One balmy afternoon last year in September, Neil Miller, Luke Mullen and I set out to enjoy the cinematic experience of Gamer and rushed headlong into one of the problems with the technological takeover of the projection career field. The path is an easy one to follow.
More theaters have increased digital capability and diminished testing standards for projectionists, which means when a film print comes in, the push-button projectionist swaps reel 2 and reel 5, leading to an even more convoluted version of Gamer.
Oddly enough, when we explained the problem to the management, they said they’d played the movie all weekend with no complaints. That’s Neveldine/Taylor clarity for you.
More so than the petty complaints of three filmgoers, the profession itself is on the brink of extinction.
Slate has an absolutely fantastic piece focusing on a select few projectionists. It’s got several anecdotes from folks who have been in the job for decades and some who are legacies – watching the years of film history pass down from father to son for a few generations. It highlights the dwindling numbers in the unions as a direct result of the transition to digital projectors that can be run by almost anyone.
With that switch, the era of the reel projector is over. Currently, theaters are 35% digital, with the number growing just as quickly as manufacturing will allow for. Instead of a complex process of setting up film reels on platters and watching the cigarette burns for change over times while reading comic books, a “projectionist” will hit a button, make sure a little LED light is on, and sit back to read comic books while the movie they downloaded from a server plays flawlessly.
Technology races forward with a lot of positive effects, but here’s one human cost that we can get a little sentimental about. They aren’t gone completely, but sooner rather than later, we’re going to find ourselves holding a true memorial service for a completely obsolete profession.
And a sad day that will be indeed.