But the conversation I recently had with one of Los Angeles’
working projectionists might change the purists’ minds. According to him, as the
quality of the average home theater has improved, the quality of commercial
cinema has declined. The pressures of an oversaturated market and an
increasingly segmented audience have given birth to multi-screened monsters,
where the emphasis is not on quality but on squeezing ever-greater amounts of
popcorn down customers’ throats.
Are we biased? Perhaps. But consider that
our Unknown Projectionist (whose wishes to preserve his employment by remaining
anonymous) has worked in both neighborhood theaters and in one of L.A.’s most
famous movie houses. Also note that a former New York City projectionist we
consulted confirmed all of the Unknown Projectionist’s statements.
BRENT BUTTERWORTH: Is there a training or certification program for projectionists?
THE UNKNOWN PROJECTIONIST: Not like there used to be. Years ago, theater chains had national training
centers where they put projectionists through an intensive program. Now they
don’t have that. Most projectionists have no experience or background in the
subject. Theater managers pick them off the floor staff or concessions, and the
facility engineer or the other projectionists train them. They do expect you to
pass a fairly rudimentary certification exam on projector operation and
maintenance, and in certain cities, such as New York, projectionists have to be
There is an upper echelon of projectionists, the “union 150s.” It means you are
the best; you know every facet of projection work. To become a 150, you need at
least six years of experience, and you have to be recommended by a 150. Those
are the guys they bring in for premieres and industry screenings.