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From The News Times
Behind the scenes at the movies in New Milford
By Erik Ofgang
Updated: 08/15/2009 06:58:49 PM EDT
NEW MILFORD — It’s the opening day of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and fans have filed into Bank Street Theater all day long.
Downstairs in the theater a large crowd eagerly waits for the film to start, but upstairs in the projectionist room everything’s quiet.
In the old days of film and film reels, the projection room was a place full of activity and hard work.
Giant film reels, more than two feet in diameter, would spin as the film was fed painstakingly through a series of pulleys and conveyors.
Someone had to watch it constantly because things often went wrong. “Film can burn, it can rip,” says Tara Kobylinsky, 26, the assistant general manger at Bank Street Theater on a recent Wednesday at the theater.
Kobylinsky has worked at the theater for almost 10 years and saw the film era end when Bank Street upgraded to digital projectors in February.
Kobylinsky doesn’t miss the days of film.
“The switch to digital makes our small business more efficient and that’s kind of the goal of every business,” she said.
She added that with ease of setup, better picture and cheaper shipping costs for the movie studios, “it’s better for us as a theater, it’s better for the audience and it’s better for the movie studios.”
Kobylinsky can perform the tasks of the projectionist with a simple click of a button.
For the afternoon showing of “Harry Potter” she walks over to a computer in the small attic-like projection booth and clicks on the play button.
“That’s it,” she says, stepping back.
The movie will stop automatically and the computer will even turn on the lights when the film is finished, she explains.
But don’t think Kobylinsky’s job is done. In fact it’s just beginning.
“The old projectionist’s job has been transformed, and now we do pretty much everything,” she says.
“Everything” includes cleaning the halls, cleaning the empty theater, making sure staff is ready for the next show, counting the registers, uploading new films onto the computer and making popcorn.
Most movies are shot digitally and then transferred to film because most theaters have not yet upgraded to digital projectors. Bank Street still keeps its old film projector because an occasional mainstream film will be shot on film and not be available digitally. Kobylinsky says the last film like that was Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”
In addition to ease, another advantage of digital over film is picture quality. “It’s crystal clear. There’s no shaking whatsoever, no blur,‘’ Kobylinsky says.
Some movie trailers come with the movie and must be shown at each screening. Other trailers are sent on separate trailer discs, and it’s up to the theater to decide which ones to include.
Downstairs in the lobby, with the film still playing, Kobylinsky gestures to the pieces of popcorn littering the hallway. “You can judge how crowded it’s been by how much popcorn’s on the floor,” she jokes.
As to why it’s culturally acceptable to spill and drop popcorn on the floor at a movie theater, Kobylinsky is not sure. “I don’t know! It’s not just kids — it’s adults, too.”
Because Bank Street is a small three-screen theater, the managers have to choose which films to show very carefully.
Typically, to get a film, the theater has to agree to show it for a minimum of three weeks, so making the right choice is critical.
Kobylinsky says knowing your audience is important and, because there are a lot of children in New Milford, family films tend to do well.
When deciding which films to show, the staff looks at box office charts to see which films are getting a lot of hype. Also, occasionally, one of them will watch an advanced screening in Manhattan to judge if the movie will draw an audience.
Despite the research, it’s mostly a gut call. “It’s like its own art form,” Kobylinsky says.
In addition to digital projectors, Bank Street Theater also has a 3D projector. Kobylinsky explains that today’s 3D movement is “less about objects flying in your face, more about giving the film depth.”
She demonstrates by handing a reporter a pair of 3D glasses to look through as “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” plays. With the glasses on, the screen seems to stretch backward beyond the theater walls, giving the viewer an impression similar to looking through a window.
“This is what the big movie studios are kind of banking on,” says Kobylinsky. “The studios hope this gives the viewer something they can’t experience at home.”
More and more films are being made in 3D, including James Cameron’s highly anticipated “Avatar,” slated for a December release.
In her decade at the theater, Kobylinsky has heard all types of complaints from patrons. The most common comes from older patrons who are angry that teenagers talk in the theater. In addition, “an increasing trend is talking on cell phones. I don’t understand why anyone thinks that’s OK.”
But Kobylinsky takes it all in stride. “It’s just what happens when you put a hundred-plus different people in one place.”
The next time you go to a theater make sure to turn the cell phone off, keep witty observations to a minimum and try not to spill the popcorn.
Paul Schuyler, 47, general manger of Bank Street Theater, says that though the digital era made the life of a movie theater worker easier, it also made it more diverse. “The main change has been you have to be a lot more computer savvy and you have to get used to doing a lot more different things,” says Schuyler.
He says another change is that you have to aggressively market the films showing at your theater through any and all means, including staying in touch with your audience through e-mail and other online options.
Ironically, Schuyler says one aspect of the business that hasn’t changed is sound. “That’s done by a guy who has a really good ear and spent too many years going to concerts.”
For more information on the theater, call 860-354-9911. For what’s playing, call 860-354-2122 or visit www.bankstreettheater.com