Movie theater employees have just come off of one of the biggest summers of film releases in recent years. Between Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, they have witnessed endless seas of hot pink outfits and film bros dying to mansplain World War II. Meanwhile, employees working at stadiums were spending their summer encountering a similar scene — except their audiences were dressed in the vision of each Taylor Swift studio album, and they were only interested in over-explaining potential easter eggs hidden in the high-scale production of the Eras tour.
But soon, these two worlds will collide.
On Friday, Oct. 13, the Sam Wrench-directed concert film Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour will premiere in more than 4,000 theaters across North America. It’s no secret that Swift runs one of the tightest ships of any pop star working today. The sheer magnitude and professionalism of her celebrity has meant that, for the duration of the stadium tour’s first leg, Swifties adopted an unspoken behavioral contract: There would be no throwing items onstage to get her attention or blocking other attendees’ views with giant signs that she couldn’t possibly stop to read.
In a post-COVID concert space, the tour created an illusion of normalcy night after night — one where fans traded friendship bracelets and sang together in a harmonic, kumbaya union of musical souls instead of pelting her with loose candy, cell phones, or their dead relatives’ ashes.
This is probably why Swift felt safe encouraging them to treat the tour film in theaters to an actual concert. “Eras attire, friendship bracelets, singing and dancing encouraged,” the singer wrote on Instagram when announcing the film. But the theater employees tasked with handling the rush of fans as the movie runs for a minimum of four showtimes per day, four days a week, at AMC theaters (and select other chains) have already spent months dealing with the decline of manners in their own industry — like the theaters that are left ravaged with trash, attendees scrolling and filming during screenings, and others talking through films enough to sufficiently disrupt the people around them. They don’t have the same authority as someone like Swift, and as the release of Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour approaches, they’re growing weary of the friction the increasingly fractured concepts of movie theater and concert etiquette might create when combined.
“I knew immediately it was going to be a lot of people who do not care about the rules of the location or the employees working there. We have shown concert films before, and they usually cause the amount of issues you’d expect from people constantly screaming in a theater,” a Cinemark employee named Viola tells Rolling Stone. “The thing that’s concerning about the Eras Tour specifically is that it is being shown for two weeks with multiple showtimes per day. Every other concert film we have played is one or two days with limited showtimes — so they are a pain but tolerable to deal with for one night or so.”
In January, Billie Eilish released the live concert film Billie Eilish: Live at the O2 (Extended Cut). Capturing an entire night of her Happier Than Ever world tour, the movie was promoted as a one-night-only event. Also directed by Wrench, the performance special featured 27 songs delivered in just over 95 minutes — and fans across theaters sang along to each of them. “We had multiple noise complaints as well as the people in the theater crowding around the front of the screen — acting as if they were at an actual concert,” Viola recalls. “They were incredibly difficult to deal with. Dealing with that on a much larger scale is a big deal.”
The day after tickets for Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour went on sale, AMC revealed that the film had brought in $26 million in revenue, surpassing the chain’s record for single-day advance ticket sales previously set by Spider-Man: No Way Home with $16.9 million. The scale of the production is one thing these employees do feel relatively prepared for — theaters are treating opening night as they do for any major box office release. “My managers have said that anyone who can work the days the concert is playing will most likely be working,” shares Michael, an AMC employee. “They said it’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of thing, just like with opening weekends of Marvel movies.”
For Elliott, who works at a Harkins theater in Oklahoma, it’s a welcome rush. “The summer holidays ending is really hard on movie theaters in general,” he explains. “Our average attendance goes down by a lot, and hours are often cut for everyone, making it hard on our paychecks.” But he’s also expecting there to be an even more intense influx of fans, given that the closest Eras tour shows to Oklahoma were in Arlington, Texas, and Kansas City, Missouri. “That paired with the fact that tickets were so hard to get for the actual tour, will probably motivate certain fans to act as though they’re legitimately in a concert venue in order to have the ‘full experience,’” he continued. “I like to think that the good majority of Swifties will have the common sense to not be too obnoxious, honestly, but I do anticipate some complaints.”
Wearing Swift-themed outfits and trading friendship bracelets doesn’t really fall within the realm of being obnoxious, as movie fans dress up for releases all the time, and some theaters have even started stocking friendship bracelets to trade with attendees. It’s the singing and dancing element of Swift’s note to her fans that have employees far more concerned. “It doesn’t really matter what guests are wearing,” Viola says. “It’s about how they act.”
“Me personally, if I’m paying $20 to see a concert movie, I expect to be able to hear and watch the artist sing, not the fans being so loud I can’t even hear the artist,” says Michael, who distinguishes himself as a Swift fan, rather than a Swiftie. “And I think with concerts being a place where you can make all the noise you want and jump and scream and all that jazz, it will most likely not translate super well into a movie theater setting.” Swift set the North American prices for the film strategically at $19.89, plus tax, for adults and $13.13, plus tax, for seniors and children. It’s next to nothing compared to the prices some Swifties paid for their Eras tour tickets, but theatergoers still want to get their money’s worth.
In the lead-up to the film’s release, team meetings have centered on protocol for escorting poorly behaved fans out of theaters and general crowd management, mainly for concessions and ushering, as most tickets are purchased digitally. The Swifties working at theaters have assumed the task of catching their colleagues up to speed on what to expect over the few weeks the concert will run. “I’ve definitely noticed a difference in reaction [from co-workers] depending on their feelings towards Taylor,” explains JD, a Galaxy Theatres employee who requested their location be omitted. “The ones who don’t like her are quite a bit angrier about the situation than the ones who like her, but there seems to be a general consensus that we all think she was a bit irresponsible in telling her audience to treat it like a concert.”
But as a Swiftie, JD is going into the release with a different perspective on the entitlement that informs a lot of modern fan behavior, particularly that around Swift. “It seems like there’s a subsection of the fanbase that thinks she can do no wrong and wants to scream from the rooftops how much they love her and how wrong the world was for treating her how they did,” they explain, particularly highlighting the way Swift was villainized during the Reputation era in 2017. “They are also using Taylor’s own words from her Instagram post, claiming things like, ‘Well, Taylor said we could sing, so I’ll be as loud as I want.’”
They add: “It’s almost like they’re more willing to listen to Taylor than the actual movie theaters that are creating the rules. I really think what it boils down to is Swifties feeling vindicated because their favorite musician, who was vilified for so long, is now more positively accepted into the public eye than ever before, and now they see her word as law … It was somewhat of an expected reaction for most everyone, but still disheartening to think how much harder our jobs are going to be when the showings inevitably get too loud and rowdy.”
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