What is a Motion Picture Projectionist?

A projectionist is a lover of movies. It is not just a job; it is a passion. Their passion is bringing a film to the world in the way a director intended. A projectionist understands the equipment used to project film stock and video. More than this they also care about the project that is brought to the screen. Through technical knowledge they can thrill an audience through brilliant showmanship. They are the person responsible for a superb viewing experience at the cinemas, drive-in theaters, film festivals, corporate seminars and school functions. A projectionist makes an audience happy by keeping the picture in focus and the sound properly synchronized.

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What does a Motion Picture Projectionist do?

A projectionist is responsible for the delivery and pickup of 35mm prints for the featured films at the theater that week. Once a film print is delivered the projectionist will unspool the film and roll it on to a large plate. He or she must then thread the film through the movie house projector and connect it to a second reel where the 35mm print will be rolled. Each print usually comes with two to three separate spools that must be spliced together on a film splicer. In a single screen theater, a projectionist works from a second-story room with a small window from which to project the film. The projectionist must remain vigilant during the picture show. They make certain the film is in focus and synchronized to the sound. It is a solitary job where the projectionist is left alone with a film in its entirety. For those who find watching a movie to be a pleasant pastime, being a projectionist could be a perfect job.

There are also different lenses that must be applied during a show. 3D has returned to cinemas as a popular way to show a film. A projectionist is responsible for changing the lenses at the appropriate time in order for the 3D effect to work.

In the digital age, there are now digital projectors that can run from a hard drive or a jump drive. Although synchronizing sound is no longer an issue, the projectionist has plenty of new challenges. The equipment is sensitive and has to be watched.

A motion picture projectionist knows how to run the equipment. They must also know how to clean, maintain and repair all of the machines on which they work. The projectionist inspects a film print for breaks, holes and dirt at every show. Any of these factors can break a projector, which is a sensitive piece of equipment. Computers and digital projectors also have bugs and can easily catch a virus. It is the projector’s responsibility to fix everything before it becomes a problem. “The show must go on", and it is the projectionist who makes certain that it does.

What does it take to be a Motion Picture Projectionist?

A healthy respect for entertainment is vital. In the line of duty, a projectionist will view a film or documentary numerous times. It helps to enjoy the show. Understanding how a film is made or why it is shown in a particular venue can help a projectionist aid in the presentation. Caring about how an audience views a project is crucial to a projectionist’s career.

When all of cinema ran on 35mm prints, a projectionist had to be a part of a union. The best way to become a projectionist is through experience. Being a member of the Audio-Visual Club in high school is an excellent way to learn how to work with the equipment. Learning to set up, run and break down equipment for a variety of projects is invaluable to the future of a projectionist.

What is the workplace of a Motion Picture Projectionist like?

Being a motion picture projectionist is an exciting business. The workplace of a projectionist varies. A cinema is the typical place for a projectionist to work. There are also film festivals that require a knowledgeable and sympathetic projectionist. The film stock at a film festival can vary from 35mm to 16mm, 8mm, Beta, High Definition video and digital video. Because of the fast pace and variety of styles, a projectionist must be able to work with all types of projectors and machines. There will always be mistakes, so a person well-versed in mechanics and computers will often be put to the test at a film festival.

Special events such as home shows, expos, conferences, corporate retreats, school events, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings and funerals are also places that require a projectionist. Events such as these usually have an in-house audio-visual setup that a visiting projectionist will have to figure out on their own.

How much does a Motion Picture Projectionist earn?

In the projectionist union, the pay scale begins at $20,000 USD and caps out at $41,000 USD. The typical starting wage is $9.80. Many places can pay a few dollars lower because they do not require their projectionists to be a part of the union. Film festivals pay roughly the same. Most festivals do not have much money and are need of volunteers. Special events usually pay significantly more, $15USD an hour and upwards.

Learn more about being a Motion Picture Projectionist