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Notes from the Projection Room: A Digital 'Breakthrough', 35mm, and the Film Slate

Updated: Jul 7

It’s time for our periodic deep dive into projection geek-ery courtesy of the Broadway’s resident chief projectionist.

 

Digital

One is reluctant to sound like a grumpy old luddite, but this new fangled digital technology is peculiar stuff.  We are deep into the realms of superstition now.  First it was our DCI-compliant Barco DP2K 15C projector that was causing us worries, but we successfully completed one final repair to the x-axis lens shift motor and all the diagnostics turned green…only for our trusty cinema server (the thing that holds encrypted film content) to decide it had had enough.  It was time to call the Projected Picture Trust.  David Ferguson duly turned up with a box of computer bits and, after a silent prayer, the Doremi DCP2000 was in bits on the bench.  But here is the weird thing.  Like analogue film, dirt is the enemy.  It turns out that despite the diagnostic software lighting up like a Christmas tree, the only thing wrong with it was the so called ‘dolphin board’, the sealed circuit board that decrypts the films.  It needed to be unmounted, its copper contacts cleaned, then re-inserted.  Diagnostic tests passed and we were both as surprised as each other when a film sprang onto the screen in all its three trillion colour glory!  We are thinking of writing a start up procedure which involves lucky rabbit’s feet, affirmations, and various other rituals.  It works, though, and its journey towards its home in the Academy is coming close.  This will be the best equipped school-based cinema in Scotland!

 

Analogue

While the Prestwick Academy pupils were visiting us, we gave them an introduction to 35mm film presentation.  We had designed this short course to give some hands-on experience with ‘real’ film, and once again I was impressed!  Film is precious now and the students handled it, and the projector itself, with real care and precision.  But it wasn’t just the technicalities, this was also the ‘art’ of film presentation.  Ever since the 1920s film directors have written to projectionists to explain how they are the last link in a multi-million pound creative chain, as well as specific instructions on how to make their particular film look and sound perfect on screen.  Anyone can fling a film on a screen or stick a DVD in a player, but a proper film ‘presentation’ as you find in a cinema needs special care.  We have the Broadway showmanship (showperson-ship) manual which contains some very specific rules on how we like things done.  Everything from the selection of house music (no lyrics), lighting (slow fades), and curtains (we NEVER show a blank screen to audiences).  It’s subtle stuff which goes back to cinema’s roots in theatre, where you preserve ‘the fourth wall’ and try to conceal the technical nature of the presentation.  It’s all about transitioning the audience from the street outside into the fantasy world of the film they’ve come to see, and the projectionist designs the presentation to make that experience as seamless and comfortable and invisible as possible.  We had a lot of fun explaining all this to the students and getting them to make up their own film loop and project it. 

 

Conversion

As mentioned in previous editions, we have been having a ‘fallow-period’ with our cinema events.  Mainly this is because we have been extremely busy concluding the purchase of the Broadway but also, as you may have noticed, the film slate is not very good at the moment.  It is a real shame for some cinemas who emerged out of Covid to be hit first by high energy bills then a Hollywood writer’s strike.  Some haven’t been able to make it.  However, there is (always) hope.  We are proud members of the UK Cinema Association and attended their Scottish branch meeting recently.  The nice man from Digital Cinema Media raised all our spirits not just with jokes (as he refers to them as) but information on a rapidly improving film situation.  Stay tuned, as we have a fun programme developing for the rest of 2024 which is keeping the entire projection team rather busy.  Which reminds me, we are always on the look out for volunteer projectionists and event ‘roadies’ so do get in touch if this sounds up your street. 


Photos accredited to Gemma of Esther Morgan Photography.

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