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Film Projectionist


Film projectionists, romanticized by such films as "Cinema Paradiso," present films by operating and maintaining projection equipment. They sit in the little dark booths at the back of theaters and project movies for audience enjoyment. Projectionists operate the lighting and sound and coordinate the screening of various types of film. Some work with 35mm, others with super 16mm, while many have now moved into the IMAX format.

Before show time, film projectionists open the film canisters and inspect the film to make sure it is in good condition. If they find any damage, they must quickly repair them or find another copy of the film. If there is damage, this can be very stressful as the repair process may delay the start time of the movie. When the film reel passes the projector's inspection, they rewind it to the beginning of the reel and insert into the top reel of the projector. Film is threaded through the projector onto the spool. Film projectionists have to coordinate the timing of images on the screen with sound effects, music and commentary. They will adjust and monitor the projection light and focus, volume, and tone.

Once all of these steps have been taken, projectionists dim the lights and show advertisements and previews before starting the first reel of the feature film. In single film theaters, the film projectionist will present one feature film, whereas in multiplexes, projectionists may operate feature films for several theaters at one time. For instance, a single projectionist may be responsible for one IMAX theater or drive-in theater, or for up to 12 automated theaters in a large theater complex.

There is a great deal of other work in addition to screening movies. Film projectionists take care of the equipment, and clean and service projectors and speakers. They make minor repairs and notify their manager when major repairs are necessary. They also file films into movie libraries. Some projectionists are also responsible for the upkeep of the theater.

If something goes wrong, usually the projectionist is the only person who can fix it. For example, if a light bulb burns out or the film reel breaks, they must be quick fixers. With hundreds of people in the theater, they must keep calm and cool, and be a hands-on type of person who thinks their way around problems.

With the advent of digital cinema, a new birth for the movie industry is emerging, offering crisper pictures and a faster and cheaper method of delivering films to movie screens. Will this mean the end of film projectionists? In the traditional sense, slowly. As movies are being compressed into large computer files, film projectionists will no longer need to handle awkward canisters of 35-millimeter film. Instead, all they will have to do is select and screen movies with the simple click of a mouse. Nevertheless, there is still something about original film that will never fade away, regardless of digital technology.
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  Interests and Skills  
Film projectionists must have good vision and hearing, manual dexterity and be able to concentrate and pay close attention to details. Projectionists should also enjoy working alone in a quiet environment. They should know how to operate equipment, have clear rules and organized methods for their work. They should also be able to troubleshoot problems such as film breakage or fire hazards.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Prepare films by examining film quality, rewinding films onto reels and marking film reels according to sequences
  • Operate motion picture projection and sound-reproducing equipment
  • Load film reels onto movie theater projectors and adjust focus, sound levels and other projector and theater settings
  • Switch on projectors and audio amplifiers as well as alternative projectors when special symbols appear on screen to guard continuity of storylines
  • Dim house lights and open stage curtains according to schedule
  • Ensure that films are cared for properly and any sprocket rips and splices are repaired
  • Splice numerous reels of film together to form feature-length presentations and break them down again for shipment
  • Thread, clean and operate projectors and film rewinding equipment
  • Perform regular maintenance tasks such as rotating and replacing xenon bulbs, lubricating machinery and keeping electrical contacts clean and tight
  • Clean the lens of projectors
  • Maintain and operate related equipment such as film transport systems and sound systems
  • Make minor adjustments and repairs as required
  • Repair film in case of breakage
  • Regulate audio controls to produce desired audio mix and sound levels
  • Film projectionists spend the majority of their time in small, dark projection rooms. Hours will vary depending on where they work; however in general, they work for about five to six continuous hours in the evenings, including weekends and holidays. Also, the work generally goes in shifts. Projectionists that show films for private screenings or special events may work on call, scheduling appointments with clients on short notice.
  • Medium lifting is sometimes required on the job. Also, there is commonly a low level of social interaction with managers and other workers when showing films for people. They are occasionally are exposed to sounds and noises that are distracting or uncomfortable, such as loud explosions and other noises in action films. Finally, they must remain alert and follow fire and safety regulations and procedures to ensure public safety.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • The majority of film projectionists work in large movie theaters and complexes, drive-in movie theaters and in other more formal theater houses. Most film projectionists in large theater complexes belong to a union.
  • Film projectionists who do not work in movie theaters are sometimes self-employed. They may show films to groups who hire them for special occasions or work in motion picture production and distribution companies. These projectionists show films for producers, actors, critics and others who attend private screenings. They may also operate projectors for film editors and ratings reviewers.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Film projectionists may work up to jobs as theater managers, although this may require some formal training in supervision or management. They may also advance to other jobs with companies that make and distribute films. Working as movie projectionists may spark an interest in film production, however, producing films often requires formal training and experience.

  Educational Paths  
There is no required path for becoming a film projectionist however, most complete training workshops and apprentice with an experienced projectionist. The best education is getting on-the-job training. Film projectionists are required to be licensed.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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