We will continue our tour of the projection basics by going over how to piece together and get the film onto the screen. It is a magical thing to finally lace up a projector, watch the Xenon bulb spark into life and finally open the dowser and or shutter to let through the light and finally see the flickering images upon the screen.
Digital or old school the general make up of a film is the same, the exact same things must be projected onto the screen in exactly the same order adverts, trailers, company logos, film certifications and the film itself. As it was in the last frame Digital is still numbingly boring. to build the Show Play Lists SPL’s a program is used that sort of resembles an iTunes
library, it lists files currently on the projectors server and allows you to drop it into a playable order as well as adding black spacing for lens changes between flat and scope lenses and nice changeovers between segments, create volume cues, and even start and stop the Xenon between shows to save bulb hours. Not much can go wrong but I have on occasion placed the wrong trailers in a list or downright forgotten the umm feature, meaning I got a few angry radio calls and had to rush around for a bit making everything work again. As you can see by the images you have a lot of control over these systems, about as much as a DVD player with the added benefit of seeing when things are going to start and finish. The images here are from a Doremi server I used these on the Barco and Christie projectors, The Sony 4K came with its own system built by Sony that looks a nice fancy blue but has about the same functionality. The main thing to think about with Digital cinematography is… Leave it the fuck alone! If you fiddle you will fuck it up! nearly every problem that occurred with these machines happened when someone was trying to do something, when checking the film my motto was look but don’t touch or it would freeze up or go boom. I don’t have the best luck when it comes to digital projectors.
35mm is another beast entirely if something hasn’t gone wrong it is only waiting for you to look away so that it can pounce. if the film goes over a roller it will jump off, if the platter was working it will stop, if it can get tangled it will. It will choose its time wisely, usually after a gruelling day at around 1 am during the last show.
The whole exhibition mat of film is made of three essential parts, the advert reel, the trailer set and the film. Each is made up independently and put together finally on the platter.
The adverts are annoying and not only for you the move goer. As a projectionist Thursdays sucked for me, Thursday was advert change over day. The adverts would arrive on Wednesday when ever the lovely delivery man (he only ever spoke three words to me… Ever!) decided to arrive, we would then wind them off of the tiny reels they arrived on and onto a platter centre ring sized reel we could easily slide the film off of, this was a genius contraption of another member of our team. Thursday morning would arrive with all of the adverts laying ready and labelled on a table waiting to be dropped into the still playing films, and an hour or so of walking round to all the films ripping out and rolling up old adverts and splicing in new ones would ensue.
So that is the advert procedure, excepting the adverts for the new movies but we will get to those later.
The trailers are about as bad as the adverts. Creating a new set of trailers for a new movie is easy, load them all onto a spool at the film make up bench and carry on. If only it were that easy. In each film there are figurative slots for trailers lets say five slots and each slot had a specific trailer for that specific slot and according to some people they need to be played in that order, this makes me a very sad panda. For instance lets say trailer 3 needs to be removed but trailers 2 and 4 are staying put you need to try and find the joins between the trailers and then get trailer 3 out without breaking anything, its hard to do.
After getting what needs to come out… well out you need to put what needs to be inserted in and that is usually a different number than 3 meaning you need to find more joins and so on. As the movie plays from the centre outward you are left with a lot of loops where the film is sticking out over the rest of the film and this is just asking for something to get stuck while playing it back, the first run through of the trailer set after changing something is always stressful.
The Feature Film
This is the most fun part about making a film up. The film is received by the cinema in about 6 to 10 reels for one film, each reel being about 20 minutes of film time. Upon receiving the film we check to make sure the film is all pointing in the right direction, all the reels are either head out or foot out so we don’t have a reel that is suddenly backward. after that we load the first reel onto the make-up bench, roll a piece of gash or old tape onto a larger spool and proceed to try and roll the film up as fast as possible while trying to avoid the temptation to stick your fingers into the holes in the spool just to see how much it would hurt… OK maybe that was only me. Either way after putting reel one onto the spool you lop off the gash film from the other end and attach reel two after checking the frames on each reel to see some continuity between the two, if the frames aren’t similar then there is usually something wrong.
The spools we used to use only used to hold just over half a film safely so we would have to switch to another spool when the first got too full to fit another reel, the two reels would then be joined when plating the film onto the platter.
If we have the trailers to make up a full trailer set and sometimes even the advert reels the whole film can be made up on the make-up bench meaning that there wont be any horrible brain wrapping loops on the platter.
Above this post is an image that strikes fear into me only by looking at it. When film falls you will be left with a nightmare. No bullshit just a seething mass of film which we imaginative projection folk like to call a brain wrap because well it kinda looks like brains. But I digress for what is laying at your feet on the floor is a film but what makes a full print ready for exhibition. The film runs from the centre of the platter out through the head, which guides the film out from the centre of the mat in an orderly fashion to rollers on the platters, as well as changing the rotation speed of the platter in accordance to what the projector is pulling. After navigating the rollers on the platters the film goes to a high up roller above the projector and then through the projector head. From there it goes to another aligning roller below the projector and back the platter where it is once again guided through rollers and onto a free platter, however on the return journey it is passed through a movable roller attached to the end of the arm, this is the device that controls the speed of the return platter. Sometimes a more complex operation can be achieved with projectors that are next to each other by interlocking the two systems automation, allowing one film to be run off of one projectors platter through that projector through its neighbour and then onto the neighbours free platter. The most I have ever interlocked was four projectors in a long straight corridor about 100 meters in length… I was scared shitless.
You may notice I have not explained the lacing of the film through the head, that is because it is quite complex and requires an understanding of the mechanics involved in the head. The film passes over many sprockets on the head, some are driven and pull the film others are only guides but essentially the main focus is to place the film in the gate. The gate is sandwiched in front of the shutter housing and behind the lens that points directly at the screen and is the point at which the entire point of projection resides. The film is pulled through the gate intermittently meaning it is not one continuous motion, it is timed to be stationary at the exact time the shutter wheel behind it lets through a flicker of light and is moving immediately to replace the film for the next flicker. Loops of film below and above the gate ensure that the intermittent sprocket always has some film to pull otherwise it will snap the film. This intermittent procedure is why you will notice some cinemas have a flicker on the screen this is a poorly timed intermittent sprocket in the projector. The racking of the film is another very important feature as you do not want the top of one frame and the bottom of another projected onto the screen so care has to be taken to lace the film in rack meaning a whole frame and nothing else is projected, The easiest way I found to do this is to lace up from the gate outwards, catch the film on a Locked sprocket, rack the film and then feed it through the rest of the head.
Another greatly important device the film must pass over is the sound head seen in the image in the bottom left corner, this reads the signal off the film and transfers it to the sound rack consisting of sound processor, amps and any audio monitoring equipment.
Projection took up a portion of my life that I don’t think I would swap, I met a lot of very nice people and some total arsewart fudge fuckers but the majority were nice. I spent some tense moments wondering if I was fired after having to request a new reel for The Green Lantern after it had been mangled after wrapping around the bearing under the platter while plating the film on. and one must not forget the perks such as convincing the management that they might break something if they are not escorted wile in projection. and turning the lights on and off while the people are cleaning the screens between shows or climbing onto the roof at 2 am through the fire exit just to see what the fuck is up there. Please just don’t get me started on the creepy of being alone in a large dark area full of oddly shaped machines at stupid hours of the morning with eerie building creeks and the like.
Thus ends the path of the film. I have glanced over some technical aspects or left them out completely because I either don’t know of them, I can’t explain them well enough or they did not find a place where explaining them wouldn’t have drawn me off onto another tangent of projection. If you want to know more about a certain part of the process please leave a comment, I am more than happy to answer if I can. Likewise if you have any corrections or even found this interesting post a comment I would love to know how you found it.