Just look around this website and you will know that I love movies. Up until recently that’s probably what I would have said if someone asked me if I like film. Yes, I love movies. However, two years ago something in my life changed and I found a new dimension to my love of film.
I started working at a video rental store.
I took the job for a lot of the same reasons anyone my age and in my field takes a part time job. It was close to home, had flexible hours, and it was related to my field (film) although I sort of considered a video store the bottom rung of the film industry ladder.
I really had no idea how much working at the store would change me.
In future posts, I hope to relate many of the lessons that I have learned by working at a video store, as well as through other seasons of my film life, but today I want to focus on how it changed my understanding of community..
I’ve long considered myself part of the greater film community. Admittedly though, I never really mingled much with ‘the common folk’ that the industry targets and for whom many times it only begrudgingly admits a need.
Audiences know this. They hear it in our voices as we talk about a ‘popcorn movie’ as something lesser-than or we say things like, ‘I used to like that kind of movie until I went to film school.’ I certainly tend to lean this way and I won’t pretend that I don’t feel like there is a real difference between certain types of films.
The difficulty is with my attitude. Thinking that you are better than the average movie goer, director, actor, or critic gives you permission to dismiss their opinions and even dismiss them altogether as people. The tendency of people like myself to get very upset when people disagree with our assessment of a film reveal how little we care about anyone’s opinion other than our own and the three people whose podcasts we listen to.
Working at a video store started chipping away at this harsh point of view and attitude which I held. I found myself dealing with a host of people I never really interacted with before. People who watch movies. Not people who LIVE for movies. People for whom movies are merely one part of their life.
My view of this group of people had been of a homogeneous group of people that would all agree with me if they would just open their eyes to the wonders of film as an art form (I still sort of think that at times.) In practicality, I found a group of people far more diverse than that.
Now, I am not saying that everyone’s opinion is always just as valid or that everyone should just invest more in their film watching (although I do believe that for many people) but I was dumbfounded by the lack of movie knowledge with which most people are operating.
I found myself working with people who don’t like movies, just needed a job. The cliche’ of the video store clerks just watching and discussing movies all day is a thing of the 90s and is nowhere near true.
The customers typically only know what is advertised and are often knowledgeable about movies in a way I am not. Customers would frequently be waiting and asking after a title which I had never heard of for months before it came out. Eventually I stopped being surprised that I didn’t always know what the hot rental would be each week. These people just watch more movies than I do. We just watch different movies.
Through conversation, I ended up getting to know these people by name and their movie preferences, sometimes calling them on Tuesday (New Release Day) just to tell them that there’s a new movie out that I think they would like. I got to know their kids, hear about when they had a diabetic attack last week and since my store is around the corner from my house, I got to know my neighbors in an age where we seldom know the people who live 15 feet away from us.
In time, I took on an assistant manager position, spending more time in the store and getting to know the people around me even better; Becoming a part of their community. I’ve only just begun to realize how important this was to my outlook on people. For years I had looked down on people, though I’d have never worded it in this way, who liked different movies than me. Is it any wonder that I had little understanding or affection for them?
I came into this community of people thinking they would look like the straw-men I had built in my brain and found out they are people. I became a part of this community and realized that as much as I thought I had something to offer them, they had something to offer me as well.
I have watched movies and even found favorites that I never would have tried before. I have prayed for customers as they went through hard times. I have kept the store open during winter storms for those people who have no internet or cable but are stuck at home all day. I’ve made genuine friends with a host of people I never set out to know but grew to love.
I like to think, and I know, that they have seen films they’d have never watched either. I’ve warned them off films that aren’t their speed and recommended titles more up their alley.
Sometimes it still breaks my heart when some one rents a garbage title or comes in exclaiming that they LOVED a movie that I know is bad for them, but I watch myself mostly, helping people find what they are looking for and guiding them if they ask (and NOT when they don’t.)
It’s a little like being a movie mentor, helping where I can, and learning to open my heart more and more as I do.