A report from the frontline of Australian cinema: watching movies in hot tubs has arrived, marriage proposals are popular but, despite a sighting last week, dogs are still banned.
With so much competition from television series and other forms of entertainment, the movie industry is constantly looking for smart new ways to sell tickets. That often means turning cinema-going into an event.
So outdoor cinemas bob up everywhere in warmer months. Swimming pools have had dive-in movies, joining beanbag cinemas, rooftop cinemas, pop-up cinemas on islands and in carparks, silent cinemas with headphones and secret cinemas in railway tunnels and industrial sites.
Now two recent arrivals from Britain, Aiden Levin and James Farrell, are trying a quirky new idea.
Remember the movie Hot Tub Time Machine? The 2010 Hollywood comedy about longtime friends who spill a drink in a jacuzzi that takes them back to 1986.
Inspired by pop-up ventures in Britain, the US and Ibiza, Levin and Farrell have founded Hot Tub Cinema Club to transport Australian movie-goers from winter to summer.
They are running three weeks of screenings at a Sydney University bar, with patrons changing into swimwear to watch such movies as The Lion King, Anchorman and Mean Girls from inflatable portable spas heated to 38-40 degrees.
Staff serve food and drink during the movie. There’s a lifeguard on standby. And there are towels nearby if you need to take a break.
Levin says patrons tend to be groups of friends and couples who have overcome the first hurdle – stripping down outside on a winter’s night. Despite being restricted to over 18s, he insists it’s all innocent entertainment.
“There’s no kind of funny business going on in the tubs,” Levin says. “We thought it would be more of a party atmosphere but generally during the film, people just sit and watch.”
The first fortnight of screenings have been so popular they are expanding to Perth and Brisbane this month, with plans for Melbourne and the Gold Coast after that.
While the campus location suggests the audience would be mostly under 25, the organisers have been surprised they are largely aged 25-30, though that might reflect the hefty $45 ticket price, which includes a mulled wine on arrival.
“For some people, it’s more than just a one-off novelty,” Levin says. “It’s something they’ve really enjoyed. So we definitely see legs in it.”
Have people been worried how healthy it is? “Perhaps some people may think that before buying tickets but we have a professional pool cleaning company that comes in every day,” Levin says. “And obviously, the water is changed pretty regularly.”
Hot Tub Time Machine has screened but no sign yet of Spa Wars, Baths of Glory or Bad Boy Bubbles.
While multiplexes continue to be dominated by Hollywood comic book movies, one cinema staffer reveals that marriage proposals have become popular too. Grooms-to-be are surprising their beloved with a clip on the big screen.
“It’s not something we promote but people ask,” he says. The response is normally: ‘No dramas, happy to help out’.”
But a small dog being taken into an inner-west cinema is apparently just a one-off. A well-dressed middle-aged woman was seen taking a fluffy white pet – clearly not a guide dog – to an evening screening.
But Palace boss Benjamin Zeccola says cinemas have not started encouraging animals, even when one of the Red Dog movies is screening.
“The only animals permitted in our cinemas are aid animals,” he says. “Personal pets are not permitted.”