by Vicky Mansfield
Peter has asked me to write a piece on the day to day running of a multiplex from a technician’s point of view. Having worked in a variety of buildings this is not as easy as it would at first appear!
Exactly what shape your day will take depends upon the day of the week, the type of building, your employer, your technical manager and the wider management team within your site. Everyone has slightly different ways of doing things which somewhat controversially I think is the right way to go about this job. I personally feel that a modern multiplex with uniform equipment cannot be treated in the same manner as an older site with an eclectic mix of old, new and everything in between. I say this with a degree of authority having worked within both in a variety of roles culminating in technical manager of a West-end cinema for 5 years.
For the purpose of not confusing those of you looking at pursuing a career as a projectionist I will base this piece on my experiences at Marble Arch Odeon. If you have not yet visited this site it is a very round peg in a square hole. This made the day to day running of it quite difficult at times as the equipment required a lot of care and the building was difficult to get around with many floor levels and spiral staircases. Moving prints between screens could be the ultimate nightmare as none of the traditional film transport aids worked on spiral staircases or over numerous floors.
With this in mind I expected a certain level of equipment maintenance and cleaning to be carried out on a weekly basis allowing the team a certain amount of freedom as to when they did their work. There wasn’t much pressure put on the technical team to do certain things at certain times as we felt it was detrimental to the smooth running of this specific site. You may find in many other mutiplexes [understandably] more rigid guidelines are in place as to when things should be done. This is particularly important in sites with very junior teams. Certainly companies in general are trying to phase in uniform maintenance schedules.
I will now do a rough outline of a typical Thursday, chosen because it is the traditional end of week in film exhibition and often the most hectic day of the week.
1 – Have a cup of tea! The most important part of any self-respecting technician’s day! Following this my team were required to check the auditorium temperatures as they opened the projection rooms. The heating system was old and unreliable taking a long time to heat or cool a screen. The second important daily job is to do a lamp check around the building and replace any blown bulbs. This is especially important in public and safety critical areas.
2 – There was never much machine maintenance done on a Thursday as the team was often busy with incoming prints but any free ‘off screen’ time in the mornings was spent cleaning projectors, platters and portholes. This time was used to change oil, belts and other necessary maintenance including picture line- up and sound checks as needed.
3 – The ads would often arrive on a Wednesday and be checked and wound onto rings by the duty tech on that day. This became an essential Thursday job if they arrived late as the ads always need to be replaced after the last show on a Thursday.
4 – It is usual for films opening on Friday to arrive from Tuesday onwards with many arriving Thursday. It really does depend upon the film and where it is coming from. There can be a lot of movement on these timings but the general rule is to prioritise film make-up on a Thursday. Certainly anything that does not have a specific arrival time and day should be chased up with the distributor, transport company and site duty manager. It can typically take between 30 minutes and a couple of hours to make a film up depending on the technicians experience and the length and physical state of the print. Further time needs to be taken into account to wind the films onto the platters – typically 45 minutes. Problems with prints need to be chased up with management as a matter of urgency.
5 – After the final screening of the day the ads need to be changed with the outgoing ones repackaged and left for the courier to pick up on Friday morning. Failure to get them ready in time will delay their return the following week.
6 – BEFORE you change the ads the films need to be moved to their new screens ready for the following morning. It is usual to have two technicians on at this time.
7 – Some technical managers would require the projectors to be cleaned during shutdown at night ready for the following morning. My team always cleaned them in the mornings. The important thing is that the film paths are cleaned – not the timing of this job.
8 – HOMETIME!!
This is an outline of one busy day. Obviously there are many other jobs that have to be completed during the course of the week/ month. Examples of these are cleaning the projection rooms, taking various readings such as xenon lamp hours, checking the building as part of Health and Safety guidelines and more senior staff can expect to look at the following week’s timesheets with the GM and help with training and so on!
Of course the technician’s role is changing very quickly with the growth of digital film as cinemas increasingly become multimedia platforms. In line with this a good knowledge of broadcast and computing will be the way forward as the industry changes. That said I believe 35mm film will not disappear overnight and film handling will remain a useful skill for some time yet, a view that will no doubt be challenged many times over the next couple of years as technicians find their niche in the new technologies.