Any old projectionists out there from films heyday?

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Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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Any old projectionists out there from films heyday?

PostTue Sep 05, 2017 1:11 pm

Any old projectionists out there from films heyday? What did your job entail?

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How are things done digitally now? Do they even use a projectionist or is it all computer run?
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Spiny Norman

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Re: Any old projectionists out there from films heyday?

PostTue Sep 05, 2017 1:22 pm

Daniel D. Teoli Jr. wrote:Any old projectionists out there from films heyday? What did your job entail?

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https://i.pinimg.com/736x/d7/c0/07/d7c0 ... places.jpg" target="_blank

How are things done digitally now? Do they even use a projectionist or is it all computer run?
It's not that long ago.
This is nøt å signåture.™
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sethb

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Re: Any old projectionists out there from films heyday?

PostTue Sep 05, 2017 2:52 pm

I guess I may qualify as a "mini" projectionist, since I ran 16mm for a "Classic Film Series" while I was a college student in the early 1970's.

I used the college's two Bell & Howell AutoLoaders (commonly known as "AutoShredders" because of the automatic "loop restorer" in the Latham loop below the film gate). I replaced the standard 750-watt lamphouse bulbs with 1000-watt bulbs for a brighter picture. In a 200-seat auditorium with a fairly long throw, I probably ended up with a picture about 12 feet wide and 8 feet high.

I handled changeovers by starting and stopping the projectors, and turning the lamps on and off, manually, just as you would do in 35mm, except that I didn't have or need dowsers to cut the light on and off from the lamphouse. I built my own changeover switch box for the audio using about $4 worth of parts from the local Radio Shack store. It was essentially an A/B switch that the audio from both projectors plugged into, using 1/4" jacks. For a speaker, I used the 12" remote speaker from my own Bell & Howell Model 285 or 385 16mm projector, which produced great sound and filled the hall well with a preamp in the line. Unlike the AutoLoaders, the B & H 285/385's had to be threaded by hand, but they certainly chewed up a LOT less film, were easier to clean and much more reliable. [These projectors were also the model for the later B & H JAN (Joint Army-Navy) 16mm projectors, which I understand were made of stainless steel and built like tanks).

I learned the hard way that you always needed to keep a spare exciter lamp on hand for the optical soundhead. Unlike the main lamphouse bulbs, which the college always had spares for, apparently nobody ever expected the exciter lamps to burn out (if they even knew they were there) --- and they weren't something that was readily available at the local hardware store, either! I had to run silent movies for about two weeks until I could get a few replacements!

The films were rented from Films, Inc., Swank Motion Pictures, Kit Parker Films and a few other sources. They usually came on 1600-foot reels (the shorts came on 800-foot reels), so I usually needed about 2-3 changeovers per feature. Usually I had the original changeover marks to use, but if they were missing or in the wrong places due to splices or missing footage, I could make my own new marks with my own 16mm changeover spot scriber. Ditto for the Academy leaders at the beginning of each reel. Splices were made with my trusty Griswold 16mm splicer from Neumade, which had a cast iron base and probably weighed at least ten pounds --- but it made perfect splices that stayed spliced! The built-in emulsion scraper in the Neumade was OK, but I liked to finish off the scrape and rough it up with my own razor blade, just to be on the safe side. Kodak film cement always worked well for me.

Before running a movie, I would run the film on my rewinds to check for torn film, torn sprockets and bad splices. Usually the films were in fairly good shape and didn't need major surgery. If the film was very dry, I also gave it a quick run-through with Vitafilm, which was the smelliest, slipperiest gunk I ever saw, but it was a great film cleaner and lubricant. Sometimes the sides of a metal reel weren't running true, which could scuff up the edges of the film or even prevent the smooth payout and takeup of the film from the projector. Metal reels could often be gently bent back into proper shape, but there wasn't much you could do with a warped plastic (ugh!) reel, except transfer the film to a good metal reel for projection, and then respool it back on the crappy plastic one for return to the distributor.

Hope this provides a "mini" snapshot of the way film used to be projected on college campuses and probably in some smaller art houses as well. I'll be interested to hear some 35mm guys chime in. SETH
"Novelty is always welcome, but talking pictures are just a fad." -- Irving Thalberg
"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk ?" -- Harry Warner
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Re: Any old projectionists out there from films heyday?

PostTue Sep 05, 2017 8:58 pm

I worked as a concessionaire, projectionist and assistant manager for AMC Theaters from 1980 -1982, until I graduated from college and got a full-time job. I still collect 16mm films, as do several Nitratevillains. I've got several 16mm projectors, and some of them still actually work!
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Re: Any old projectionists out there from films heyday?

PostWed Sep 06, 2017 2:43 pm

I guess I can understand why most 16mm projectors used the "claw handle" device to pull the film through the projection gate, since unlike 35mm film, 16mm stock only has sprocket holes on one side of the film.

But I think a "Maltese Cross" type of sprocket wheel, which is what most 35mm projectors used, would have produced far less film damage, because unlike the claw, it is in constant contact with the film. I know that a few high-end 16mm projectors did use that type of mechanism, and I wonder if it did help in that regard.

Once that claw missed pulling that film down because of a torn sprocket hole or a bad splice, and the lower Latham Loop was lost, more sprocket damage was almost guaranteed (not to mention that the sound was now out of sync as well). You could usually tell when that lower loop was too small or non-existent, because it made a different sound as the film ran through the projector. But sometimes it was too late to prevent more damage to the film. SETH
"Novelty is always welcome, but talking pictures are just a fad." -- Irving Thalberg
"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk ?" -- Harry Warner
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Re: Any old projectionists out there from films heyday?

PostThu Sep 07, 2017 7:42 pm

I was the back up projectionist at CBS Television Hollywood back in the '70's where I ran double system 35mm picture and track of dailies for Hawaii Five-O, Wonder Woman and other CBS shows. It was nerve-wracking because I was running them for TV executives with very short attention spans. They would press a buzzer to indicate they wanted to see the next reel of dailies, meaning I had to start the second projector, tear down and rethread the first before the buzzer sounded again. I felt as though I was part of some terrible experiment.

Dinah Shore and her friends came in one night to watch Sylvester Stallone's new movie F.I.S.T. Stallone was going to be on her talk show the next day so she wanted to see the film in advance. I thought I had it all under control until I did a reel change and discovered the lab had sent over the reels with the picture flopped on some of them. I had to keep stopping and rewinding and rethreading which made the movie impossible to watch. To her credit, Dinah was very sweet and understanding through the whole thing. I was young and resilient back then. I'd suffer a fatal stroke if I had to do that job today.
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Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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Re: Any old projectionists out there from films heyday?

PostFri Sep 08, 2017 5:43 pm

Thanks for all the projectionist reports!

That CBS job sounds like hell...too much stress.

Did you check the films only once after they arrived or multiple times on some schedule as long as they were being shown?
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Re: Any old projectionists out there from films heyday?

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 12:53 pm

To answer the last part of the question on the first posting:

The main difference between 35mm commercial theatre projectors and their new digital counterparts is the projector "head"
The Xenon arc lamphouses are still similar and floor mounted console/pedestal similar to the latter day 35mm setups.

The movie arrives at the theatre in a small case---about the size of a computer hard-drive (about 6"x 8") and it slides into a slot in the projector console. The DCP, the digital movie medium as it is called, has trailers already loaded and the system can be programmed for showtimes, intermissions, etc. All this interactive data is recorded on the DCP and after the movie's run, is returned to the movie company. The data on the DCP is high-resolution with the advanced sound technology. The picture is projected via display chip technologies similar to classroom or home theatre digital projectors.

In the first couple years of this format, there were varying problems and lack of quality, but if set up right, the screen quality can now be very, very good. While there doesn't have to be an operator in the booth, either the theatre manager or worker has to setup, calibrate, and take down and pack the DCP for its trip back to the movie company.

I have run both old 35mm as well as new digital projection booths and do like the film better---the equipment and presentation had an aura that digital hasn't replicated.

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