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» Film-Tech Forum   » Community   » Film-Yak   » And I though I was the only one who cared ( article by a pissed projectionist) (Page 1)

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Author Topic: And I though I was the only one who cared ( article by a pissed projectionist)
Josh Jones

Posts: 1207
From: Plano, TX
Registered: Apr 2000

 - posted 06-30-2005 09:23 PM      Profile for Josh Jones   Author's Homepage   Email Josh Jones   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post

"Fight Back - Please"

As you might expect, when movie critics watch films for review, they usually do so under optimal circumstances. Los Angeles in particular is full of screening rooms, both on and off studio lots, that are carefully sound-proofed and boast beautifully clean, brand-new, up-to-date screens. Speakers are placed carefully around the room for maximum effect and then are hidden so that they don’t protrude into the viewer’s field of vision. Technicians regularly check the lenses and the reflective quality of the screens so that the images are as close to what the filmmaker desired as they can possibly be.
Just as importantly, projectionists – almost always union projectionists – are assigned to each screening room. Not to watch over two or three or four projection booths, but to one booth showing one movie. So if a projector slips up, if the sound suddenly goes off, if the image goes out of frame, there’s someone in the booth to fix the problem right away. The system isn’t perfect. There are slip-ups. But you get the picture. Critics certainly get the picture, and with almost no glitches.

Every summer, I take some time off with my family to visit relatives and friends or just go on vacation somewhere and inevitably pay to go to the movies. Or, during the work year, I’ll end up going to a regular, commercial venue to catch up with a film I didn’t see at a screening.

Frankly, it’s appalling. I don’t mean just the sloppy, careless projection which leaves the paying customer with about 65 percent of the actual film experience. I mean the bovine passivity displayed by the audience in the face of this commercial contempt.

Seven out of ten times I go to a regular movie theater, some problem comes up with the projection. Either part of the movie is being projected onto the black matting surrounding the screen, the movie is plainly out of focus, the sound is out of synchronization, the image is out of frame, or – and this one always kills me – the movie is being shown in the wrong aspect ratio because the wrong lens is on the projector.


I mean, what is it with you people? You’ve usually paid $8.50 or $9 or – in Manhattan - $10 to get into the theater, an outrageous sum that should have the ushers bowing and scraping in gratitude. Instead, you humbly make your way to a seat where you take anything a contemptuous management decides to toss your way.

This August I jogged the equivalent of a marathon getting out of my seat, hunting down ushers and managers trying to get them to show a movie properly. Over the years, I’ve had some incredible experiences, mostly in my own Los Angeles neighborhood (yes, Hollywood’s backyard). One nearby theater, part of a national chain well known for running crappy cinemas, refused to run the proper, high amount of current through its projector bulbs because they burned out faster that way. So the lesser current and dimmer bulbs saved them whatever – a hundred or two bucks a month - and the movies they showed were always dark and murky, the colors running together and the focus flabby.

Once, when a deadline forced me to see a movie there, the movie was even more out of focus than usual. I went out and found an usher, told him to inform the projectionist of the problem, and went back to my seat. Five minutes pass, no improvement; ten minutes pass, no improvement. So I go out to the lobby again and there I find the usher together with some of his buddies standing around talking. I ask him what happened and he says, "I went inside to check and it looked OK to me." So much for the customer is always right. Luckily the manager was standing right there and she immediately got on the intercom to the projectionist who did focus what was, eagle-eye junior’s assertion to the contrary notwithstanding, an out-of-focus film.

But you see, NO ONE ELSE GOT UP TO COMPLAIN. No one ever complains. They just turn filmgoing into a masochistic experience.

Now here is the capper. Last week, I paid $8.50 at a San Fernando Valley theater to see Simone with about 75 other paying customers.

Now, about 70 minutes into the film, there is a reel change. Do you understand what a reel is? Movies are shipped on big reels that hold about 2,000 feet of 35 mm film, which, when they are run through a projector, come to about 20 minutes of running time each. Traditionally, there would be two projectors in the projection booth. The projectionist would hook up reel one on the first projector and reel two on the second. As the first reel wound down, he would see signals in the upper right-hand corner of the movie telling him to shift over to the other projector and the second reel. The audience wouldn’t notice the change, as the images would be aligned; as far as they were concerned, the movie would just continue on. Back in the booth, the projectionist would be busy loading the third reel onto the first projector and prepare to do the next switchover and so forth and so on. Over the years, the projectionist stop having to look for that signal in the corner, as the switch between projectors would become automatic.

The crucial fact here is that the movie comes in reels. And that all the reels have to be shown and they have to be shown in order. If you don’t see all the reels, then you don’t see all the movie. And if you don’t see all the reels in order, then you don’t see the movie in order.

Now, please keep following me, because this is important. It affects your quality of film-going. There have been two big changes in projection over the last decade or so. The first big change is that almost all the projectionists in all theaters have been dismissed, retired, laid off, let go, fired, shown the door, and booted. Some of the big theaters in big cities have a projectionist who runs from booth to booth in the multiplexes taking care of ten movies at once. But if you go to a neighborhood multiplex, there’s probably no projectionist at all.

This is thanks to a technical innovation called the "platter." A platter is just what it sounds like, a big huge round disk. When the reels of film come into a theater, they are all taped together end to end, forming one big giant snake of film that unreels all at once on one projector. No switchovers because, in effect, there’s only one reel.

Ah, but if someone tapes together the reels and leaves one of them out, then you’re screwed. It’s not like a mixed-up reel change that a projectionist can fix in a few minutes by searching for the right reel. Because once the platter is put together, it can’t be fixed until it has run its entire course. That’s what happened to the print of "Simone" I saw in the Valley that day. A whole reel had simply been left off the platter. I couldn’t believe it. I expected a mass uprising, but to my shock, I looked around and saw my fellow filmgoers were not only not disturbed, but were happy and content, enjoying a sudden irruption of discontinuity like a convention of post-modernists.

I went down to confront the manager. This is where I discovered real corporate evil. The pencil-pushers and pocket-stuffers who had decided that their theater would have no projectionist had also decided that they’d force their young manager to be their head cashier and platter-splicer, too. This young person was pleasant and hard-working, and I have no doubt underpaid. Not only was I getting screwed by the people who owned and ran the theater chain, but so was the manager.

Folks, you’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on right under your noses, not to mention right in front of your eyes. You’ve got to complain about a film-going experience that has become a fulltime gouge. I’m a movie addict, so even if I didn’t get to go to screenings, I’d probably keep paying to go. But today’s prices absolutely amaze me. I mean, $9 to see a movie, absent a projectionist in the booth? Or even on the premises? Are you kidding me?

You have every right to demand a perfect projection of the movie you’ve paid to see. And I’ll let you in on something. No one gets madder over lousy projection of a movie than the person who made it. If you have a bad experience with a movie, go out and check the movie’s poster in the lobby. Get out your pen or pencil and a piece of paper, and copy down the name of the director, the name of the producer or producers, and the name of the studio. Go to the internet, and look up the studio and go to their website homepage. Get their address, and then write to the director and producers care of the studio. It might take a while, but I guarantee the filmmakers will get your letter. Be sure you give the name of the theater and its location. Include the name of the chain its part of (see its ad in the newspaper).

Be angry. And don’t take it anymore.

Henry Sheehan
August, 2002


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Brad Miller

Posts: 17695
From: Plano, TX (36.2 miles NW of Rockwall)
Registered: May 99

 - posted 06-30-2005 10:14 PM      Profile for Brad Miller   Author's Homepage   Email Brad Miller       Edit/Delete Post 
This guy sounds more like a movie reviewer than a projectionist. The point was still there, but that was clearly not written by a projectionist.

Regardless, no one cares. The only way to put an end to this is to NAME THE DAMNED THEATER...but he didn't. Out them to the world and MAYBE, just MAYBE in their embarassment mangement or corporate might start to take note and initiate some improvements. Until then, nothing and I do mean NOTHING will change.

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Aaron Haney
Master Film Handler

Posts: 265
From: Cupertino, CA, USA
Registered: Jan 2001

 - posted 06-30-2005 10:45 PM      Profile for Aaron Haney   Email Aaron Haney   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
He's right that people don't get up to complain, but that doesn't mean they don't notice and take action. It's just that the action usually ends up being ...

They stay home next time.

Thus, we have all the news articles full of hemming and hawing from industry execs who can't for the life of them figure out why ticket sales are down. [Roll Eyes]

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Joe Redifer
You need a beating today

Posts: 12859
From: Denver, Colorado
Registered: May 99

 - posted 06-30-2005 11:54 PM      Profile for Joe Redifer   Author's Homepage   Email Joe Redifer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Brad Miller
The only way to put an end to this is to NAME THE DAMNED THEATER
I agree (unless it happens to be a Cinemark, right?) I was looking for the theater name because the author seemed upset enough to point it out, but he didn't. Is there some kind of law that places cannot be mentioned?

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Dominic Espinosa
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1172
From: Boulder Creek, CA.
Registered: Jan 2004

 - posted 07-01-2005 02:37 AM      Profile for Dominic Espinosa   Email Dominic Espinosa   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
A recent presentation at the Metreon my assistant saw Howls Moving Castle out of focus, framed low, with a confused projectionist starting with the wrong lens, masking and aperture plate.

So far, I've been impressed with only 1 other theater I've been to and that was the Regal Edwards 21 in Fresno, CA., however both times the projector was tilted slightly too low and framed too high.
The picture looked great and the sound was excellent at both screenings though.
What gives?

I save media from filthy prints I get sub-run from local theaters. I got Madagascar on a move over and ran media on it for 5 days, it was disgusting.
I always consider sending the media to the theater...

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Phil Hill
I love my cootie bug

Posts: 7595
From: Hollywood, CA USA
Registered: Mar 2000

 - posted 07-01-2005 02:46 AM      Profile for Phil Hill   Email Phil Hill       Edit/Delete Post 
Daryl: Would you please use your Magical Condensing Machine to get to the heart of Josh's LONG, LONG, WAY LONG post so I can understand what is important in all the BS.

I feel that I want to post a comment, but I do not have the patience to read a LONG post that is more than 1 screen long.

Thanks! I owe you!

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Wolff King Morrow
Master Film Handler

Posts: 490
From: Denton, TX, USA
Registered: Feb 2004

 - posted 07-01-2005 02:53 AM      Profile for Wolff King Morrow   Author's Homepage   Email Wolff King Morrow   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
What I find funny about the article is he complains about how he's the only one to get up and hunt down a manager or usher, yet what happens when he does that? Nothing.

Like Brad, I get the feeling this guy isnt a projectionist. We have different rants he didn't even touch upon that he certainly would have if he were a projectionist.

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Joe Redifer
You need a beating today

Posts: 12859
From: Denver, Colorado
Registered: May 99

 - posted 07-01-2005 03:05 AM      Profile for Joe Redifer   Author's Homepage   Email Joe Redifer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Phil, here is the complete summarized version, which has just as much detail as the entire thing:
quote: Movie critic is used to posh presentations at screening rooms. Movie critic goes to real theaters occasionally. Movie critic is upset that projectonists barely exist anymore. Movie critic condemns platters. Movie critic is amazed at how real theaters screw up presentation all of the time. Movie critic is extremely pissed at movie patrons because they just sit there and don't get up to complain. Then there is something about a giant male sex orgy but I don't feel like summarizing that.

The End.

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Phil Hill
I love my cootie bug

Posts: 7595
From: Hollywood, CA USA
Registered: Mar 2000

 - posted 07-01-2005 03:55 AM      Profile for Phil Hill   Email Phil Hill       Edit/Delete Post 
Thanks Joe! BUT!, I'm disappointed that you left out the translation and detail of the "giant male sex orgy"... I guess I'll have to rely on other FT members to email me the translation...ummm hopefully with pictures! [Wink] [beer]

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Scott Norwood
Film God

Posts: 8004
From: Boston, MA. USA (1774.21 miles northeast of Dallas)
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 07-01-2005 08:46 AM      Profile for Scott Norwood   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Norwood   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Outside of LA, New York, and Chicago, do film critics actually watch films in screening rooms? That certainly doesn't happen in Boston. Until it closed recently, most press screenings were held at the Copley Square theatre (the dumpiest venue in town) because of its proximity to public transportation. Now, most screenings are held at one of the two (yes, there are only two--one Loews and one AMC) commercial theatres in the city. I've heard stories of botched presentations at these screenings from a film critic who actually cares about presentation.

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Martin Brooks
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 822
From: Forest Hills, NY, USA
Registered: May 2002

 - posted 07-01-2005 01:31 PM      Profile for Martin Brooks   Author's Homepage   Email Martin Brooks   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The thing that's always puzzled me is that we live in a culture where so many people are rude, impolite, love to complain (and love to sue.) There's certainly plenty of evidence of that on the "crazy customers" thread.

In spite of all that, there are two things that customers seem NOT to complain about:
- concerts that are too loud (beyond the threshold of pain)
- bad movie theater presentation

I've never understood why that is. When I've confronted managers about bad presentation, one of the responses I hear the most is, "well no one else is complaining."

In some cases, I think the customers can't tell the difference. As I've posted elsewhere, I saw Batman the other day on a screen that was supposed to be digital, but played the whole film in analog audio with no surrounds. I think they'd know the difference if they happened to stop in another screen to hear the difference (as I did). But without that direct comparison, they don't really know that anything is wrong (but that still doesn't mean that they wouldn't have enjoyed the film more if they had seen it properly.)

In other cases, the problems are more obvious - like a badly scratched print. But they still don't complain.

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Jesse Skeen
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1498
From: Sacramento, CA
Registered: Aug 2000

 - posted 07-01-2005 01:58 PM      Profile for Jesse Skeen   Email Jesse Skeen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
NOBODY should have to get up and report a presentation problem- doing that makes them miss part of the movie. That's why I ALWAYS checked the presentation when working, even if "nobody complained about anything." If I go to a movie and there's a problem, I'll assume that the person in the booth is as smart as me and will fix it in a second. If I end up sitting through the whole movie and it doesn't get fixed, I probably won't go back to that theater again. I don't know if contacting the studios does any good- last year I went to a free showing of "Thirteen" from Fox Searchlight, and yes I'll name the theater- it was Century Downtown Plaza Sacramento (it was UA when it opened, it seems like it has the same incompetents common at that company) and before the show started someone handed out papers with an email address and asked us to send them any thoughts about the movie. It was already in its finished version so I don't know exactly what they would gain from that, but I thought OK. When the show started however, first the lens and masking were set for Scope and had to be changed to Flat, then the picture was out of focus even though looking up at the booth there were TWO people up there! I made some hand motions at them to focus the damn picture, but they didn't see me (they didn't seem to see anything for that matter). After about a minute I notice there's some guy sitting in the back of the theater who's somehow in charge of the screening, so I get up and tell him it's out of focus. I sit back down but nobody adjusts the focus. I enjoy most of the movie anyway, even though the picture is out of focus and the audience is one of the rudest I've ever encountered. THEN it goes out of frame at the reel change. It runs for a good number of seconds until finally I can't take it anymore and go out the door. Some kid is already going to the booth door saying "We know, we're fixing it", so I said "Can you focus it while you're up there too?" He says "Oh, it's out of focus?" and I say "Yes! You must have a blind projectionist!" FINALLY the framing is fixed and the picture is focused. The audience still ruins most of the movie though by talking, one has a baby that keeps crying. I seriously contemplated leaving, and I wanted to go up to the parent, point at the screen and say "I hope your baby turns out like THAT!" but I didn't. I sit through the rest of the show, being the only one who actually stays through all the end credits. I go home and send an email saying that it looked like a good movie but the conditions at the screening were so bad that it really spoiled it for me. I gave my address and phone number but I never heard back from anyone. I also went to Century's website and told them about the inexcusably bad presentation (having the lens/masking set wrong at startup, inability of their people to recognize a focused picture, and missing the point where the film went out of frame.) I also mentioned how incredibly rude the audience was, and that they ought to look into a way of controlling them, but to first work on getting some competent people in their booth. I added that I went to this show since it was free, but I'd already had enough bad experiences at this theater previously that I had already decided I would not pay to see any movies there. I got an email back from them, saying they would have their technical people go over and check the equipment!! [Roll Eyes] A couple months later I went to another free showing at that theater, the picture and sound (analog) were adequate but the house lights stayed up the entire time. That was the LAST time I'll ever set foot in there again, unless they give me a job there [Smile] Judging from the people who work there though they probably don't actually pay anyone.

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Brad Miller

Posts: 17695
From: Plano, TX (36.2 miles NW of Rockwall)
Registered: May 99

 - posted 07-01-2005 02:30 PM      Profile for Brad Miller   Author's Homepage   Email Brad Miller       Edit/Delete Post 
We have a neat new feature here on the forums. It's called paragraphs, and it makes people's posts easy to read so they don't just skip over them. It's built right into your keyboard via the ENTER button. Click it a few times and watch the magic! [Cool]

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Scott D. Neff
Theatre Dork

Posts: 919
From: San Francisco, CA
Registered: Oct 1999

 - posted 07-03-2005 02:19 PM      Profile for Scott D. Neff   Author's Homepage   Email Scott D. Neff   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Judging from the guys reference to the chain who notorioulsy lowered the juice flowing to the xenon, I'd say he's referring to a UA.

UA had a pretty decent presence out in the San Fernando Valley in 2002, though he could be referring to Pacific or Mann Theatres. If I were to guess, I'd say he might've been referring to what used to be UA's Valley Plaza in N. Hollywood, which is now under new management.

Oh and you don't know how tempting it was to write this entire post without using the space bar. [Razz]

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Mitchell Dvoskin
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1833
From: West Milford, NJ, USA
Registered: Jan 2001

 - posted 07-04-2005 12:03 PM      Profile for Mitchell Dvoskin   Email Mitchell Dvoskin   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Many years ago, I was at the public sneak preview for Steve Martin's Father Of The Bride. Reel 4 came on backwards and upside down. After watching it for a few minutes, I finally get up to complain to the manager. In the back two isle seats were two of the theatres ushers, watching this as if nothing is wrong. I found the manager projectionist in the projection room, feet up on a desk, eating a frozen desert. Upon telling him that the picture was upside down and backwards, there was about a 30 second delay, he turned a full shade paler, and ran over to shut down the show. He ended up lifting the rest of reel 4 out of the platter, and continueing with reel 5. The sad part is that not only did nobody complain, but his own staff was watching and did nothing.

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