Movie Usher

At the ArcLight Hollywood, Hannah Joy Long will escort you down the aisle 


Photograph by Dustin Snipes

“The best seat is in row M—you’re in the dead center, and you can put your feet up on the rail.”

The 21-year-old is from Eagle River, Wisconsin. In 2006, she came to Los Angeles, where she tried jobs at a restaurant and a clothing store that didn’t work out. “I started picking up ArcLight shifts as quickly as I could so I could eat. They kept giving us popcorn and sodas, so I was living off those for the first week and a half.”

An aspiring actor who’s interested in stunt work, Long won’t leverage her job to network with celebrity patrons. “If someone is coming here to see a movie, more than likely they’re here to escape. The last thing they want is for me to come up and be like, ‘I love all of your work. I have a script here for you.’”

Ushers who have gone on to fame include David Caruso (Midway Theater in New York), Vic Damone (Paramount Theater in New York), and Quentin Tarantino (Pussycat Theater in Torrance, then a porn house).

When it opened in 2002, the ArcLight changed the moviegoing experience, with its plush, extra-wide seats and advance reservation system. At a café tucked into a corner of the cavernous lobby, guests can sip cocktails and eat chicken-black bean chili or angel-hair pomodoro. The popcorn chicken, Long says, is “irresistible.”

“One of our bartenders had promised to make me my first drink when I turned 21. He stuck around until midnight, and then he bought it for me. Lemon Meringue. Best drink ever.”

“The Snack bar is the place where it really, really sucks, because you have everyone coming at you with their orders, and you look up and see a huge line of people.”

What ArcLight ushers dread most is cleaning restrooms. “Whoa! Things happen in there.”

Part of the job is welcoming the audience in front of the screen shortly before the film begins. “Greeters have to say their name and the title of the movie. And make sure cell phones are off. They can add how long the movie is and who is in it. When we had Brüno here, we threw in some jokes with the Brüno voice. ‘Welcome to Brüno. Wassup?’?”

The crown jewel of the ArcLight, the Cinerama Dome, opened in 1963 with It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It has more than 800 seats and a colossal 32-by-86-foot screen. “I had to announce there once when the microphone wasn’t working. There was somebody sitting in the very last row, and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ You’re literally about a football field away.”

“On our badges it lists our favorite movies. Mine was Finding Nemo, but it switched to Up when that came out.”

Tickets for an evening show cost $14.50. Long won’t say how much she makes. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median pay for ushers nationwide is $8.35 an hour.

About 200 people work at ArcLight Hollywood. “It’s been a family. It’s nice to have, especially with my family so far away. It’s nice to have that many people I can call if I’m having an awful day.”

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