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» Film-Tech Forum   » Operations   » Film Handlers' Forum   » Strange complaint about focus

Author Topic: Strange complaint about focus
Michael Barry
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 584
From: Sydney, NSW, Australia
Registered: Nov 1999

 - posted 02-17-2001 09:44 AM      Profile for Michael Barry   Email Michael Barry   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Last night I was contacted by the staff who asked me to check focus in one of the cinemas (showing 'Lucky Numbers'). They told me that a couple had walked out and had complained that the focus was drifting in and out constantly. The customer said it was so bad that they couldn't stand it any longer and wanted to leave. They were offered passes for another time.

The wierd part was that I had fine-focused at the start of the feature and had checked all the screens constantly, including that one and hadn't seen any problems. Nonetheless, when I received the complaint, I ran down to check and it was tack-sharp. One of the characters was wearing a chequered jacket and each square was perfectly defined. You could clearly make out individual strands of hair. I stood and watched for about 10 minutes and it stayed sharp throughout. Note that this print has played in this auditorium for about a week, several sessions a day without any issues...I did not touch the focus knob at any time from the moment I received the complaint and noted that the end credits were razor sharp, like someone had taken a letraset and rubbed off letters onto the screen. No focus problems and no drift whatsoever, yet the customers who left felt otherwise.

Has anyone experienced this sort of thing before? The frustrating part is that you usually don't get to talk to the customer directly, so you hear it second hand and by that time it's too late - they have already left. Could it be some of the shallow depth-of-field photography in this movie that the customer could be confusing with out-of-focus projection? There's not many of these shots in it and there are many deep-focus shots there, too...what's going on?

Andrew McCrea
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 645
From: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Registered: Nov 2000

 - posted 02-17-2001 09:51 AM      Profile for Andrew McCrea   Author's Homepage   Email Andrew McCrea   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I was at "DOUBLE BILL" at SilverCity when theywere showing Scary Movie followed by Boys & Girls and the trailers were all blurry. I was offered no pass so they told me to "piss off kid" when I told them.

Nice place hunh?

Anyways... No clue Mike! I guess patrons can always lie!

Andrew McCrea

"I'm Not Bad, I'm Just Drawn That Way!" - Jessica Rabbit

John Walsh
Film God

Posts: 2490
From: Connecticut, USA, Earth, Milky Way
Registered: Oct 1999

 - posted 02-17-2001 10:35 AM      Profile for John Walsh   Email John Walsh   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Without actually talking to the patrons (who left) you can't be sure. While I would'nt forget about it, it would think it's a one-time event. You might watch the film at the exact same place (that they complained about) just in case it does go out of focus for a short time.

Perhaps they sat very close to the screen; perhaps they didn't like the film and used focus as an excuse to get their money back (or a pass.)

I like it when one usher calls me to say a patron complained that the sound is too loud; then a different usher calls to say (another patron) says the same film is too low.... Part of the biz, I guess ...

Adam Martin
I'm not even gonna point out the irony.

Posts: 3671
From: Dallas, TX
Registered: Nov 2000

 - posted 02-17-2001 10:54 AM      Profile for Adam Martin   Author's Homepage   Email Adam Martin       Edit/Delete Post 
Among the many other things it could be, I've had exhaust fans go out during the show and even had a lens element vibrate loose, both affecting the focus. However, I've never seen these problems fix themselves during the show; it goes out of focus and stays that way.

I personally think they didn't like the movie.

John Pytlak
Film God

Posts: 9987
From: Rochester, NY 14650-1922
Registered: Jan 2000

 - posted 02-17-2001 01:09 PM      Profile for John Pytlak   Author's Homepage   Email John Pytlak   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 

Since you monitor the focus several times during each show and saw no problem, and you actually went into the auditorium for a closer look right after the complaint and saw no problem, and no one else complained, I would agree this couple was just looking for free passes.

Your practice of checking focus frequently is commendable, and one important part of "doing film right".

John P. Pytlak, Senior Technical Specialist
Worldwide Technical Services, Entertainment Imaging
Eastman Kodak Company
Research Labs, Building 69, Room 7419
Rochester, New York, 14650-1922 USA
Tel: 716-477-5325 Cell: 716-781-4036 Fax: 716-722-7243
Web site:

Paul Cunningham
Expert Film Handler

Posts: 146
From: Melbourne, Australia
Registered: Jun 2000

 - posted 02-19-2001 07:08 AM      Profile for Paul Cunningham   Email Paul Cunningham   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
These stories dont help your focus problem but are interesting.
A while back when we ran The Straight Story I had someone come out and complain the picture was "jumpy", after checking it I realized the cameraman was using some form of hand held camera and as he walked around and breathed the picture moved up and down slightly. The floor staff told this to the customer but he insisted that there was something wrong with our projector.
During The Dish someone wanted me to adjust the colour as it was "unnatural" and they knew what it should be like as they worked in the "photo industry". Once again they wouldn't believe that the film was shot that way.

Tom Sauter
Expert Film Handler

Posts: 163
From: Buffalo, NY, USA
Registered: Sep 2000

 - posted 02-19-2001 07:34 AM      Profile for Tom Sauter   Author's Homepage   Email Tom Sauter   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
As others have said, it was probably a one time deal. Could there have been a flaw during printing of one reel that caused a few scenes to be printed out of focus? I have had entire films that were transfers from DV that were waaay out of focus (of course they were one-offs that couldn't be replaced quickly enough, grr). Every once in a while a scene would jump into crystal clear view while the subtitles remained constant.

John Walsh
Film God

Posts: 2490
From: Connecticut, USA, Earth, Milky Way
Registered: Oct 1999

 - posted 02-19-2001 08:09 AM      Profile for John Walsh   Email John Walsh   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Sometimes, subtitles are "burned-in" on a release print with a laser. If only a few subtitled prints are needed, this is usually how it's done. They are on a different focal plane, so you have to decide wheather to have the titles sharp, and the picture a little off, or visa-versa.

An old-timer told me always focus on the picture, but I find that since people are always reading the titles, they notice them more, (and don't notice the picture as much) and complain.

Michael Barry
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 584
From: Sydney, NSW, Australia
Registered: Nov 1999

 - posted 02-19-2001 08:48 AM      Profile for Michael Barry   Email Michael Barry   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Paul: I have had many of these! Invariably, the person is an 'expert' who works 'in the industry'. Regarding 'The Dish', that's an interesting one! I found the three prints I saw of 'The Dish' to be all excellent; much higher quality than what I've usually seen from Cinevex Laboratories. Their prints had a tendency to be a bit 'green' for a while and a little soft in focus compared to prints from Atlab or Movielab. 'The Dish' was pretty much perfect, though.

Tom: I'd have to go with the assessment that it was a quest for free passes. I watched the movie right through the night after it happened, and the focus really is perfect.

Incidently, I noticed that 'Lucky Numbers' was photographed (quite wonderfully!) by John Lindley, whose work I have admired since I saw 'The Stepfather' in 1987. I feel that 'Pleasantville' marks a definite highlight in his career - that film is stunning.

Jerry Chase
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1068
From: Margate, FL, USA
Registered: Nov 2000

 - posted 02-19-2001 09:59 AM      Profile for Jerry Chase   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I've been holding back to see if there were any explanations offered. Yes, it is probable that the customers were looking for an excuse, but I remember a few films in the 1970s that drifted in and out of focus and gave me fits.

I've got no firm explanation, just some ideas, but the drift seemed to follow the reel from showing to showing, whether on the A or B projector.

The thoughts I had:
1. Damage from proud edges causing the film to lift slightly in the gate. With platters not yet common, these could be caused by someone running a projector where the takeup clutch was screwed down too tight. The damage wouldn't have to be excessive for this to happen, and would be greater when the torque on the take-up reel was greater. Warping along the edge from damaged shipping reels might cause something similar.
2. Dirt or excessive wax building up on the gate shoes and then getting knocked off by a splice.
3. Drift from different thickness or type of stocks, or even different pitch sprocket holes on the intermittent, coupled with a tight gate? I mention these only because I couldn't rule them out.

The projectors were the Norelcos with the thin metal band shoes in the gate. I've never been confident that those thin slightly convex bands wouldn't deform under certain conditions and cause a drift of film position, especially when the bands were worn and almost paper thin at points.

I'm sure there are other possibilities. For instance, I never was able to figure out how a change of alignment in the lamphouse always seemed to affect the focus slightly. Could the arc have been wandering?

Part of my point is to always take a customer complaint seriously. That said, there is yet another possibility...

Alcops and blind check services often have a requirement that the operative(s) submit a complaint to the management, in order to judge reaction. Sometimes these complaints are obvious because they are so lame.

Randy Stankey
Film God

Posts: 6442
From: Erie, Pennsylvania
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 02-19-2001 04:28 PM      Profile for Randy Stankey   Email Randy Stankey   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
OK, here's my shot at this one:

What about secondary reflections from behind the screen?

The light goes through the holes in the screen, reflects off the rear wall or even a speaker (or some other piece of equipment).
The reflection can produce a sort of hazy, double image that comes and goes when you move your head.

It's more pronnounced during scenes with bright objects against a dark background, like credits.

We had that at my old theatre. It turned out to be reflections off the masking motors. We went around and spray painted them all black. Still, that didn't take care of SOME of them. We had to put up some ceiling tiles painted black, placed at an angle to act as guards.

At the college I used to work at we used to hang black border curtains behind the screen to prevent reflections off the light colored back wall.

I dunno'. Just a guess.

John Wilson
Film God

Posts: 5436
From: Sydney, Australia.
Registered: Dec 1999

 - posted 02-20-2001 03:58 AM      Profile for John Wilson   Email John Wilson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
It was 'Luck Numbers' you say? Then that explains it all! Your cinema was had as they say.

I'm surprised the whole audience didn't say it was out of focus just to get out the door with some dignity! (Oh...or did those two patrons make up the entire audience?)

John Travolta - Battlefield Earth...Lucky stop...the unemployment queue.

"It's not the years,'s the mileage". Indiana Jones

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