Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Coolest Theatre I've ever been in.

Many moons ago (1992) I visited California, on Hollywood Blvd just down the street from the famouse Chinese theatre was a theatre called the El Capitan. It's a magnificently restored old Movie Palace. The marquee alone was one of the most elaborate I've seen. The theatre is owned by Disney. The movie playing was an enoyable but forgettable comedy called The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag starring my favorite how-did-she-get-famous-she-can't-act 'actress' Penelope Ann Miller. I went to see the movie just to see the inside of the theatre. It was incredible how they had restored it to it's original glory. Even old time showmanship reigned, it had, wait for it... curtains over the screen! Not just one but three, two opened sideways and another set went up. The theatre was also THX which is about as good as you can get as far as sound and picture. I would call it one of my best movie experiences ever and I've seen a lot of movies.
I was back in California a few years ago with my sister and greatly looking forward to seeing another movie there. However I was dismayed to find the movie playing was The Tigger Movie. My sister refused to go. I don't think I'll ever forgive her.

The Scary Parts of Projection.

Like most jobs involving machinery being a projectionist has it's hazards.

While running the projector has a lot of sprockets and rollers turning at very high speed. The sprockets have teeth on them to catch the sprocket holes on the film. If one was to get clothing etc caught in the machinery it would not be pleasant.

If you ever meet me in person you may notice I always have my sleeves rolled up, even when I'm not working, force of habit. I usually cringe when I see a projectionist with long hair.

The light from the lamp's is incredibly bright. Just under normal operation it get splashed in your eyes every so often. It's tough on the eyes to look in the projector while it's running if there's a problem and I need to figure out what is causing it. I knew one guy who had been projecting for a lot longer than I have, he said everything he looked at had a kind a haze around it.

Changing the bulb or opening the lamp's can be one of the most dangerous things. The bulbs are under very high pressure and can explode. The image below is a bulb and the plastic protector it comes in. I've only heard of one guy who had one explode on him, luckily it was already is the plastic protector. He said it sounded like a shotgun going off and the air was full of tiny particles of glass.

I change our bulb once a year and wear a face shield, I rather value my sight. I'm supposed to wear gloves but it's pretty much impossible to maneuver in such close quarters wearing welders gloves.

Projectionists these days do have it comparably easy though, back when they used nitrate film it was a whole different story. The film itself was highly flammable and was going past a very bright hot light. Not the best combination. Theatres used to burn down on a regular basis. Some of you may have seen the Italian film Cinema Paradiso. It shows an example of nitrate film catching fire. Great film by the way.

I had heard something about nitrate film I didn't believe until a few days ago. I was told years ago it could burn underwater?!! That didn't make sense to me since there would be no oxygen supply. However a few days ago I saw the below footage on I couldn't get a direct link to work but if you follow these directions you can see it.

Go to videos listed along left side
scrool down to miscellaneous
Click on last item, nitrate film buring underwater, requires Quicktime.

Talk about freaky.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Did you know Western Film has the most seats of any theatre in the city? maybe.

It may be hard to believe but it's true. The theatres at the Silver City may look bigger but since the seats are larger the biggest one still has about 40 seats less than Western Film. in recent memory there were only 3 theatres that had more seats. The Capital downtown was a Famous Players but has been 'closed for renovations' for about 6 years. The great 6 plex on top of a dead mall known in it's last days as Smuggler's Alley had an absolutely fantastic theatre #1. That area is now a parking lot. When the theatres in the Galleria were a Cineplex theatre #5 was a great big THX theatre with 70mm capability. Rainbow turned the back part of it into the two small theatres with aisles down the center.

The maybe is because I'm not sure how many seats the recently reopened Hyland has. I think it would be a close race.

Booking next week could have been interesting.

Today is Monday, the day I book whatever starts on Friday. Failure to Launch and V For Vendetta both did very well over the weekend. We came close to setting a non-tuesday record with Vendetta on Saturday night.
This is good news or booking could have been interesting. There were no new movies available. I thought Inside Man might be available but they were holding it. Usually when no new movies are available I play something that we have been holding back as a reserve, usually a movie I'm not sure will go over well at Western Film. Last example of this was Fun With Dick and Jane. I didn't think it would do well, put it in an empty slot and was proved correct. The other tactic I use is to bring back something we have done well with in the last little while. Sometimes we'll take a chance on a 'art' movie that is good but doesn't have a high profile.

However I have no movies in reserve unless you count Aquamarine and a couple horror movies. The movies we have done well with lately are all out on DVD. I asked about playing the documentary Why We Fight but there were still no prints available.

Luckily both current movies did well enough to hold over. I decided to switch the order so people that want to see V For Vendetta but won't come to the late show would get a chance. Hopefully people will still want to see Matthew McConaughey shirtless at 9:35.

Summer at the movies starts next weekend with the release of Mission Impossible 3. It will push a lot of movies out of first run. Over the summer we usually get movies quicker because the sheer volume of new releases pushes them out faster.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Personal appearance by a director at UWO?

There has been some talk about bringing a Director into UWO as a speaker. Naturally the ones most people would be interested in seeing cost more to bring in. My question is this:

Would you be willing to pay about $20.00 to see a Director in person?
If so which ones?
These are some of the names that have been mentioned.

Kevin Smith
Spike Lee
Wes Craven
Ivan Reitman
David Cronenburg

BTW Don't bother mentioning Spielburg, Tarantino, Scorsese or any of the really big name guys, we couldn't afford them.

So leave your comments or suggestions, I'm curious what people say.

When Technical problems Arise.

One thing I noticed when I worked in the multiplexes and to a smaller extent at Western Film is that the audience usually thinks there is someone sitting watching the movie in the projection booth. When something goes wrong nobody goes out to the lobby to tell the staff. I've seen people sit as long as 20 minutes before someone let the staff know. That incident happened at the Wellington 8, the wrong lenses were being used so the picture looked all distorted. It was about 20 minutes into the movie before I got the call to fix it.
In a multiplex there is usually only one person running up to 12 theaters, sometimes more. Everything is automated so all he or she has to do is thread up and start the show. In some theatres you are lucky if they can stick around long enough to focus the picture.
We had a minor hiccup at Western Film last night. The power blinked for a split second. This can cause a couple problems. The lamp may go out and not come back on by itself. If the power is off long enough the platter can get shut off but the projector keeps going with the result of hundreds of feet of film on the floor.

When the power blinked last night the lamp went off but everything else kept going as usual. Our projectionist immediately went in and turned the lamp back on so the screen was dark for less than 30 seconds. The odd thing was that the power usually only blinks or goes off up there during thunderstorms. It wasn't raining. We are always extra vigilant watching the theatre during storms for exactly that reason.

I had a technical issue as an audience member once that was quite interesting. I went to see The Birdcage at a theatre that was downtown. Great theatre, I was so pissed when they tore it down. The movie was playing in DTS, one of the kinds of digital sound. A mistake had been made in the printing of the film so when the 4th reel came on the DTS was playing the sound from the first reel?! It actually matched nicely so no one noticed for a couple minutes until we started seeing people talk but hearing no dialogue. I figured out what was happening, it took me a minute or so to get out of the middle of the crowded theatre and past the upset patrons to tell the projectionist to turn off the DTS. Once he did everything was fine.

In short, if something goes wrong while you are watching a movie, let someone know!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Western Film played the trailer but not the movie?

I often get questioned about running trailers for movies we never play and having up posters for movies we never show. I thought I'd give some info why that happens.

1. Usually the movie sucks. One of the benefits of being second run is we can see how the first run theatres did with the movie. A film like Date Movie we probably would have played but it bombed.

2. It has to do with the Studio, as I've mentioned before some studios won't let us split so we don't play some of their movies. Date Movie is also an example of this, Fox wouldn't let us split it even if we had wanted to play it.

3. On the rare occasion we play a movie aimed at children we have to play trailers for children's movies. One can't really play a trailer for Saw 2 in front of Ige Age 2.

4. We put 4 trailers on in front of each movie, that creates a fairly consistent 10 minutes of trailers before the movie starts. Not only is the movie experience not complete without trailers (to me at least) but it gives late comers extra time to get into the theatre without missing any of the actual film. Occasionally I don't have 4 trailers in the proper format for movies I know I'm going to play so I put on something we may or may not play.

The posters work in a similar fashion but as soon as I know I'm not going to play a movie I take them all down. Some posters come in that I never even put up because I know I won't play the movie. I never put up the Ultraviolet posters for example. I have posters for Ige Age 2 I haven't put up because that's a very iffy movie. It's Fox so we probably won't be able to split it. A kids movie for the late show tends not to work here.

How Western Film Chooses it's Movies.

Western Film is a second run theatre which means we have to wait until movies leave the Famous Players and Cineplexes. We pay a lower percentage than they do and as such are able to charge less.

Each Monday all the theatres book for the following playweek which is Friday to Thursday. The first run theatres decide which movies they are dropping based on how well the movies did over the weekend and what is coming out the following week. A big movie like Star Wars opens on multiple screens so pushes other pictures out.

Our Booker lets me know what movies are available and I choose from there. I normally pick 2 movies, one for early show, one for late show. If there isn't anything new I want to play I'll replay something that did well recently or, occasionally, play something I didn't want to play just to fill the spot.

As an example, this week we had 4 new movies to choose from.

Aquamarine - aimed at too young an audience for us.
Date Movie - Fox so couldn't be split, plus it sucked.
Ultraviolet - bad movie, we don't do well with these kinds of bad action movies.
Pink Panther - this is the one I choose, it's a good movie for exam period, short and funny, (I hope, I haven't seen it)

To fill the other spot I asked about Mrs Henderson Presents and the documentary Why We Fight. We could have played these in earlier weeks but there were no prints available. Mrs Henderson was available so I booked it. There were no prints of Why We Fight so we'll have to wait for it.

It gets really interesting when there is nothing of interest available or more than 2 movies I want to play available the same week.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Loud Trailers

The last post reminded me of a common complaint from movie viewers (at other theatres, not Western Film). The trailers seem to be recorded at a higher volume than the movies, sometimes painfully so. Western Film plays our trailers at a volume level of 5 on our sound system, the movies play at around 7. If we played the trailers at 7 we'd be blowing people out of their seats.
There was one extreme example lately, we have a trailer for The Da Vinci Code that is incredibly loud even at 5. The first time I heard it I thought the projectionist had already turned the volume up.
I can't imagine how loud that trailer must have been in a theatre that plays everything at the same volume.
It kind of reminds me of TV commercials, everybody knows they are louder than the shows but the industry says they aren't. I think they do it to wake people up. On the other hand loud commercials on TV can backfire, there's always the Mute button. I know I use it quite often.

Bad Trailers.

Is it just me or are movie Trailers getting worse? I've seen so many of them that more or less give away the entire film. I can't remember the name but there was one a while ago I literally didn't bother to see becuase the trailer had given it all away.
Like many things style of trailers changes with time so there may be hope. I used to have a trailer for Bladerunner and I've seen other trailers from about the early 80's. They were usually very long and not well done. I think the Bladerunner trailers was about 4 minutes long, most trailers now are about 2 minutes.
Universal did a spectacular job with the trailer for Inside Man. It's one of the best trailers I've seen in ages. Gives you a good idea what's going on without revealing too much. Just what a good trailer should do.
Still, I like to watch the trailers before a movie. I feel like the experience is not complete if I miss the trailers. I usually don't mind missing the commericals though, I tend to see them about 20 times each because I go to so many movies.

Do Critics matter?

One of the stories of the last few days has been the increasing tendancy for Studios not to advance screen movies for critics. So far this year there have been 11 movies not screened vs. 2 this time last year. Most of them have been horror movies and such that the critics probably would have given negative reviews. Three of them, Underworld: Evolution, When a Stranger Calls, and Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion opened at #1. Some are saying the Studios aren't screening the films to prevent negative reviews from hurting opening weekend business. On the other hand, most of these movies are more or less critic proof. I went to see Underworld: Evolution opening weekend. The critics would have slammed it but I thought it was a lot of fun.
One critic was accidently invited to a screening of BenchWarmers and wrote a review which went out over the wire services. Sony Pictures tried to get the review pulled, calling it 'unauthorized'. The critic didn't even give it that bad a review.
The funny thing about the situation with Sony is they got caught a couple years ago making up phony quotes from nonexistant critics praising some of their less films.
Disney publicity chief Dennis Rice said, "If we think screenings for the press will help open the movie, we'll do it. ... If we don't think it'll help open the movie or if the target audience is different than the critics' sensibilities, then it may make sense not to screen the movie." Sounds like a public relations way of agreeing with the critics.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Film is an odd business

I haven't worked a lot in other industries but the film business seems to run weirder than other businesses. Part of it comes from the nature of the product. Technically there's competition between the studios but there really isn't. The studios may sell the same type of product but if Fox has Star Wars you have to deal with Fox. If Paramount has Mission Impossible 3 you have to get it through them. It's not like Coke and Pepsi where the products are fairly interchangeable. I doubt many people would leave a restaurant that only has Pepsi when they want Coke.

I've mentioned Fox won't let us split movies most of the time. The funny thing is they don't mind if you only play one show each evening instead of 2. We sometimes do this for long movies or during the summer if it's quiet.

The really funny thing is Fox won't let us split with their own product?! Last year we wanted to play Mr and Mrs Smith and StarWars the same week and they wouldn't let us.

Other odd things happen. I have a poster on my wall from the 1997 rerelease of the first 3 Star Wars movies. The poster says, and I quote ' Three reasons why they build Movie Theatres'. The odd thing is that Lucas has pulled the movies out of service, meaning movie theatres can't play them? The Star Wars movies are the second most requested movies for our midnight series and we can't play them.

Sometimes the studios just seem to throw good movies out with no advertising or promotional support. 16 Blocks is a good example. It was a good film but got practically no press and didn't do as well as it could have. I haven't seen it yet but Lucky Number Slevin looks like another one. It starts today but practially no one seems to have heard of it. The trailers make it look good. Wouldn't one think a movie starring Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley and Lucy Lui would have gotten a trifle more press?

The general public has some part in this as well. It seems they won't see a movie if they haven't heard of it
whether it's good or bad. People often assume a movie they haven't heard of is bad.

One incident particularly struck me once. Before I worked at Western Film I was working at the old Westmount 2-plex. There was a line of coming soon movie posters along the wall. One woman looked at a poster and said she'd never heard of it in a dismissive tone. There has to be a first time she 'hears of' a movie and the coming soon posters are supposed to do just that.

more in a later post.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Why I go to movies.

Some of you may have wondered wny I go see movies at other theatres even though I run Western Film and can see them for free. There's a couple reasons for this.

1. I like going to other theatres so I can relax, when I watch a movie at Western Film I always feel like I'm 'on call' if anything happens. Usually the movies I watch at Western Film are ones I haven't had time to see or didn't want to pay $10 to see elsewhere. Sometimes I'll watch movies I saw elsewhere a second time at Western Film.

2. I also go see movies I know won't be playing at Western Film. Usually movies such as horror films or films from certain studios (I'm talking about you, Fox and Paramount) that make it hard for us to play all of their films. I saw Slither last night. Western Film doesn't play horror movies. If all the movies Western Film has ever played were compared for attendance horror films would be at the bottom, even the big hits like The Ring.
I went to see Transporter 2 a while ago because I knew Western Film wouldn't play it, although I wanted to. It was from Fox and they would have wanted both shows each night for the week. It wasn't a big enough film to do that.
I'll probably have to go see Thank you for Smoking somewhere else because it's from Fox as well.

Du'oh The Simpson's movie! and Slither.

I haven't seen it but there is a very short trailer for the Simpson's movie in front of ICE AGE. As a huge fan of the Simpson's I might have to go see Ice Age now. The movie doesn't come out until Jul 27 2007 so I'll have to wait a while for the movie. I hope it's worthy of the big screen. South Park pulled it off so I don't see why the Simpson's shouldn't be able to.

I went to see Slither last night. I like comedy/horror movies. I found it fun to watch if somewhat hokey. It was referencing a lot of older horror movies. The main character, the Sheriff, played by Nathan Fillion, has some good one-liners. Fillion also starred in Serenity and is Canadian so he gets extra points in my book. Too bad it's the first horror movie this year so far to bomb it's first weekend.