Movie theater’s ‘secret’ room makes reel magic

posted by Michael Zoldessy on March 10, 2009 at 7:51 am

NEWTON, KS — The projectionist at the Chisholm Trail 8 recounts his experiences from behind the window.

Matt Neufeld has been a projectionist at the Chisholm Trail 8 for seven years. And in that time, he hasn’t really been able to watch many movies.

“I see them in bits and pieces and piece them together later,” Neufeld said.

Throw out the stereotype — Neufeld doesn’t sit and watch a movie over and over again.

Read more in the Newton Kansan.

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Comments (13)

markp on March 10, 2009 at 8:26 am

7 years. Think of how I feel after 34 years. I started with 20 min reels, then 60 min reels, then platters, next IMAX, now digital. AND I’m only 50 years old. Think of what else I may see in my lifetime.

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on March 10, 2009 at 9:01 am

Vito- You might want to add your comment??

markp on March 10, 2009 at 9:13 am

Oh I know my friend Vito will run circles around me. Still its nice for me to be able to say I ran a single screen, a multiplex and I ran them with pride. Even today, as times change, I still try my best, with what I am given to put on a 100% perfect presentation.

nerwall16 on March 10, 2009 at 1:27 pm

im 27 started projection when i was 16 becuse no one else was able or intrested in running the booth, started with 8 moved to 16 then 24 down to 7 did a classic single screen now back to 5. and i recall (knock on wood) 2 brain wraps and 3 late starts in all that time, i love being up there assembling the films and trailers being the man behind the most important part of the theater experiance

alex35mm on March 10, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Only 5 years in various booths around Chicago my self. You guys are lucky. I saw the demise of a few older theaters, even a few megaplexes that didnt even turn 20 (cineplex odeons). Its difficult these days to work just in a booth around Chicago as most of the chains rotate staff around the theater. Which frankly I cant stand. Or don’t pay a even slightly livable wage. I’m so glad for the time I got in projection booths and enjoyed every minute of it. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll get to splice, thread and fine-tune for perfection again.

snorwood on March 11, 2009 at 5:08 am

Eleven years here, mostly occasional work for festivals and special events (my full-time job is in the software industry). I started when I was in college and worked at the local theatre (a 1930s single-screener, which has since been renovated and upgraded) in the late 1990s. Since then, I’ve run 35mm, 16mm, 70mm, and video in something like twenty different venues. Carbon arc through modern, automated systems.

It’s mostly been fun, and I’ve had the chance to meet some great people and show some great films. No one really appreciates how much work this job requires or how difficult it can be at times to keep the show on the screen, so most of the satisfaction comes from putting on the best possible show with the equipment available, and knowing that the audience had the chance to experience the film as closely as possible to how the director saw it in his screening room. I’m a film fan, first and foremost, and there is nothing that can ruin a feature so quickly as a projectionist screwup.

It’s sad that this industry seems to be dominated by operators who either don’t know how or don’t care to put on a top-quality show. There are some very good operators and theatre owners, however, and I encourage everyone to seek them out and patronize their theatres.

William on March 11, 2009 at 7:30 am

I got lucky working the extra board in Los Angeles. Which meant being able to work and handle many of the theatres in the Southern California region. I’ve worked single screen houses to Drive-Ins to large plexes to the Bel-Air circuit to Studio Screening Rooms. I’ve handled 16mm, 35mm, 70MM to all current Post-Production Broadcast video formats. I’ve run everyday theatre operations to Film Festival to full blown Premieres. Today I only handle one screen in NYC.

nritota on March 12, 2009 at 3:24 pm

I have managed both union and non-union houses and seen a ton of change, and innovation as well. The first house I ran was twinned (I worked it as a doorman during the Cinerama years) and had the privledge of restoring the 70mm, magnetic stereo, carbon arc, tubed amplifier side to its former glory.

Long out of the business, I marvel at the digital technology and envy the fact that such a great picture can appear with little work. We worked hard to keep things right on the screen for many, many years.

Vito on March 14, 2009 at 10:45 am

My goodness where to begin.
Going back to my early days, the theatre I started in would change shows three times a week and they were double features, with a matinee every day followed by two evening shows. I watched an average of 6 pictures a week. Standing at the port with the monitor turned up is how I saw most of the movies in those days. But only once for each movie, I rarely watched anything twice. The bigger hit pictures would usually play as single features (with shorts) and run a week to 10 days.
With the longer pictures running over three hours, instead of matinee evening split we ran continuous (grind) every day. I recall that happening with “Giant”,”Ten Commandments” and “war and Peace” to name a few.
I rarely sat in the theatre to watch a picture; it was always from the booth. The only time I watched a picture from a theatre seat was with 3-D or a musical with Stereo sound picture cause that you had to experience those from a theatre seat.

Later when we started running Road Shows, two men were assigned to the booth, so when my projector was not running I could sneak off to a balcony seat to enjoy for 10 minutes or so at a time. Of course when we opened a new picture there was always one or two a technical rehearsals (dry runs) and we could always take turns watching bits of the film from a theatre seat. With the big 70mm pictures I would attend a show on an off day to enjoy it.

Now since I retired I see a lot of pictures at screenings. I almost never o to a theatre anymore.
Those exhibitor screenings are always full of retired folks.

It has to be difficult to watch movies theses days with so many screens to attend to. I doubt there is much time to enjoy a movie while working. You do a lot of running around theses days with many theatres having multable booths. I recall when I needed a projectionist for the City Center 15 cinema in White Plains I contacted the union Local 306 and they stent me a wonderful projectionist who goes here by the name of movie 534. After I interviewed him I said “ listen,let me have one of my people take you in a tour of the building, see the many booths (4) you will have to operate, and if after that you still want the job, it’s yours”
I liked the guy, he had worked previously for me at Amboy, and thought after he saw what he was getting himself into and still wanted the job he was my guy.
PS, he took the job.

As a projectionist you were the magic maker, but your domain was not always that magical. We were often all alone in your little room with only an occasional mouse to keep you company. We did not eat healthy stuck in the booth for hours and hours, ate a lot of sandwiches and fast foods. We also drank a lot of coffee; every booth had a coffee pot and a hot plate. The lucky ones had a small fridge.

But, it was the most rewarding job I could have had, when you heard the people laughing and applauding it gave you a sense of great joy having contributed to that. A great thrill was when you knew a scene was coming up that would bring down the house with laughs it was fun to lift up the port glass and almost orchestrate those laughs.
Another thrill came from sneaking out to the top of the balcony to watch “Officer Krupke” or “cool” from “West Side Story” and “There is Nothin' Like a Dame” or “Bali Ha'i” from “South Pacific” over and over again. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on March 15, 2009 at 5:23 am

Vito- You always write such interesting stuff. You really ought to write up your whole life in the theater and put it in a book or have it somewhere for us folks to read on the computer. It’s great stuff!

Vito on March 15, 2009 at 5:52 am

Bob, Thanks for that. It was an intresting and fun time.
It’s fun to relive some of my war stories :)

TLSLOEWS on December 9, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Great stories I worked for Loews in Nashville, Tenn. but never in the booth. I would visit them though and sometimes to projectionist would let me do a change over even though that was a big no-no.The Loews Crescent at one time ran cinerama it had a pretty big booth but only had 2 projectors then. We ran 20 minute reels and finally went to the hour reels.It also had a small screening room with about 20 seats but it was never used in the 7 years I worked there.I did not know it was even there till just before I left and when up stairs and someone had left its door open. Our city managers office was by the booth.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on October 18, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Well,No more film.It is coming.Funny thing when you took a print out often you could see the movie in frames of pictures.Often,I would get the projectionist to clip out a frame if it wasn’t scope.Be hard to do that with a disc,Well the union got run out of the booth with automation,now the non-union operators will get booted out.35mm Movie film just seems like movies.Old beat up film cans seem like movies.Glad I got out in 1983.

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