Technology Didn’t Kill The Projectionist, The Idiots Who Own The Theater Did

It used to be that training managers to thread film and start projectors was a method to lower labor costs by bypassing the unions.  It even happened in IMAX, where one well-known person in charge of a group of commercial IMAX theaters created the “projection manager” position when her IMAX theater opened in San Francisco.  That’s right – “manager,” not “projectionist.”

So along comes digital and projectionists around the country are losing their jobs because apparently theater operators believe there’s nothing people can do that computers can’t do better.


I’ve noticed in a number of chains I’ve visited that as theaters have transitioned to digital, the problems have gotten out of hand.  Out of synch sound, auditorium lighting issues, framing, focus – you name it.  And it’s only getting worse.

Here’s a great example.  This was taken last week during a REALD presentation of Hugo:

Theater owners – as long as you intend to project something on your screen, it’s in your best interest to keep professionals on staff who are experienced in the art and science of projection – they’re an elite force known as “The Projectionists.”


This entry was posted in digital 3D, digital cinema, exhibitors, Hollywood, Large Format and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Technology Didn’t Kill The Projectionist, The Idiots Who Own The Theater Did

  1. Mark Gulbrandsen says:

    I hardly agree with your assessment on this. The reality is that (most of) the unions killed themselves off and hence the projectionists off. They supplied too many non-qualified people to run the projectors. For many union butt kissers the projectionists job was just a “second job” and nothing else. Most had no training and very few would even clean the film path in a projector. Unions demanded unreasonable saleries and benefits for the poor quality operators they supplied and eventually the theater owners fought back… and rightfully so. Why should a theater owner pay $80,000 a year in wages and bebefits when he can hire someone with exactly the same experience for $25,000? I maintained a booth for a long time that ran 70mm films and it was a buck fifty house. The union sent a one armed projectionist out to this booth one day out of the blue to replace the present operator that got moved to a different location, he was a really nice guy. Well, it took that one armed guy almost 90 minutes to thread the projector and when he started the show he had threaded the film in the projector backwards resulting in a reversed image and muffled sound. Luckily I was still in the theater and relaizing how long it took him to thread up I raced upstairs to rescue the poor operator. At other sites projectionists had refrigerators, microwave ovens and cots to sleep on because they were already generally tired from a full time day job. Good luck putting most film prjoectionists in a digital booth. You would be far better off with qualified IT people than skilled film projectionists ( the latter of which there are very few really good ones today).

    As to the Hugo screw up… everyone is blaming this on the fact that it is “digital”. While this AMC location was most likely “digital” be aware that this could also happen with a film print where as a seperate small Preshow projector is always used. It is also the way this chain happens to run their pre-show… via a seperate projector and it was inadvertantly turned on before the end of the feature.

  2. pat says:

    There is another reason to call a projectionist a “manager”. It’s to circumvent the projection/stagehand union. “Managers” can’t be unionized, but projectionists can. This was done to me when I worked for Carmike Cinemas shortly after the union was kicked out in Nashville, I went to work for them as a non-union “manager” projectionist. I was told that was the reason for the “manager” title. I imagine this might have been the reason this was done in San Francisco which is heavily unionized. The union booth at 68th and Broadway in NYC HAS A SHOWER IN IT!

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