Dear AMC Theatres,
You and I have a longstanding relationship. A long, longstanding relationship. I’ve been dedicated to your company since the AMC 30 in Covina opened when I was twelve.
Though I had long been a loyal customer of the Edwards West Covina, I abandoned them rapidly after watching my first movie in your new multiplex. Though I was young and subject to the the whims of my peers and caregivers, I always requested shows in your theaters whenever possible and lamented those rare times I did not win.
I have been brand loyal to AMC Theatres for almost fifteen years and I have always been happy with not only the service of your employees but the entire moviegoing experience in your establishment. Your sound is excellent, your screens are large and well-kept, projection was great even before the switch to digital, and your theatres have always been generally well maintained, clean, and comfortable.
When my partner and I moved to Kansas City this summer, we were wildly excited to try out both the Fork and Screen and Cinema Suites viewing experiences you are testing there. They were FABULOUS and those KCMO theaters, even the regular ones, were one of the things we’ve missed most since returning to L.A. They were so well staffed and never failed to give us the perfect movie experience. And we were thrilled to be paying into a local company! And even to see your offices downtown. It’s a JOY to get to support and interact with a company that you love. Especially one with such a solid ranking with the Human Rights Campaign.
While in KCMO people were often aghast that we would pay the high ticket prices for your theatres but my partner and I espoused, time and time again, the merits of the AMC moviegoing experience and the value we saw in it. We hope, often, that the Cinema Suites experience (and the theater quality in general) that we saw in KC will come our way in SoCal.
My partner and I even joined your Stubs program almost immediately after its inception and have found it to be an exceptional deal and have recommended it to all of our friends with similar moviegoing appetites. And though we recently lost ten dollars in rewards due to our forgetfulness, we still renewed today and not just for the free popcorn.
But, guys, you are not without faults. First, you stopped using two of the three concession stands in the theater, but that was okay! It was an understandable cut and never a big deal. Lines weren’t bad, after all.
But then you took away your lax policy on outside food as the country stumbled into the recession. And even though you were attempting to maximize profits on the backs of your consumers and even though it made your one concession line unbearably long, I forgave you anyway because times were hard for your company and I liked you.
Then, you added an IMAX theater! Which seemed great! Except for how it’s a fake one, which, granted, isn’t entirely your fault, but is shitty anyway. And you don’t even tell your customers!
Then you closed more than a third of my theater. MORE THAN A THIRD. You reduced the number of showings in general and began ushering movies out of the theater faster to make room for new releases in your newly limited theaters. This is the very same multiplex that was the 28th most visited in the entire United States in 1999. One of the largest, one of thirteen you list at that size in your entire chain.
When the walls first appeared, we got excited because our theater was edging toward fifteen years old and it was starting to look shabby and tired and we thought it was getting a refresh! And it would be shiny and new. But no, we asked and were told that it just closed. And yet it retains it’s status as AMC 30, when it isn’t at all. And again, you balanced your budget on the backs of your customers.
And then service started to get shitty. Theaters weren’t cleaned and when they were, it was only because someone stood at the base of the stairs trying to rush us out before the credits had rolled. I always sit through the credits, AMC. I haven’t walked out before the absolute end of a movie since I got my license. And your staff have repeatedly attempted to ruin this ritual for me. If it isn’t that, it’s projection errors or doors left open or lights left up well into the start of the movie. And all of these little things continue to degrade the moviegoing experience.
But through all this, we have returned. The prices have risen and risen and risen for both tickets and concessions. And yet we persist. We save, we SCROUNGE so that we can still go to the movies. So that we can SPECIFICALLY go to the AMC where the sound and projection are still usually solid. Where the staff are still relatively competent. We have done Gold Class. We have done ArcLight. But we keep coming back here, not only because it’s close to home, but because it is consistent. But consistency is meaningless when it’s consistently shitty.
This last Sunday, my partner and I got up to go to the earliest show of Wanderlust. We renewed our Stubs membership even though money is tight. And we bought some concessions so that we could have the whole experience. We used to go every Sunday morning as our form of church, but we hadn’t been in quite a long while and we’d really missed it.
My partner stopped at the concession stand while I headed into the theater to grab us seats. It was early in the morning and there was still lots of time before the show, so unlikely to be crowded, but I think this letter is evidence enough that I’m a reasonably particular moviegoer and wanted to make sure we got the right seats. I paused as I walked into the theater and blinked several times because it was so dark I could hardly see where I was going. It was so dim, I even checked to see if I had forgotten to switch my sunglasses for my regular glasses, but I had not. It was just that dark in the theater. It was still playing the pre-movie trivia, but I tripped as I headed up the stairs. The rope lights weren’t even lit.
I found our spot, settled in, and waited for my partner to arrive. She did, also remarking on the dimness of the theater.
Then, you guys played a trailer for that bigot piece of shit Kirk Cameron’s documentary Monumental. And look, I know you play what advertisers pay for. And I get that. And I know that Fathom Events are a thing that AMC does. I’ve gone to a few over the years! But you can’t pride yourself on having that 90 HRC score and then let some bigot piece of shit sell me his stuff. That’s not okay. But I let it go, AMC, because I love you. And our relationship is important to me.
Despite Kirk Cameron’s foul existence, we enjoyed the show and left happy that we’d made the trip. So far so good, AMC.
That’s where it ends though, AMC. Unfortunately, I’d spent the morning with a pretty bad headache and it was 90 degrees out when we got to our car and I was grouchy, GROUCHY. We tried to go get food, but everywhere we wanted to eat was either closed or ridiculously crowded. So, grumpy and dejected, we headed to the pet store to visit some animals up for adoption.
You have to understand me, AMC, we were desperate to cheer up and these puppies were going to help! And this might seem like a tangent, but I hope you’ll soon understand why it’s here.
We got out of the car, SUPER EXCITED to pet some strange dogs, and I turn back to grab my bag and I see, immediately, a HUGE RED SMEAR OF FUCKING CHEWING GUM ON MY SEAT. The beautiful, clean beige cloth seat of my 2010 Honda Insight. Has an enormous smear of someone else’s fucking gum on it. And you know what that means, AMC? MY ASS ALSO HAS AN ENORMOUS SMEAR OF SOMEONE ELSE’S GERMY DISGUSTING CHEWED GUM ON IT.
The only places I had sat down all day, AMC, were my couch at home, my car, and YOUR THEATER SEATS. And one of those places covered me with gum. The USED, CHEWED, GERMY GUM FROM SOME OTHER PERSON’S MOUTH. GUESS WHICH SEAT IT WAS? GO AHEAD, GUESS!
And, okay, AMC, I am SO MAD at the gross person that would do that. I am HORRIFIED that people stick their gum places other than their mouth or a trash can. I DON’T EVEN UNDERSTAND GUM. It absolutely is one of the grossest things we do as humans! HOORAY I WILL CHEW THIS WAD OF RUBBERY STUFF FOR A TOO LONG AMOUNT OF TIME. AWESOME. But I still do it, AMC, and I don’t begrudge my fellow gum-chewers their gum. I begrudge them the desire to stick gum where it doesn’t belong and I know that isn’t your fault, AMC. I know that. You can’t control people or what they do with their nasty wads of mouth filth.
But you know what you can control? You can control how fucking clean your theaters are, AMC. You can control how well-lit they are before a show. You can control the environment that you provide to your patrons. Not just your patrons, YOUR CUSTOMERS. The people who pay your bills and pad your profits.
Had the house lights been at the level they were supposed to be, I probably would have seen the HORRIBLE WAD OF GUM awaiting my ass. If your staff had done their job, it wouldn’t have been there in the first place. IF ANYONE WAS DOING THEIR JOB I WOULD NOT HAVE HAD TO SIT IN GUM AND RUIN MY ONLY PAIR OF JEANS. I AM A VERY FAT PERSON, AMC, DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW EXPENSIVE JEANS ARE?!
So, AMC, what do you think happened after I discovered a wad of red gum smeared all over my butt and my previously pristine car seat? I YELLED. I sweared the fuck out of EVERYTHING in the parking lot of that PetSmart. And I got SO ANGRY. And I closed my eyes and I tried not to cry. Because, AMC, do you know how hard it is to get gum out of stuff? Out of anything? Do you understand how expensive it is to get a car detailed? And how you just have to HOPE that gum comes out? Because it doesn’t, not really, not totally ever.
Then I didn’t get to go pet strange puppies and kitties, AMC. You know why? BECAUSE I HAD GUM ALL OVER MY ASS. And not only is that gross and inconvenient and sort of embarrassing if I had any sense of dignity, but also, I had to rush home so I could TRY — let me emphasize that again — TRY to get gum out of my god damn car seat.
So, let’s recap. I am grumpy because I haven’t eaten anything but popcorn. I have a terrible headache. It is 90 degrees in early March. I have GUM ON MY ASS. I have GUM ON MY CAR SEAT. I don’t get to pet puppies or kitties. And now I have to go home and sit on my knees with ice and a butter knife trying to get gum out of my car seat. Then I have to try to do it to my jeans. MY ONLY PAIR OF JEANS.
And AMC, man, I want to blame the person that put the gum there. I do. That person is a big ol’ asshole, plain and simple. And you know what, it’s not your fault at all that I had a headache or that it was hot or that I was in a bad mood and couldn’t get food. Those things are not your problem. But a poorly lit, dirty theater is your fault. My ruined car seat and ruined jeans ARE your fault, AMC, and I blame you wholeheartedly for it. Also, by extension, it is TOTALLY YOUR FAULT, that I didn’t get to hang out with some puppies and kitties. Not cool, AMC, not cool.
I know you had record losses last year, guys. I know. I know the theater business is suffering and suffering badly. There are all these new ways to watch movies at home and it’s hard to compete. But cutting corners and making the moviegoing experience some kind of stripped down joke isn’t the way to win. If I’m going to sit in a filthy pit staffed with people who can’t be fucking bothered to do their jobs? I’d rather stay home. I’d rather wait for stuff to come out on DVD or Blu-Ray or On Demand or HBO or WHATEVER.
This isn’t just about the gum, AMC. (But oh man, is it a LOT about the gum.) It’s about the EXPERIENCE. The service and quality of show we saw in Kansas City was unbelievable. Cinema Suites service was out of this world and we SPENT MONEY because of it. Even the regular shows were wildly enjoyable which meant we went to more shows and were less hesitant about spending money on concessions. I saw ONE cell phone in use in KCMO and an usher was there and telling them to put it away within a minute or so. Here? I have to yell at people. AND I DON’T WANT TO. (I might enjoy it, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it.)
This is about the consistent degradation of a brand I not only respect, but WANT to remain loyal to. A brand I LIKE. AMC, you are making me believe in the idea of brand responsibility and shit! Because the AMC of today is a straight up EMBARRASSMENT to the one I frequented from 1998 to 2005.
This isn’t about free stuff or a wrecked seat or my ONLY PAIR OF JEANS. This is about feeling like I am losing one of my favorite activities in the entire world. I love the moviegoing experience. I LOVE IT. And I think I don’t want to lose the one place that has served it so well for most of my life. My partner and I might be joking when we talk about going to a Sunday morning movie as church, but the metaphor is apt. Your movie houses have been holy places for us. But now I’m starting to worry that we’d be better off worshipping at the altar of our flat screen.
Save our sacred place, AMC. Treat your theaters like the temples they should be and people will want to spend their time and money in them. Save yourselves, AMC. Before it’s too late.
ETA: After mentioning this post on my Twitter (and a couple of helpful retweets from people I looooooove) I was contacted by Jordan Laine from AMC who put me in contact with Bob Garcia, the GM of my particular AMC. They were apologetic and helpful, though not WILDLY ENTHUSED about helping a bitching customer (which I don’t really blame them for, I guess?!) and Bob offered to pay to have my jeans dry-cleaned, but I declined. (I don’t like dry-cleaning chemicals and my pants were already clean-ish, so.) He tossed me a couple free passes and popcorns, which I GREATLY appreciate even though that’s not at all why I went to the trouble of writing all this. 2500 words and the time it takes to produce them are obviously worth more than $30.
I am amazed by the power of social media in all this. My girlfriend really only uses her Twitter to bitch at brands. It is a thing she enjoys and it works. We’ve had a lot of issues settled because of something she posted online. And this AMC thing was no different. Nothing grabs a brand’s attention more efficiently than bad PR, even on a small scale.
Gratitude for passes and the power of social media aside, I hope AMC considers the greater message here because it’s serious. Because when I posted, I got several @-replies expressing similar sentiments. Because people are not going to go to the movies if the experience isn’t worth it. And because the people that love that experience don’t want to lose it.