Ms. 35 offers helpful advice and answers to your etiquette questions related to NYC's moving image culture. Have a burning question about navigating the exciting world of New York City moviegoing? Unsure of how to conduct yourself during a communal experience? Feel like you're… in the dark? Send your inquiries to Ms35@screenslate.com!
Dear Ms. 35,
I have too many friends who like to linger in the lobby, wait in the longest line for popcorn, smoke cigarettes, or just always run late before a screening.
This puts me in the anxious position of having to put a coat on the seat or even (God forbid) having to inform seat poachers roaming the aisles that they will not get to sit in their desired locale.
So I have a two-part question: assuming it's a busy or sold- out showing, how long can I/should I save seats, and what's the over/under on the number of seats I can hold? Plus, do you have any general advice for seat saving?
Avoiding Eye Contact Desperately
First and foremost, congratulations! From the thousands of submissions pouring in, your question was chosen like a starlet from a hometown beauty pageant! You should be very proud.
Your first three examples are classic seat-saving scenarios: friends are theater-adjacent and will join you shortly, but you’re put in the potentially awkward position of defending turf. Or sometimes trains run late, work B.S. comes up — it happens to the best of us. Any of the above will give you an opportunity to practice your best passive-aggressive “Sorry, I’m waiting for someone….” while gingerly patting your nearby coat/Screen Slate tote bag.
Saving two seats per person present is reasonable; three seats pushes excess. If you’ve a group of six; first off, great job dragging everyone to Rocky Horror, and second, leave two stragglers behind to cover everyone. Do not be the clown who claims an entire aisle for their punk squat to roll through, that’s ludicrous.
When the lights go down (or after the trailer reel/pre-show concludes), be it known any open seats are up for grabs. Sure, not every screening will turn into a battle royale for vacant space, but it’s safer to assume.
As for your other so-called “friend”, the one perpetually running late or even flaking at the last minute and relying on you to hold their spot: CAUTION, you may be enabling bad cinema habits! Next time you invite this layabout to the pictures, turn your casual outing into a Teachable Moment. It’ll do them good to have to sit in the worst seat in the house — after getting stuck behind Film Forum’s dreaded pole-position, maybe next time they’ll be more punctual.
Similarly, if your posse has a seat open on either side, show the gentle courtesy of shuffling one person over so another group can sit together. You don’t need to, but you get to because benevolence to fellow filmgoers is the cineaste’s noblesse oblige.
Context, as always, is key — a sparsely-attended MoMA matinee might give license to spread out, but a special introduction or rare Q&A almost guarantees spending the next 90 minutes in fleeting physical contact with a total stranger. New Yorkers all have personal space issues, but in this regard a movie theater is no different from a subway car. Sometimes you luck out and nab an aisle to yourself, but sometimes you’ve just got to straphang.
You want more space? Move to Big Sky Country.
See you at the movies,
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Next time: How and when is it appropriate to make a pass at someone at the movies? See you in two weeks!