February 27, 2004

The dark mysteries of the projection booth revealed...

Fellow blogger and renowned pervert Harvey commented

Meanwhile, I would like to hear more about this "make up and tear down movies" activity. I'm not familiar with it. I'm one of those industry outsiders who envisions movies just magically appearing on the screen without any involvement from actual people

I thought I had explained this process before, but couldn't find anything in the "Theatrical Events" archives, so here goes:

While there is the technological capability to transmit digital movies to theaters via satellite, Hollywood has not yet embraced the new technology. So the movies you see at your local cineplex are delivered each week in "cans" that hold two to five twelve (or maybe 14) inch reels of 35mm film. The number of cans and reels depends on the length of the film, but a two hour movie is usually about 6 reels. In olden times, theaters used two projectors, and alternated between them to show a movie, the first projector showing reel one, then the next reel two (while the projectionist threaded reel three and rewound reel one) and so on. Nowadays, the platter system is used. Here's a picture of one I grabbed from Howstuffworks:


Because the movie is all in one big reel, only one projector in needed, and because it feeds out of the platter from the center (through the "brain"), and back onto the next platter in order, no rewinding is need. But, since we get the movies shipped to us in two to four cans of two to five reels each, we have to "make up", or put those reels together so they make one big reel. For that, we use a make up table:


The individual reels are put on the table and it threads them onto the platter. We have to splice the ends of the reels together, and if we don't match up the ends exactly, the picture will jump out of frame from one reel to the next, and you'll see a line across the screen until somebody runs upstairs to fiddle with the frame button.

Once a movie has finished its run, we "tear down" the movie using the reverse process from making it up, and the individual reels go back into their cans to be picked up and returned to the movie distributor. This is a process we have to go through on pretty much a weekly basis. Last night for example, Ass. Man. made up two movies that start today, and tore down one that's ended its run.

Any questions?

Posted by Susie at February 27, 2004 12:54 PM

And they still have the little "footballs" in the corner of the screen to let the projectionist know when to switch projectors.

Or are they there to help guide your splices?

Posted by: Rob @ L&R at February 27, 2004 05:23 PM

Nope, they don't help with the splices at all, although they are useful if I know a bad splice is coming up and the movie is going to need framing...

Posted by: Susie at February 27, 2004 10:05 PM

OK, stupid question:

If you have to take the 6+ reels they send you and re-spindle them onto one larger reel, why don't they just send them to you as one big reel in the first place?

Posted by: S at February 28, 2004 02:17 AM

I heard that the trailers had to be spliced in as well. But I always wondered how theaters chose which trailers to show. Do they get paid for showing certain trailers?

Posted by: nash at February 28, 2004 03:40 AM

S--One big reel would be really heavy and really awkward; however, I suspect the real reason they don't do it is because it would be sensible ;).

nash--I believe you are correct, but my theater doesn't show trailers unless they come attached to the movie already so I don't know if we get paid to show them or not; most of our movies come without trailers. Every month I get a box of Coke ad trailers, but since we serve Pepsi I just pitch them.

Posted by: Susie at February 28, 2004 05:28 AM

How, exactly, do you splice movies together? Scotch tape? Elmer's glue? Fancy little plastic sleeves? Elfin magic?

About the Coke ad trailers - how long are they? If you just throw them out, can I have one if I pay shipping? I'm thinking it would make a cool conversation piece:

"Hey, how did YOU get an official Coca-Cola movie trailer?

[shrugging all-too-casually] "Eh. I have connections inside the movie industry."

Also, how much does a canned film reel weigh?

I'm trying to do the math on a "big reel" scenario, and I'm thinking you could fit all 6 onto (mumbling - pi R squared, 2 would be four, 3 would be 9, so 6 would be about 2.5 times 12) a 28-30" reel. But that would weigh about... 45-60 pounds?

When you carry the film upstairs, do you have to make several trips to get all the reels up, or do you just go "HRRMMMPHHH!" and tote all six at once?

Do they still uses steel cans, or have they switched to plastic?

Hmmm, you should probably just do another post.

Posted by: Harvey at February 28, 2004 08:13 AM