of Cinema & Free Popcorn This Valentine's Day — Feb. 8, 2012
- I Am Iron Man — May 4, 2008