Reel runs out for the cinema projectionist

Posted on by Mike Evans

Those massive reels of 35mm which string together in 20-minute chunks to provide a cinema experience are another casualty of the digital revolution. Along with the demise of the physical film go the jobs of projectionists, not to mention the manufacturing of projectors.

In this article in The Times Andrew Clark cites the 14-strong Apollo Cinemas chain which is the latest to join the digital trend and is shedding 16 jobs. Apollo’s managing director, Rob Arthur, says:

I wish we didn’t have to do it but it’s the nature of digitalisation. There’s far less for projectionists to do. Traditionally, movies have been distributed in 35-millimetre reels lasting about 20 minutes each that are spliced together by projectionists, who add trailers and advertisements tailored to each cinema. Hollywood studios, though, are shifting towards supplying films as a digital hard disk—about the size of a tablet computer—that are plugged in and uploaded at the touch of a button. By the end of 2013, the studios have said that 35mm film won’t be the standard operating procedure in English-speaking nations worldwide.

To be honest, I haven’t noticed reel swapping for many years; the process is just so smooth and the operators so expert that we think we are looking at one continuous piece of film. Not so when I was a young whippersnapper. The sixpenny Saturday matinee invariably included at least one break in the programme when the reel ran out and we saw all those black-and-white end-of-roll symbols appear. Then there would be an embarassing delay while the projectionist spliced his act together.

Now we do not even have the distant frisson of a possibility that the film will break or the reel run to its end.

As with all soon-to-be-extinct technology, particularly analogue technology, the old methods have their die-hard supporters. One experienced projectionist says that there is a look about film that you don’t get with digital, a depth and a texture. Sound familiar? Aficionados of vinyl LPs and CDs will appreciate the sentiment. Readers of dead-tree books should also be impressed.

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