Adventures in Projection

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So I've started learning about being a projectionist through my school's Film Society. Mostly I've been doing (I think) a decent job of it, but the occasional cockup does come around the bend. Just thought I'd share a few. (These are all 35mm projection stories, btw...just in case anyone cares)

Girl on the Bridge - my fellow trainee and I are left to ourselves for the first time to project this one. We also have to finish prepping the reels for Black Narcissus, which will be showing the next day. I had already done most of the prep for Narcissus on my own, so my friend wants me to show him how to do it. We finish a changeover and I start to quickly show him exactly what I'm doing. By the time I've shown him all the routine, I realize that we haven't yet threaded the next reel onto the other projector, and only have two minutes to do so. I'm slightly faster than him, so I nervously thread it up as quick as I can. Unfortunately, I miss the changeover cues just as I finish threading it up, and thus am forced to project the next reel's countdown leader as well. Embarrassing, but at least the film keeps on moving.

Cold Mountain - I prep up everything really well the night before and task-wise feel totally ready to project totally on my own, unsupervised, for the first time. Reel 1 goes well. I stand by for the first changeover, see my first cue and turn on projector 2's motor. I see the second cue and hit the changeover button. Nothing happens. Reel 1 runs out and I can't seem to get Reel 2 going. I panic, and (for reasons I still can't explain) rush over to projector 1, stupidly having lost all common sense and thinking that I'm changing over to projector 1. I see all the film at the takeup reel and panic for half a second before realizing that the problem is at projector 2. By this time the house lights have now been turned back on, and a minute or two has passed. Just as a more experienced student projectionist enters the room, I realize that I somehow forgot to strike the lamp on projector 2 before starting the film. I quickly strike the lamp and start up reel 2.

Then it gets worse. I lace up reel 6 a little too tightly at the sound head. After changing over to reel 6, I remove reel 5 from the other projector and start lacing reel 7. While lacing, I hear a horrible metal clanging sound like something heavy and metallic crashing on the floor. I immediately rush over to the projector and find...nothing. The film is playing fine, the threading looks fine, and nothing is on the floor. Minutes later I get someone telling me that the sound seems slightly off. Turns out the at the pressure roller in front of the sound head is bouncing slightly, which it shouldn't (since I laced it a perf or so too tight). Nothing I can do, so I have to simply let it play out to the end of the reel. The reel ends and we move onto reel 7. While lacing reel 8, I hear a bad metallic sound in the projector whenever I turn the shutter wheel manually or with the motor. I bring in a more experienced student, who tells me not to use that projector anymore for the showing. So now the audience will have to wait a couple of minutes for us to lace reels 8 and 9 each. As this is decided, the school head and the film's producer come in to ask us how things are going.

The Girl Can't Stand It - we get the reels within less than a half an hour before screentime, which means we can't prep them. Luckily they come head out, but emulsion on the wrong side. I have to wing the changeovers, which go decently well considering. I nearly mess up the beginning, though, when I second-guess my threading work and unthread everything two minutes before the start of the film, only to find out that I was right to begin with. Luckily everything is back in place in time.

Perhaps I shall have some new ones later on this summer. At the moment, the series is on hiatus.

Worst one I've heard yet, though, is about someone loading up a reel onto a projector when the whole thing falls through the center core, and spills in an ungodly mess on the floor. Since it would've taken at least fifteen minutes to re-spool it properly, the film was cancelled mid-way through the screening.

On the bright side, my audiences are small, composed of my peers, and no one has to pay to see the films, so I guess it's better than if I were working in a commercial theater.

The thing about projection and projectionists is that their job is to make themselves as transparent as possible. In a perfect projection, no one should ever think about it. They only really do if something goes wrong.

Other notable fuck-ups I've seen or heard about - my parents had a print of Natural Born Killers burn-up onscreen when they first saw it, and for the first minute or so, they thought it was a part of the film. I was watching the climactic final dialogue with the German army guy from The Pianist when the film broke in the middle of the thing. Since the theater that was in was running it on a platter system, they needed so much film from the breakage to re-thread it that by the time it started up again (15 minutes later), the whole scene was already over.

Anyone care to share your own horror stories from either the audience or projection booth side?

Girolamo Savonarola, Friday, 28 May 2004 21:42 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

I was watching Adaptation the first week it came out and it suddenly stopped as Charlie and Donald were sneaking up on John's house. A concessions girl came in and said, "All the film fell off the reel" and told us we could go to the concessions stand for a free pass. My friends and I got some and went to the car, but one of them had lost his wallet and went back into the theater to look. He had been gone for about ten minutes when we decided to go look for him. We found him totally alone in the theater with a complimentary drink, watching the rest of the movie. He said he didn't come tell us it was back on because he didn't want to miss anything. I didn't see the scene where Donald and Charlie talk in the swamp until a few months ago.

The Narwhal (the narwhal), Saturday, 29 May 2004 00:30 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

I once went to see "Perfect World" and the projectionists loaded all but the first real of the film upside-down. It took a good 10 seconds before I realized we weren't just watching some artsy shot. They had the audience wait for 15 minutes, then finally came out and announced they wouldn't have time to fix it and offered us free passes for another show.

amateur!st (amateurist), Saturday, 29 May 2004 03:39 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

I saw Basquiat and two of the reels were out of order. Oddly enough it didn't really affect the flow of the film at all. In fact it kind of improved it.

A showing of SNATCH where the sound distorted and got painfully loud once every few seconds starting about half way through the film. I complained three times but the problem was never fixed. GRRRRRRR!!!

Late night screening of A Clockwork orange where the last reel started to vibrate and blur. It couldn't be fixed because THE PROJECTIONIST HAD GONE HOME!!!

At that same theatre a showing of Russ Meyer's SuperVixens. Late in the movie the film snapped and the theatre went dark. The audience waited patiently for about a minute and then started to boo. Suddenly a loud voice (the voice of the owner by the way) emanated from the proection room yelling "SHUT THE HELL UP"! The stunned audience immediately fell silent. A few seconds later the film came back on.

PVC (peeveecee), Monday, 31 May 2004 05:31 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

At that same theatre a showing of Russ Meyer's SuperVixens. Late in the movie the film snapped and the theatre went dark. The audience waited patiently for about a minute and then started to boo. Suddenly a loud voice (the voice of the owner by the way) emanated from the proection room yelling "SHUT THE HELL UP"! The stunned audience immediately fell silent. A few seconds later the film came back on.

That's awesome.

Girolamo Savonarola, Monday, 31 May 2004 10:44 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

there was a really crabby projectionists (and a really negligent) staff at the brattle (i think it was the brattle--whatever the one in the jewish suburb was called) in boston. in fact i can tell nightmare stories about that fucking place, but i don't need to raise my blood pressure right now.

amateur!st (amateurist), Tuesday, 1 June 2004 14:17 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

no maybe it was the coolidge corner or whatever.

amateur!st (amateurist), Tuesday, 1 June 2004 14:18 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

thirteen years pass...

More!

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Wednesday, 15 November 2017 21:18 (one year ago) Permalink

I was a student projectionist but I don't have any good stories

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Wednesday, 15 November 2017 21:18 (one year ago) Permalink

I saw Titanic on opening day at Park Slope's Pavilion (currently being renovated into a Drafthouse, good fucking riddance). Film burned in the gate right after the ship hit the iceberg. I had to come back 4 hours later to see the rest.

ice cream social justice (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 15 November 2017 21:33 (one year ago) Permalink

two months pass...

I wish I could remember what movie it was, but the reels were played out f sequence. 1, 2, 4, 3 or something like that. It was a pretty straightforward narrative, so by the end it was pretty clear what had happened.

Lumli, Friday, 19 January 2018 07:21 (one year ago) Permalink


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