Growing up I was a movie fanatic having watched pretty much everything from old school classics to animated kids films and everything in between. My childhood was full of movie marathons, particularly when it came to Star Wars (my fathers favorite film trilogy) and since he was a costume, special effects make up artist and prop designer, I had a handmade replica of Obi Wan Kenobi’s costume, two lightsabers (a blue and a green) and a Queen Amidala Red Invasion collector’s doll in place of your typical Barbie.
Since my parents were separated, weekends were spent at my father’s, watching my cousin being transformed into Darth Maul, helping to work on costumes, parade floats, Alien vs Predator props and being trained on how to use a lightsaber in duels. As a child it was the best thing in the world, but the best was yet to come.
Later when I was about 10, my father shifted to a small coastal town outside of the city where I was able to visit him every school holidays. At the time, his full-time job was working at a rural cinema, a two room complex that was still showing movies of the old 35mm film projectors. Having shown more interest in his work than the beach, I became a trainee cinema projectionist by age 11, quickly surpassing the guidance of my father and taking over in splicing film reels and threading projectors for movies ready shown to the public.
For those who have never seen let alone worked with old 35mm projectors, these were the old machines cinemas used in the times before the widespread of digital film. A two and a half hour film arrived on a series of dinner-plate sized reels in – couple of cardboard boxes, which were then taken to a work bench, carefully assembled with tape and a special hole punching machine and then thread by machine onto a reel about the size of a large hula hoop.
From there, when the film was ready to be shown, the reels of film were lifted onto a machine and threaded through a somewhat intricate maze of reels, about the size of sowing machine thread holders and smaller, looped down and around the front of the machine, carefully positioned in the sprocket holders to keep the film steady, then placed across the shutter and down onto a second large film feel, where at the end of the movie all the film would have ended up after having been fed through the projector thus appearing on the screen.
After a movie had finished its time with the cinema, its duration on lease often dictated by patronage numbers, it was then thread off a machine back through onto assembling desk and spliced (cut by hand with a small gelatine), packaged back up and shipped back to the distributor.
35mm projectors were, as any projectionist or real cinema enthusiast would tell you, the golden age of the cinema. Unfortunately in recent times however, most cinemas have been forced to replace these beautiful machines with DVD players and the likes to keep up with the digital age.
At age 13 and having met the legal age for employed work in my country, I was taken on part-time as a candy bar and front of house staff member, a duty which I had long working as alongside my projectionist duties for the past two years. Rolling ice creams, taking and selling tickets to movie goers, performing sound and visual screen checks (if you ever see a cinema worker entering the theatre within about the first 30 minutes of a movie, this is what their doing) and cleaning up after the movie.
Having worked at the cinema for about a year, I then left to focus on my high school studies, returning to the cinemas only as a patron until I was later employed for 6 months or so by a different firm in the big city after leaving school at age 17 as a ‘floor’ team member with supervisor duties; selling tickets, ushering people to their seats and doing the cleaning.
A 35mm projector almost identical to the one I used while working as a child.
A ‘platter’ the machine used by cinemas to play longer movies
such as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy 2001 – 2003.
“By 2009, movie theaters started replacing the film projectors with digital projectors. In 2013, it was estimated that 92% of movie theaters in the United States had converted to digital, with 8% still playing film. In 2015, numerous popular filmmakers – including Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan – lobbied large studios to commit to purchase a minimum amount of 35 mm film from Kodak. The decision ensured that Kodak’s 35mm film production would continue for several years.”
– The Rambler, 2016