One of my favorite jobs, of which there have been many, has to be projectionist. Yeah, of film, on big silver screens. I realize now that this dying field and that makes me very sad.
Basically I lived in a dark booth surrounded by big, loud machines. And watched a lot of movies. Even awful ones. Because I had to.
One time I accidentally got window cleaner in some dude’s nachos. This story is not about that.
Star Wars: Episode One was a huge deal. Huge. We had people camping out. Some dude with a mohawk went to the midnight showing, never left the premises, lurking around outside after we had closed and attended three more showings that day. Another purchased a ticket for his Darth Vader doll. He spoke to it tenderly during the show. There was much cosplay to behold; melty makeuped Amidalas and portly Jedi as far as the eye could see.
I was not working that night - that honor fell to my supervisor with the assumption he was the most competent and therefore the most likely to succeed at getting the film to run without, you know, exploding or something.
Oh no, I was lurking just to enjoy the magic that only a very large room packed chock full of Star Wars enthusiasts can provide.
Not to make it sound like my job wasn’t without it’s difficulties - it really isn’t a simple nor easy thing to do, especially with over a dozen screens to do it on. Once you’ve built the print, loaded and threaded it into the projector things should be relatively home free, though, unless something goes horribly awry and you aren’t paying attention.
So, something went horribly awry. To this day have no idea what the hell my ‘superior’ was doing but it sure wasn’t watching the projector.
During the film this crowd had awaited anxiously, some of them their entire lives, the film bound up just minutes into the feature. Before their very eyes, already glazing with rapture, the film froze and burned away. There was an incredulous pause. Some, perhaps, believed it was part of the show.
Then the roar began; the din they were now creating managed to shake the walls and floor of a rather well soundproofed room. Pure rage emanating from that packed cinema was enough to raise the hair on the back of one’s neck. I could feel my fight or flight instincts taking hold. My supervisor, now suddenly attending to his job, said I should go let them know it would be fixed in a moment.
Me? There was nothing in Heaven, Earth, Hades or Val-freaking-halla that could convince me to set foot into that stadium-seated pit of hell, no. We compromised. I peeked my head out the booth window to reassure the mob.
Hundreds of pairs of accusing eyes instantly swung my way, drawn to the subtle click of the window opening. Somehow they had sensed prey because there was no way they heard that tiny ‘snick’ of sound amongst the waves of dissent.
I ducked back in without a word, stricken speechless by the wave of black hatred. Well, not entirely speechless. I felt an insane urge to tell them I found their lack of faith disturbing. Had I given into that impulse I would likely not be alive telling you this story now.
It could not have taken more than two minutes, on the outside, to get that movie up and running again. The longest, most terrifying minutes of my projectionist career and I wasn’t even the responsible party.
When the film restarted with a blip and a clatter, a mighty cheer went up in the crowd. Nerd rages are the best. A thousand voices had suddenly cried out in fury and were suddenly silenced. While they may glow brightly, they certainly don’t last very long.
Even crazier - Lucasfilms demanded the melted frames back from the film. In case someone might profit off them? Who the hell knows.