Monday, August 6, 2012

Cap'n Howdy Presents: (New) Adventures in Projectioneering!

 Well, I wasn't expecting this. It's been twelve years since the Cap'n worked for or in a movie theatre, and that was one of those "chain" types (it still exists which is why you might have noticed the fact I no longer identify it by name) and I thought that I'd probably never find myself in a projection booth again. Not because I didn't enjoy it, but because it tends to be the kind of job high school students get over the summer or stick around through the fall and move up from concessions to usher to projectionist. I know this is the case because it's what I did.

 The Cap'n is no spring chicken, so it seemed like if I'd been away for so long and that the younger generation was no doubt better equipped to handled these new fangled "digital" projectors we hear about. Speaking of which, true story: when I went to see The Dark Knight Rises a few weeks ago, before the IMAX showing, I saw it at a large (but different) "chain" multiplex and when the movie ended I could see the Windows toolbar at the bottom of the screen. As in, no film whatsoever, we were watching a projection of somebody's digital copy of The Dark Knight Rises. I'm not making justifications for people who pirate movies, but it's an uphill battle convincing them that you're in for a better experience watching a theatre's projected computer screen for $15.

 Anyway, so with digital projectors being in vogue and projectionists not really in demand (you can program those things and they run themselves, reducing the person in the booth to a minimum-wage IT employee), it hadn't crossed my mind in some time I'd ever be working in a theatre again. But then I got word from a friend whose husband worked for a local theatre that they needed a projectionist and all I needed to do was drop by. And all of a sudden, with limited funds, a very part time job, and lots of spare time I could be using to make money (sorry readers, but this here Blogorium is a labor of love, not a lucrative cash cow for the Cap'n), I decided why not go check it out.

 Now this particular theatre was enticing because I've been going there since I was a kid. It's been here since before the Cap'n lived in this state, and while it's changed hands a few times over the years, it turns out one thing hasn't changed at all: the projection booth.

 I expected to be rusty at threading a projector (and I was) but I had no idea I'd be working with machines as old as I was, kept in working order by a dedicated team making the best of what they had even when parts were in short supply. And by that I mean "we don't make that kind of part anymore" short supply. It's impressive to see projectors that I saw movies on as a kid still playing films today, including The Dark Knight Rises. 35mm film is still where it's at, as far as this Luddite is concerned.

 The other thing I'd forgotten was how much fun it is to physically thread the film through the machine - yes, it can be maddening when you have four movies starting within five minutes of each other (still better than eight to sixteen), but there's something about being in the background, watching the audiences sit down to watch a movie, and getting everything ready. Because much of the equipment isn't automated, I also get to do little tricks like lower the lights on cue, adjust the sound between trailers and the film, and sometimes physically lift the shutter covering the lens.

 It's the kind of thing you forget that you enjoy doing, a job that's entirely behind the scenes but results in people being able to escape somewhere else for a few hours. Being a projectionist is a unique sort of job in that you are responsible for the experiences of anywhere from two to two hundred people, but only you know what that responsibility means. I'm not diminishing the front of house folks (who are all very nice and laid back people - the atmosphere of the theatre is very laid back with no uniforms or restrictions on facial hair, etc.). Believe me, they get the complaints if I do my job badly, but don't think I don't know if I goofed up. Chances are I'm trying to fix it, and every time a piece of film is a little too loose or rides to the side of a roller, I am hoping that doesn't sully your moviegoing experience. People don't go out to see movies that much any more, so it is incumbent on me to make it worth your while.

 Do I make too much out of this? Maybe. I mean, it's not like I'm making much more than what I did twelve years ago. But I enjoy doing it, and I'd forgotten how much I could enjoy doing it, even as a second part time job. If I ever get a call back from full time work, or if the Blogorium magically turned into a hit or something tomorrow, I still think I'd hang on to this gig for as long as it lasts. If nothing else, the stories will be good, and I have a few already.

No comments: