I was an IMAX Projectionist: AMA

Discussion in 'Random Thoughts' started by Merrick, Oct 26, 2021.

  1. Qildail

    Qildail Facebook Friend

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    The Hubble one is still my favorite “shot for IMAX” film. Even the blu-ray transfer was gorgeous. (Reminds me, I need to watch that on the new LG…)

    Did you ever get to work with larger regular film formats (e.g. Panavision), and if so, how were those different?
     
  2. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    No, I only ever worked with IMAX 70 and standard 35mm. My theater wasn’t equipped for standard 70mm.
     
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  3. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    Cinema was never much my thing. Didn't grow up with it (a bit too far out of town) and never got in the habit. But this whole thread has been fascinating, and the scale of the IMAX stuff (which I never gave a thought to before!) amazing.

    I'm just wondering, is this the peak of projectionist work? What was the career path that led you there?
     
  4. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    Thank you! I'm glad people are finding this interesting. :)

    To your first question, IMAX could certainly be considered a peak of film projectionist work in that it's the largest film format in history and everything was so optimized for maximum quality. Much of projectionist work is very set it and forget it and IMAX was the exact opposite, you had to triple check every detail every show to avoid major consequences. Anyone who got to the level of head projectionist at an IMAX theater usually stayed in that role for years or decades as there were hardly any more prestigious positions out there. However, there certainly could be other peaks one could aim for as a projectionist, like being the head projectionist for a film studio or the MPAA, personal projectionist to a celebrity, etc.

    In terms of career path, I kind of fell into it. I lived in Northern California for a while and needed a job in a pinch at one point and ended up being hired by EA Games, later bought by Gamestop. I worked my way up to the Store Manager position and decided to move back to LA. I was eventually put in charge of the Gamestop location right next to the Bridge theater, and one day a regional manager came in and insulted me to my face, so I clocked out for lunch, walked next door to the theater, and asked if they were hiring for a manager position. As I had been to film school and had previous managerial and customer service experience, I got the job.

    Managers often wear many hats at movie theaters and one of our possible responsibilities was to run the projection booth. This was 2007, we were still all film. If you're even a bit technically minded, learning 35mm projection is not difficult. Most of the systems have been optimized to the point that you are doing very little real technical work. Our IMAX booth was just off the main hallway for the 35mm projectors, so once all the shows were running I would pop in and chat with the head projectionist. Over time I asked him to show me how the various components worked, how to thread a show, etc. I made a case to my general manager to let me train officially as an IMAX projectionist and he agreed.

    In 2010 our theater was bought by a chain called Rave Cinemas and they fired half the management staff, demoted all but three managers to assistant managers, cut our pay and benefits massively, and told us they expected us to do more work than ever. This was in the aftermath of the housing crash so we were given the whole "You're lucky to have a job at all" line. Well, fuck that. I went to my general manager and told him the only way I'd be willing to stay on for the paltry pay and benefits being offered was if I could be an IMAX projectionist full time. I was probably the lowest paid IMAX projectionist in the world with Rave's shit pay. However, I had already gone back to community college with the goal of transferring to UCLA and being in IMAX gave me large chunks of uninterrupted time to do projects and school work (it was an IMAX requirement that a projectionist be in the booth any time a film was running, even if there was nothing to do), so it worked for me.

    Later on my GM had a heart attack from all the pressure Rave was putting on him to meet impossible quotas with insanely slimmed down teams, and he quit for greener pastures. The replacement GM was a real asshole. He called me in to his office and asked me how he could possibly justify having an assistant manager who never went on the floor. I told him this was the agreement I had with the previous GM, he said he wasn't the previous GM and didn't care. He told me he'd be putting me on the floor. I told him he could do that, but he could only expect the level of performance from me commiserate with the miserable pay I was getting (at this point I had been promised two pay raises and been given none, and this new GM laughed when I brought them up). He decided not to put me on the floor but cut me from 40 hours to 20 hours and put in a salaried manager to make up the difference. He then got yelled at by the district manager for wasting a salaried manager's time having them sit in the IMAX booth all day. :cool:

    Eventually the bullshit got too intolerable and a good friend of mine recommended I go to work for the company he was working for, doing QC on home video releases. And that's a whole other story!
     
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