A cinema is the one dark, safe space you can gather with strangers in the centre of a city where laughter, drama, tears, fear, shock, suspense and a range of other emotions all come out over the course of a few hours.
There's nothing quite like the magic of the movies and when the Reading Cinemas complex opened in June 1999, Dubbo and the Central West had seen nothing like it.
As the jewel in the crown of a refurbished Riverdale Shopping Centre, the cinema complex offered moviegoers an experience they'd never been able to access so close to home - five big screens, more viewing options, seats and space than ever before.
Star Wars, Notting Hill, The Matrix and Rugrats were among the first films residents flocked to on the cinema's first official day of trade.
When a lease dispute almost led to the complex's closure in 2014, there was an outpouring of grief followed by relief in the community after an agreement was reached and a new seven year lease was signed.
Cinema complex manager Michael Wakelam sat down with us to talk about 20 years of Reading Cinemas in Dubbo.
What's the biggest change that has happened in 20 years?
Originally we had had one projectionist that managed five projectors. The films were freighted in and the boxes were heavy, like 20 plus kilograms for one box. If it was a longer movie like Lord of the Rings it might have been two boxes - so 40kgs of film.
In 2011 I think we got our first projector into one and then it was 2013 for the remaining four. Now there's no projectionist and the movies come on a 500 gigabyte hard drive. They're loaded into a TMS - which is a theatre management system. That feeds information out to all of the projectors. It's all automated. I can do it from my laptop.
What's your busiest day of the year?
It used to be Boxing Day, but if you look at this year you would say the opening day of Lion King and opening day of Avengers. We did 1300 people for Lion King opening day and about the same for Avengers. We did just over 10,000 people in five days.
What have been some of the most popular movies?
You can't go past the last two Star Wars. And both Hobbits and the last Lord of the Rings. They were biggest movies, purely from what we saw but now because we can show things in so many cinemas so easily you've got to throw in Lion King and Avengers.
How many people go to the movies every week?
Outside of school holidays you're looking at 1800 to 2500. During school holidays that's 7000 to 10,000. On the numbers I've got, in 20 years we've done about 3.5 million people through the door.
How many movies have you shown over 20 years?
Thousands. At least 100 a year.
Who are some of the more memorable moviegoers?
Some of the best groups are some of the really small schools that come into Dubbo once a year. There might be 10 or 15 kids and the smiles on those kids faces...you can't pay for that sort of stuff.
There's a bus load of ladies out of Narromine that are an absolute scream. They come once a month because they've got to tie it in with the school bus because when the school bus is free they can come into Dubbo.
What work have you done over the years to keep the cinema in top condition?
We did renovations about five years ago. All the seats were removed, recovered and then replaced. We did all the seats, all the carpet. We also made some drastic changes to the ticket box and candy bar. We just gave the place the facelift and modernisation it needed.
How many people have been employed at the cinema over the years?
In 20 years we are now up to 183. Ninety-five per cent of my staff are aged 15 to 18.
Are there any plans to introduce alcohol or a gold class type offering?
We are a family friendly place and I think if we were to introduce alcohol that would lessen the family friendliness, heighten the risk and it also means under licensing that I'm unable to have juniors working here because they've got to be 18 to handle the alcohol. The minute you do gold class you need kitchens and alcohol. And where do you put it? There's no plans to go down that path.
What are some of the biggest events the complex hosted?
It's important for us to be an active part of the local community. We support Pink Angels, the local breast cancer charity. They've been doing movies and we've been doing pink choc tops for them for a lot of years now. This year we also did a drought screening of Ladies in Black so the distributors gave us that movie for no cost so we raised about $8,500. They're the sort of things I always try to get involved in.
What's your response to feedback that the candy bar is too expensive?
It's a $12 ticket. It can be $20 to $25 in Sydney. And then you're paying $15 to $20 for a popcorn, a drink, parking and all that. Here, your kid can go to the movies and have a popcorn and drink for $22. I don't think that's such a bad price.
Why is going to the cinema still appealing in the age of streaming video on demand services?
No matter how old you are, to see something on the big screen that's not in your lounge room is unique. To hear it the way it's supposed to be heard, to see it the way it's supposed to be seen. I think those are the biggest drawcards.
What's the quirkiest thing someone has asked you at work?
A kid who saw the Lion King wanted to know how I got all the animals in the hard drive. I said 'I put em in there at the start of the day and they run around, do what they've gotta do then they come out and have a sleep'. Oh yeah that made perfect sense, I thought 'there you go, I've got out of that one'.
Why do the projectors all have names on them?
All my supervisors get together and pick the names. Cinema one is a Barco projector so the name had to start with a 'b'. All the other cinemas are Christie projectors so their names had to start with a 'c'.
Are there any plans to bring back movie marathons?
No. The movie marathons stopped because distributors wouldn't share revenue. You can do a movie marathon now but it has to be all from the same distributor. So Disney can say 'you can do three Star Wars' but you couldn't do two Star Wars and something else from another distributor.
Who decides what movies get shown?
It's always a negotiation between the film company's and Readings. Some movies we'll show that other Reading sites don't.