Reel Movies I Science in the City I Exploratorium

Reel Movies I Science in the City I Exploratorium


I’m Paul Clipson. I’m an audio-visual
technician and film projectionist at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Here we project, at the Museum, films on 35 millimeter. We typically get the reels,
which come in two large boxes, and each reel contains about 20 minutes of film
on it; usually coming in a can something like this. I transfer the films to a
film reel that can go onto the projector. At that time I make notes for
change-over, and change-overs are a system where every 20 minutes you change
from one projector to the next, to go from the first reel of film to the
second reel to the third to the fourth, you know, to the end of the film. So I got
into the habit of making very specific notes for the projectionists because, at
the Museum, they often have time to see the film once before they show it and
this moment of change-over is very brief, it’s signaled to the projectionists by a
dot that’s in the top right-hand corner of the film frame, which they see while
the audience is seeing it in the theater, so they’re watching for that coming up
every 20 minutes, they’re watching to see that dot appear and it occurs typically
over four frames of film, so that would be one sixth of a second they have while
they’re blinking and while they’re looking at the projector and getting
themselves ready, so that’s a, it’s a crucial moment that you don’t want to
miss. If you miss it, then you see a gap in the film and it’s the projectionist’s
nightmare. So I started making notes for the projectionists, which is just
something I specifically do. Not everybody does this, or I don’t know if
anybody does it, but I found that it helped just prepare the projectionists
for each of these change-overs. So I kept this binder and it has, basically,
storyboards for each moment that the changeover occurs. This is one of our two projectors for
projecting 35 millimeter. What you’re looking at here is the film path, where
the film runs through the projector as it’s projected, with the lamp here on the
left and the lens here on the right and these two doors here are for two
compartments; this part is where the film is going through the film gate and at the
bottom here is the sound reader. So to thread the projector, we bring the film,
starting at the top, through this path and there’s a series of little locking
mechanisms to hold the film in place. This is a sound drum here, where the film
is kept tight so that the sound head reader can clearly decipher the
soundtrack. When the film goes through the gate, it’s
running at 24 frames per second and each of those frames is projected separately
onto the screen, meaning a still frame, an image like a photograph, still image, is
seen on the screen and then moves to the next image and in between those there’s
a shutter, a blade that’s passing between each of those frames with darkness. So
when you see a film in the theater, it’s actually a series of images and darkness
in between and each time the film passes through gate it stops for one
twenty-fourth of a second and then continues.

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  1. Hope this art theatre survives with 35mm projectors, as digital technology has taken over all cinemas around the world

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