How To Never Pay For A Movie

I spent the entirety of my young adulthood working at a movie theater. There were multiple downsides. Minimum wage, for one. And a uniform that included a maroon vest and a fashionably tragic clip-on bow-tie. And not to mention the popcorn smell that permeated my clothes, my skin, and even the car seats of my Ford Tempo. The stench was worse than the smell of cigarettes. Imagine dating the girl that smells like popcorn, by the way. Oh, you wouldn't? Well neither would any of the other boys I knew.

Can you guess the reason that I dutifully served less-than-fresh, five-dollar hot dogs to complaining moviegoers every Friday night? That's right: movie tickets. I believe the official rule was two free tickets a day, and you had to be off duty. The unofficial rule, however, was as many friends as you could sneak through the theater hallway without anyone noticing. The truth is—but don't tell my old managers—I would have worked for nothing to see free movies.

So of course I got older and had to get a real job. And now I make enough money to pay for the $10+ movie ticket. But $10+ seems like a crime, right? We slave all day at our nine-to-five—we deserve free movies! But get this, there's a way to see free movies without having to keep a job in a theater. It all boils down to two glorious words: movie screenings. There's no charge and no rancid popcorn odor seeping through your clothes, or scaring away potential suitors.

For the last couple years I've sacrificed most, if not all, of my free time searching for movie screenings in Baltimore. In 2010 alone I've been to seventeen movie screenings, ranging from Indie films to Blockbuster hits. I neurotically check film screening sites every day, and I sign up for various blog feeds and Facebook groups that promise free screenings.

If you want to see a couple free movies a month, prepare to be obsessive. I check Film Metro every morning. Every Wednesday I check City Paper's promo section, and twice a week I check the contest section of the B paper's website. I'm signed up for Atomic Popcorn's emails. I have an account with Gofobo. I'm a member of the "I love free movie tickets!" Facebook group (free), and a member of the Maryland Film Festival (subscription based but pays for itself). As an added necessity, I'm always online via my iPhone, and I stick close to a printer at all times.

Once I've secured the tickets, I still need to do some prep work. Seats at screenings are first come, first serve, and you WILL be turned away if the theater is full, so your best bet is to get there early. I try to get there an hour early, just to be safe, and I always bring a good book to pass the time in the screening line. Tickets are usually for you and a guest, so have a couple go-to movie friends. I start with my number one movie companion, and call my way down my list until I get someone that will commit. Oh, and I definitely embrace the idea of spontaneity, because more often than not the tickets get emailed to me two hours before the movie starts.

To recap: sacrifice, obsess, and always carry a good book. See you at the movies!

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Hannah-Love Shibley ©2014