Monday, November 5, 2012

(Mis)Adventures in Projectioneering: Why You Never, EVER, Want to Drop a Print

 Greetings, blogorium readers. Cap'n Howdy is finally back to a semi-regular updating schedule after a long three week run of moving and flying halfway across the country for a wedding. If you were wondering, I did get to watch a few movies during that hectic sabbatical, as well as the period in which I didn't have TV or internet, and I'll catch you up on those soon.

 Until we get to that, the other time not consumed in airports or moving dusty boxes involved being at work, and luckily for you I just happen to have a new adventure in projectioneering. It's not one I'd ever wish on any of you (if you are also a projectionist), but let's look at it as a valuable lesson in why you should be very careful when moving a print.

 As I've mentioned before, the theatre I work in uses older projectors and is in almost no way digital. Accordingly, we play 35mm prints of films, which need to be loaded onto platters. They arrive in reels, so when we get the boxes, we "build" the print to a platter and then "break down" said print to return to the manufacturer.

 If we're lucky, the print stays on the platter attached to the screen we build it to (for example, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master has been in the same auditorium for the last month or so), but more often than not, we need to move the print. This means physically lifting the film (which is wrapped around a core) and carrying it to the screen it needs to be playing in.

 To do this, you need two to three clamps to ensure that the film stays in place and doesn't collapse onto the ground, appropriately termed "dropping a print." You NEVER want to drop a print, especially one that's still playing, because it means cancelling the showings for the rest of the day while you attempt to undo the calamity you brought upon the audience and your coworkers.

 So on Friday night, while attempting to move a print off of the platter to make room for the movie I'd just finished building that took its place, one of the clamps came loose and... blammo. The print fell sideways, unspooling, and generally looking like a disaster on the floor. In my shame, I didn't take a picture of what it looked like, but the short version was that it looked unfixable.

 Now, not to excuse what I did, but it is worth pointing out that the print in question (I'm not going to say what it was but I can assure you that you've never heard of it) was one designated to be "broken down" on Saturday, so the calamitous nature of my screw up was somewhat muted. I told management, they responded as reasonably as they could (I mean, you should NEVER drop a print, no matter what), and then it sat on the floor for two days.

 Allow me to clarify: we had several things that really needed to be done immediately and because only two or three senior projectionists know how to fix a dropped print, it wasn't the highest priority, but when I came in on Sunday and saw three projectionists were working (one in the booth and two downstairs) - one of whom knew how to fix it as he was our manager - we decided to spend a healthy portion of the afternoon preparing the dropped print to be "broken down."

 From this point on, I do have pictures, because I really wanted you to understand how much of a mess I made and why it took three projectionists working together for two hours to fix it:

 So that's one part of the mess. After we'd separated the print into "mostly intact" portions (one is visible in the upper right hand corner) and separated them with a splicer, we were left with the middle, which was a jumbled knot of no-goodness that needed to be fed to the make up / break down tray by hand. But before we could do that, we needed to untangle the pile to prevent bigger knots from forming, thereby breaking everything we'd been working to fix.

 Don't let the cheery demeanor fool you - he's just happy because he hasn't started untangling the mess yet. Also notice the splicer on the floor (we had to make four cuts in the film to allow us room to untangle the knots) and that the film is running from projector 3 to projector 1, where the break down tray is.

 Yeah, that should give you some idea of how much of a giant cluster of film he had to untangle. It took two of us about an hour while the third projectionist (in the distance) began rewinding the "intact" parts back to their cannisters.

 Knots! No more knots!!!! The RAGE!!!!! And it's all my fault. Sorry guys.


Here we are, being shamed by a projectionist who came in for a later shift downstairs, who has the good sense not to drop a print. Or he may have just been upstairs to check the projectionist log, but clearly there's some contempt for my chicanery.

 The good news is that with some elbow grease, a painful attention to detail, and being very, VERY patient in pulling on thread of film slowly until there were no more kinks, we managed to fix my mess and break down the print. I hope that our efforts give you some idea of how terribly important it is to be careful when moving a print, even one going away, because it takes considerable time as long to fix it as it does to take an extra ten seconds to make sure the clamp is actually secure. You NEVER want to drop a print, and now I know why firsthand.

 Post-script: The following day we learned that we might have to rebuild it because people were calling to find out if it was still showing. 

 No, really.

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