An important part of the escapism of going to the movies is that the lights and sounds are beamed down from an unseen room, magically appearing all around us. We don’t want to know about the work going into it, we just want to be taken on a ride … and for the sound to be turned up. But the rise of digital filmmaking is bringing about the digitizing (and automation) of movie projection, so before the job goes the way of the silent film, we thought we’d pull back the curtain on the movie projectionist. As co-owner of Chico’s 25-year-old art-house Pageant Theatre, Tim Giusta wears a lot of hats, and he was kind enough to let us peek under the brim of his projectionist lid.
What’s the job?
At the Pageant we’re not automated at all like most major theaters, [where] you just essentially press a button. Here, it’s old school. We still do the two-reel system because we have a small area. That’s why we almost always have intermission. The film comes in 2,000-foot rolls; we put it on 6,000-foot reels and put it on the projector, sort it up and run it until intermission and take that off and put on the second reel. It’s pretty basic stuff. We’ve been doing it for 25 years. Nothing’s changed, at least here.
What do you do while a reel is playing?
You monitor it, usually from downstairs. After awhile you get so you can hear if something’s going wrong. It’s a second sense after hearing it for so long. The projectors themselves probably haven’t changed in over 100 years. The lamp houses and the sound have changed a lot. It’s going to change. We’re going to have a lot of digital stuff. Pretty soon projectors won’t exist like we know them.
Any mechanical disasters?
Oh yeah. It’s the old rule: Nothing goes wrong when there’s only four people in the audience. You only have problems when the place is full. There have been times when the take-up reel won’t be taking up—that’s something you can’t hear—and you get up there and it’s just spaghetti. It is just a nightmare.
Are theater chains going digital already?
Some of them are. Not so much out here. I know that in New York and in L.A. they got a couple of digital-projected theaters. It’s just a super-DVD basically. Eventually, what they’ll get around to is actually satelliting films in. So, there will be no film delivery, which is a big expense for film companies to make prints. Now it will be one DVD.
Is it kind of romantic, being a part of the film world?
Not any more; now it just feels heavy [laughs]. Yeah, it comes in and it’s physical, it’s film and you can look at it: “Oh, there’s so-and-so on the film.” You splice it together, and put on trailers. … There’s something about the film coming in. It’s like, “Wow! There it is physically. I have that film and I get to play it.”
Ever spy anything odd going on in the audience?
Nothing too odd. Odd things I’m sure go on, I’ve found out later.