IU projectionists keep film rolling
The curtain rises. The film begins to roll, and at once, the screen lights up.
There is nothing quite like seeing movies on the big screen.
At IU Cinema, the well-hidden projection booth is essential to give audiences a special movie-going experience.
As one of 10 THX-certified university cinemas in the country, the booth contains four projectors that cost more than $2 million with installation.
Backed by an alliance between Sony Electronics and IU, Jon Vickers, director of IU Cinema, said the booth’s installation was the second stage of renovation for the Lee Norvelle Theater and Drama Center built in 2001.
“I think we put our money where our mouth is,” he said.
Two of the projectors are capable of running 35 or 16 mm formats, while two digital projectors are equipped to present 4k and 2k resolutions.
Ordered from archives around the world, the film prints are handled with particular care.
Manny Knowles is responsible for all technical aspects of film presentation at IU Cinema.
He inspects the prints, some 40 years old, for damage.
“(The film prints) see a lot of wear and tear, and we want to make sure that we can separate our wear and tear from everybody else’s that came before us,” said Knowles, who has exhibited films since he was a teenager in the Bahamas.
Unlike commercial theaters, the prints are not spliced but are put in two reel-to-reel projectors.
After 20 minutes of a film screening presented with the 35 or 16 mm projectors, a cue appears — a blot in the upper right or left-hand corner of the screen.
The cue usually goes unnoticed by the audience, but it signals for the projectionist to start the next projector, picking up where the other left off.
Meanwhile, the projectionist rewinds the film on a separate table.
The process is repeated every 20 minutes until the end of the movie.
“The archives don’t want the rare prints of classic movies to be spliced, so that is a major reason to work with two projectors,” Knowles said.
But Knowles isn’t the only one responsible for film projection at IU Cinema.
Graduate assistant projectionists present films throughout the semester, Knowles said. He has been teaching film projection since 1998.
Graduate students, who apply months before training begins, do not need to have film projection experience but must be working on their theses or dissertations.
“This is a very rare kind of work,” Knowles said. “It’s one of those jobs where, to get the job, you need to have the experience, but you need to have the job to get the experience. So this is a good way to get that experience, and then if (the students) want to, they’ll continue doing it later if they can.”
Mark Benedetti, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Communication and Culture, has been a projectionist at IU Cinema for about a year. He said the job was a good way to get hands-on experience that complements his film and media studies.
“I wanted to know more about all the processes a theater goes through, from initial program selection and scheduling to print acquisition to publicity to all the technical procedures necessary to actually get the film on screen,” Benedetti said in an email.
For special events, such as when the live orchestra played in conjunction with the 1922 silent film version of “David Copperfield” in January, up to three projectionists are responsible for overseeing various media formats in the booth.
During the Made in Bloomington film series last spring, IU Cinema received Blu-Ray, DVD, digital cinema and video tape decks.
For most films, only one film projectionist works in the booth.
Vickers said past filmmakers have given positive comments about how their films were presented in the theater.
“I think we’re using the equipment well, and I think the equipment is doing a great job for us,” he said. “We want to present great film-going experiences, and part of it is the equipment.”
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