On the job at the movies

Gerry Watt

Photo By Larry Dalton

If you haven’t noticed Gerry Watt, it’s probably because he spends most of his time perched above you, toiling amid the cans of celluloid and spinning platters of the Crest Theatre’s projectionist booth. A filmmaker may spend a lifetime bringing his or her movie to fruition, but it takes only one projectionist to ruin a movie-going experience. Of course, with Watt upstairs, audiences need not worry: He’s always at the top of his game.

What was the draw to working at a movie theater?

Actually, the way it first started was I was in college, and I was looking for a third part-time job to help with income. … I especially was interested in foreign, independent, limited-release films. (I thought that was another advantage, as I could cut down on my entertainment budget if I actually got a job because I went there so much.)

Has projecting taken the proverbial magic out of going to the movies?

No, not at all. No. I still enjoy movies. I imagine most people think I enjoy going to movies way too much. … I’m really proud of what we [at the Crest Theatre] show. I think we’ve got some sort of ongoing, worldwide film festival.

Over the years, how has the exhibition of film changed?

Well, unions have been pretty much knocked out of the presentation. Most of the multiplexes and commercial theaters are run by in-house projectionists that are, you know, not union, and they’re not paid much more than minimum wage. … It’s definitely, I think, taken the focus on presentation away from a lot of multiplexes, which is just bizarre to me because it seems like 95 percent of the reason you’re at the theater is to see a good presentation of film.

It was definitely an event to go to a movie theater when I was younger, and I think that it definitely has become a more run-of-the-mill experience. The only way I can describe it is that when we went to movies as a kid, when I was in my early teens and 20s, it really was a special night out. It was like how live theater is now, or maybe how a concert is now. It was that kind of feeling; it was something that was really unusual and really special.

Do you foresee a continued decline in movie-theater attendance?

I think spectacle, and films that people tend to gravitate toward a theater for seeing because of the experience, will continue, but I think that films that are more character studies—maybe drama in general—will be affected, because people will not have as much a draw to get out, as opposed to seeing it on their home-theater system.

What is your least favorite cinema trend over the years?

You know, this is going to shock people, because I think most people are thrilled with the availability of film. … I had a huge collection at first. … I’ve sort of tapered off. … I wish it were still hard to see film, and that’s bizarre; I think most people would think I’m crazy to say that. But I think there was something really great about having to, like, drive to San Francisco to see something that was being presented in a [repertory] house. It just kept it that much more unique and special.

How do you feel about the possibility of digital projection?

It’s going to keep evolving to the point where they can even insert a look of 35-mm grain if they want to, if people miss that. So, I still think 35 mm is the way to go for a theater experience. There’s a warmth to it. Plus, it’s what I’m used to.

What is your vision of cinema and film in Sacramento?

I definitely think [film] can open your eyes up to other cultures in an astonishing way. I know it did in my life. … I went to Europe for five months and backpacked around because of what I’d seen on film. They actually did change my life. That may sound incredibly hokey, but I think it can change people’s lives to see films that are not just of the same Hollywood approach to filmmaking. I wish people would open up more to getting out of their cow path and seeing things that are a little bit more off-the-radar.

What’s your ideal midnight movie?

Probably just about anything by John Waters. I mean, I like John Waters a lot.

Even his recent stuff?

Actually, I’m one of the few who liked A Dirty Shame … saw it three times. … We got a pristine print of Polyester, which blew me away. It was so perfect it looked like the heads and tails had never been touched.

So, you’re projecting your last movie: Which film do you choose?

I think because I’d probably be pretty sentimental at that point, I’d probably choose Singin’ in the Rain. If I have to go out, that’d be a nice way to go out, I think.