Glastonbury Festival
Near Glastonbury, Somerset, England

Submitted by Michael Denner

Though the festival had a cinema in 1981 I my self was not involved with it at that time. I was running childrenís film shows in Shepton Mallet and Glastonbury for Childrenís World. Several of the staff of Childrenís World also worked at the Glastonbury festival so in 1982 I went along to lend a hand. The cinema then was a relatively low key affair. It was in a marquee, which measured about 100 feet by 40 feet and looked as if it was more suited to garden parties. The back half of the marquee had chairs, while  the front half had coconut matting on the floor for people to sit on. The projectors used were 16mm bell & Howell TQ3ís which had been borrowed from the AV department at Clarks the local shoe factory. These gave a reasonable but relatively small picture. The main reason for this was that the tent had  poles down the middle at 20 foot intervals limiting the distance of the throw and the picture size. The cinema proved to be extremely popular even in those early days.

By 1983 the size of the tent had grown to a proper marquee but the projection system remained more or less the same. The only difference being a bigger sound system than before, small by todayís standards, but adequate. And I also used my own 16mm projectors.

1984 was the year of the minersí strike and believe it or not we actually had striking miners at the festival!, They made themselves a real nuisance by climbing onto the roof of the marquees and sliding down.

1985 saw the first major technical advance. The step from 16mm to 35mm. The projector I used was an old Westar 2001 on a Western Electric soundhead, which dates from the late thirties. With a Kalee Vaulcan lamphouse and an AIE three electrode Xenon lamp conversion chassis slid in the back. Not all the films that year were on 35mm some of the film companies were somewhat nervous about sending films out to be shown in the middle of a muddy field even though it was inside a marquee. So 16mm was still used for some films.

The difference in quality between 16mm and 35mm was like chalk and cheese and was really appreciated by the audience, so I made the decision to change to 35mm 100% for the next year. Nothing much changed between 1986 and 1989 which saw the introduction of the open air screen as the cinema tentís popularity had now out- grown even the largest of marquees; the screen was a mere 32 feet wide, but enabled a lot more people to watch the films. Also the cinema moved to the area where a track called Muddy Lane crosses what was then the main stage access road, and is near a very congested part of the site. The Outdoor cinema here was to became a famous landmark and meeting point for people at the festival for many years to come.

This also was a perfect spot for cinema as the natural slope of the hill provided an ideal rake allowing the best possible viewing area for the audience, also the picture could be seen right to the top of the camping area called Big Ground. This patch didnít come without  its own special set of problems though, mainly from the  camping which bordered the cinema area. It was highly desirable to be able to relax in your tent by your camp fire and watch the latest movies. Or simply drift off to sleep listing to the ambient music playing  through the sound system after the films had  finished for the night. We used to have to post a 24 hour guard of field stewards in the cinema area  to stop campers pitching their tents right in front of the screen over- night. 1990 saw the introduction of Dolby Stereo to the open air cinema at Glastonbury for the first time. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow a CP55 from C.S.D. the company I was working for at the time. Dolby Stereo proved extremely popular, one of the reasons being, out in the open air the stereo effects coming from surround speakers are far more noticeable due to the total lack of reverberation normally found in cinemas.

In 1992 it was felt that there was a big enough demand for arts and special interest films at the festival that was not being met, and  which normally only get seen in regional film theatres. This meant that we decided to reintroduce the film marquee. These films were chosen and the tent staffed by members of the Edinburgh Film Guild.

Things ran without any major changes until Ď94, when just two weeks before the festival the pyramid stage caught fire, needless to say it was a major blow to the festival because as well as being the main stage it also served as a store. A large amount of festival equipment including the outside cinema screen was lost in the fire. This meant we had our work cut out making a new screen in time, but in a way it was also a blessing in disguise as it gave us the opportunity to make the new screen bigger, lighter and easier to handle than the previous one. The new replacement measured 56 feet wide by 24 feet high, at the time it was the biggest outdoor 35mm cinema screen in the country.

Also new for Ď94 was the first use of Dolby Digital at Glastonbury, which has now  become the standard, digital cinema sound system used in cinemas through out the world. In order to play the digital tracks properly the PA system had to be up-rated to handle the higher peak levels and improved frequency response. So we got in a 35Kw JBL concert series sound system. And the Xenon lamp was upgraded to 4KW.

1995 was basically the same with the addition of a laser show between the films.

For the Ď97 festival it was felt that due to the congestion caused by the cinema in the market area in the previous years, the cinema should be found a new home. The problems were caused mainly by the huge numbers of people entering and leaving the cinema area when the films changed. So it was decided that the cinema should be given its own field, which meant the film marquee and the open air screen could once again be together again for the first time in nearly five years since the marquee was reinstated. This also had the effect of opening up the festival site in general, and making better use of previously under -used fields towards the western end of the site. Unfortunately that year it rained heavily just prior to the festival and whole site turned into a mud bath. The outdoor cinema still proved hugely popular despite the rain,  and due to the greater space available we probably had our biggest crowds ever, somewhere in the order of 6000-7000 people with the least amount of hassle. Also in Ď98 the World cup video screen was part of the cinema field. The films also attract similar sized crowds.

Generally work starts on the cinema area in early January with a meeting with Michael Eavis to iron out the budget, and any other logistical and technical problems that were raised the previous year. Nothing much happens after that until March. Though I keep a continuous eye on what films are doing well in the cinemas and would make good festival films. From April I start getting the projection equipment out of moth-balls and assemble everything in my workshop and get everything running. I probably run the equivalent of several feature films during the testing stages to ensure there are no problems with the equipment.

The projector I use now is the one I have used since 1986, which is still Ross GC3, which sits on an RCA  9031 sound-head. The projector head probably dates from around 1945. The only reason I use this particular model of projector is that it is relatively small, light and modular and readily lends its self to portable operation. The projector is mounted on a custom built stand. Which also contains a long play tower, with servo controlled constant tension take-up system, like the ones used on platter systems, all designed by myself. The light is currently provided by a 7000 watt Xenon lamp. I also have two brand new Russian made10kW water cooled Xenon lamps, which I have not used yet. Though next years festival may be the first time, but that depends on how much spare time I have available this winter.

During the three weeks prior to the festival I make numerous trips to the site, to arrange the sighting of the screen frame,meet with various festival personnel, the organizer, sign painters, site art, etc, to make sure every thing that will be required will be available on time, and to oversee  the initial screen frame construction. Though the real work starts in earnest for me and my immediate crew on the Saturday morning of the weekend before the festival. Most of that day is taken up with loading the truck with the sound system, which is no easy task, as there are six main speaker cabinets, 9 JBL 2360/2445 horn units and on top of that the sub Cabinets, surround speakers and amp racks. It takes two trips to get all the everything including the projection equipment to site, but usually by Sunday evening itís all done and everyone one has arrived on site and is ready to start work on the Monday morning.

The Glastonbury cinema team is comprised of myself Michael Denner, Robin (Prof) Ireland who has worked with me at Glastonbury since 1989,  Donald Eunson since 1992 and Danny Durry  since 1995. I am  responsible for the entire cinema operations at the Glastonbury Festival. As the cinema at Glastonbury has been going on for many years it has become a well oiled and relatively smooth operation, with only minor changes being made from one year to the next, if it was felt with hindsight that something needed changing.

Over the years everyone working in the cinema field at Glastonbury has evolved into their own particular departments. Prof and his small team of workers see to it that the screen construction and erection goes according to plan and he also looks after Plant and Health and Safety aspects. Donald and his teamís job is to make sure the projection booth (Pyramid) is built in time and fully operational. And Danny Ďs role is to see that the prints arrive and get made up in time for the screenings and broken down and packed away afterwards, ready for shipping back to the distributors.

This year 2000 saw the construction of a purpose built projection Pyramid. The idea being that it would be pleasing to the eye placed in the middle of the field compared to the ramshackle pile of storage containers with  a portable office perched on top to serve as the projection room, that has been used in previous years. And also provide practical weather proof accommodation in which to house the Projection and  sound equipment.. This put an enormous pressure on Donald and his team who were responsible for the Pyramid. The Pyramid is constructed out of 16 triangular panels that bolt together to make four large triangles, each one being 32 feet across its base. When these are laid against each other they form the required pyramid. Inside is a free standing scaffold Platform positioned eleven feet from the ground on which the projector, long play tower and sound rack stand. This is high enough so that there is only about 10 degrees of positive (upward) rake on the projector, this is due to the immense length of the throw. Form projection lens to screen is 220 feet.

While Donald and his crew were making the frames that were to become the sides of the pyramid, Prof and his crew are busy laying the screen panels out on the ground for inspection and painting. Even though the screen panels have been kept in storage under cover from the previous year they do get dirty and a measure of damage occurs from handling and transportation.  So they require a mechanical overhaul, replacing broken or cracked timbers, and then being given several fresh coats of brilliant white emulsion paint. The screen is mostly made of 6mm ply on eight  timber frames which measure twenty-seven feet long by eight feet wide. The exception being where the speakers are which is conventional perforated screen material stretched and glued to timber braces built into the speaker apertures.  The bracing is necessary because if the wind gets up and the screen material is unsupported it stretches considerably, and then unsightly sags develop. Even in areas as small as the speaker apertures which measure 8 feet by 10 feet.

We use a matt white screen for two reasons the main one being cheapness, and the second being that a fair proportion of the audience is viewing the picture from a long way off the central axis. Which would result in a considerable fall off in brightness if a high gain reflective surface was used such as pearlux. We have looked at alternative methods for the screen including an inflatable screen. Which would be much easier to erect but has the one major drawback, and that is you canít put speakers behind it. The aim of the cinema at the festival is to provide a quality of presentation comparable to that you would get in cinemas in the  West End of London, and just a left, right stereo or speakers under the screen being totally unacceptable. Also the inflatable screen used in France  wonít stand wind speeds in excess of about 30mph without having to be taken down, whereas our screen is calculated to be safe in wind speeds in excess of 60mph with its 17 tons of ballast.

While the panels are drying out  after being painted, the main PA speakers are lifted up onto the PA shelf built into the screen frame with the maniscopic forks, that is a forklift that can reach in and out with the forks as well as up and down. The Speaker shelf is approximately 14-15 feet from the ground. By the time the HF horns are placed on top of the two bass cabinets this positions them in the top third portion of the screen which is the desired position for siting of the HF horns in a Dolby stereo/digital system. The amplifiers are also placed on the PA shelf in the screen frame. The reason for this being that the losses that would be incurred in the speaker runs, which are in excess of 220 feet would be two great. Also the damping factor of the amplifiers would be severely compromised, which would lead to a reduction in quality of the overall sound, particularly in the bass end. Plus there would be five pairs of cables per channel which would all have to be trenched in below ground level in order to comply with health and safety. So as you can see its preferable to just send the left, centre,  and right channels full-range and the sub channel, at line level through screened multi-core cables and to put the crossovers and amps behind the screen. This does mean that there has to be Power at the screen end. As the PA actually draws about four times as much power as the projector and arc lamp it makes sense to put the generator behind the screen and run a 3-phase cable to the projection pyramid. The sound multi-core cable is also dropped into the same trench, but kept separate from the mains cable to minimise hum pickup.

Once the Speakers are in place the screen panels can be lifted up onto the screen frame this is done with a maniscopic fork lift, and about ten willing helpers. First the panels are stood up on end and leant against the frame then the forks lift the panel from the bottom to the desired height and then it is clamped in place with special clamps that bite into the timber frames.

Once all eight panels are in place its just a simple task of taping over the joints in the panels and finally painting out any bits that got missed first time round.

By now the pyramid panels are completed and the final assembly ready to be erected. The exact position having been measured out beforehand, and the projection platform already been built and partially loaded with the heaviest and balkiest bits of equipment. Bolting the top sections in place proved to be the trickiest bit in the assembly as we found they would not meet at the top due to a slight unevenness in the ground making the whole Pyramid slightly askew. The gap did not really matter as it was taped up and painted over so it didnít show. Next year a level platform will have to be built on which to stand the pyramid.

Once the pyramid was up I was then able to start unpacking the crates with the rest of the equipment and start assembling the projector. The projector stand has the lamphouse and long play tower permanently built onto it so as to make it easier to assemble the projector quickly in temporary installations such as this. Because of this I donít have to worry about lining up the film path as it is pre determined, same applies to positioning the lamphouse in relation to the projector head, though I still have to fully align the  reflector and lamp as these are remove for transportation. The sound rack is also pre assembled and pre-wired the only thing needing to be done being the connection it to the projector photo cells and the video cable to the digital reader, and of course then thereís the  multi-core that goes up the field to the amplifiers.  The alignment of the sound system is pretty straight forward. Though setting of surround delays can be a bit troublesome. Also this year we had to comply with some new and very stringent sound level regulations laid down by Mendip council regarding sound pressure levels the cinema produced after midnight which required constant monitoring with an Leq meter, but thatís another story.

Once everything is finished and running by Thursday afternoon the construction crew can relax and then enjoy the festival as their work is done until the end when it all has to be taken down again and be packed away. But for my self and Danny its only just beginning as Thursday night is the first night of films. So while Iím putting the finishing touches to the alignment of the sound system Danny is busy putting together the first nights features. Then as dusk falls its time to do the lamp alignment, and running of the picture and sound test films RP40, Cat1011 digital ID followed by Dolby Jiffy and then Listen. This always draws a big crowd as they know from past experience that it wonít be long till the first film of the evening will be coming on. Even though the festival doesnít officially start till the Friday the public gates will have been open since midday on Wednesday. So the first night of Cinema always attracts a big crowd.

Michael Denner
Cinema Applications Engineer
Dolby Laboratories Inc
Cinema field co-ordinator, Glastonbury Festival