Monday, August 20, 2012

(Mis)Adventures in Projectioneering: The Brain Wrap

  This edition of Adventures in Projectioneering might lean a little on the technical side, but I'll try to keep it at a minimum. It's mostly about those nights where everything goes wrong, and in order get into detail without simply throwing out jargon, I'll explain some of the ins and outs of being a projectionist. The important part, when I'm running around like a maniac trying to fix one problem after the other, I'm sure you've all experienced.

 Maybe it's the older equipment at the theatre I'm working at, or maybe it's Cap'n Howdy's "ring rust" (a.k.a. general incompetence) that caused things to fall apart not once, not twice, but four times during one shift this weekend. All four of them involved "Brain Wraps," which is the first piece of jargon I can knock out for you.

 So this is the Brain, which sits on a platter with the film:

 The film runs through the Brain, which determines the speed and prevents things from moving too quickly or too slowly. If the film moves too quickly or too slowly, it will begin to wrap around the Brain, hence the term "Brain Wrap." (Google apparently likes the term as one word, but I'll stick with my interpretation as amateur projectionist).

 Brain Wraps can happen for other reasons as well; for example, if you thread the film the wrong way through the rollers or if a piece of film jumps over one of the rollers, it can cause the film to tighten around the brain until it can no longer feed through the projector and the film comes to a dead stop. The inert film will then melt as a result of the heat in the projector's lamp, which I gather you've seen or heard of in some form or the other. It's a nice "meta" technique in movies that want to draw attention to the projected image, as well as how Zack Snyder ended his trailer for Dawn of the Dead.

 How it happened four times in one night is still something of a mystery, as one of the things I do is check and double check the platters and Brains while films are running. The platters and projectors are old, and the Brains are constantly being repaired. We're all aware that each projector has its own particular quirk (some run a little slow, some have film that jumps off of the rollers), so it's important to monitor them to make sure everything is going smoothly.

 The first one seemed to be doing fine: it started normally, and when I came back to dim the lights and adjust the volume, it was still running through the Brain nominally, but when I came back upstairs from getting the next showtimes, something went wrong. And because I didn't go check on it sooner, Cap'n Howdy got to join the "Wall of Shame" where burned film hangs. Why it wrapped, we aren't sure, but wrap it did, to the point where the film around the brain was three or four inches around, which is really bad.

 After that, I was extra vigilant, and since I was still training, the normally scheduled projectionist was also keeping a close eye out, which makes the next three all the more mysterious. I checked, double checked, and then was triple checked by the other projectionist, and everything was good. The threading was correct, the platters were on the correct setting, and there was no reason for a Brain Wrap. And yet, we came back to three separate projectors to find that the film had jumped over a roller and was beginning to wrap. All were easily fixed without having to make an emergency splice (therefore avoiding three more trips to the "Wall of Shame"), but my trainer was at a loss for how or why these phantom wraps occurred.

 Nevertheless, this led to much running around, desperately trying to keep everything on schedule without letting a small problem get bigger (and it will) while hopefully keeping things invisible for the audiences below. For the folks who had to wait ten minutes for us to fix the melted Brain Wrap, I apologize. That's on me, and it won't happen again. I should have learned that lesson twelve years ago when a similar problem happened during Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man. Alas, general incompetence gets us when we least expect it. Until next time...

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