Cinema Projectionist

The Job and What's Involved

Cinema projectionists screen films and operate projectors in cinemas. Audiences expect to see films presented in a professional manner and it is the projectionist's job to ensure that they see a first-class presentation every time.

In some cinemas traditional projectors are used, while in others new technology is taking over.

Traditionally, films arrive at the cinema on 20-minute reels and projectionists have to:

  • Receive and check the film reels, joining or repairing them as necessary.
  • Load the reels on to the projector in the right order.
  • Make sure the film runs smoothly through the projector and is not damaged.
  • Handle films correctly to stop them from becoming marked and scratched.
  • Join (splice) lengths of film together if they break.
  • Store the films safely.
  • Clean and maintain the projection equipment.
  • Send the reels on to the next destination after the run of performances is over.

In addition to the main film, projectionists must play advertisements and trailers in the correct order. They are also responsible for checking that the sound is operating correctly and at the right volume.

Today, films are also being screened digitally and may arrive at the cinema on a hard drive, which is then downloaded on to a file server. Special electronic keys mean that the projectionist is only able to play the films at authorised times.

Most projectionists are responsible for the technical operations of the cinema outside of the projection room as well. This can include dealing with the lighting, heating and ventilation in the cinema, making sure fire alarms and equipment are working correctly, and monitoring any electrical, water and gas supplies.

They need to know about local licensing requirements for showing films, and health and safety regulations concerning the cinema.

Cinema projectionists liaise with the cinema programmer, who draws up schedules and decides which films are going to be shown.

Working in cinemas involves unsocial hours, usually starting in the afternoon and continuing until late at night. Some cinemas have late-night screenings.

Many cinemas operate a shift system to accommodate the long opening hours and downtime, when maintenance work can be done. Projectionists usually work five days a week, including evenings and weekends. There may be opportunities to work overtime.

Projectionists spend most of their time in projection rooms, which are usually dust free and windowless, to prevent light breaking through to the auditorium. Most modern cinemas have air conditioning.

Cinema projectionists work alone for much of the time and may only meet their colleagues during shift changeovers.

In traditional cinemas the work can be fairly physical, as projectionists may be operating a number of projectors in different projection rooms and need to lift and carry heavy films. More modern techniques include long-playing film transport systems, known as towers and platters, which do not require reel-to-reel changeovers. This has helped to reduce the levels of physical work needed.

Starting salaries may be around £12,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

According to the UK Film Council there are 659 cinemas in the UK. Many of these are modern, purpose-built multiplex cinemas operated by large leisure groups. These are replacing the traditional town centre cinemas and usually have many screens, requiring more staff.

As a result of this growth there is currently a lack of trained projectionists and many larger operators are now taking on staff and training them on the job.

Projection techniques have also changed, and many larger cinemas are now using new digital delivery systems. These are likely to gradually replace the traditional film and projectors and lead to new opportunities for projectionists.

Anyone interested in projection work should make an initial approach to a local cinema manager or chief projectionist. A part-time job in a cinema can provide useful experience. Showing some interest in the film industry by joining a film club will provide background information about the different film formats.

Vacancies may be advertised in publications such as Cinema Technology, Screen Trade and Screen International, as well as local newspapers, at local cinemas or on the websites of the larger cinema chains.

Education and Training

There are no minimum entry requirements, although cinema projectionists must be at least 18 if they are showing an 18 certificate film. Applicants may be asked to do a simple entry test to determine their aptitude.

An interest in films and the film industry is essential. Basic knowledge of sound or electronics is also useful.

In larger cinemas there may be opportunities to move from other areas of work into projecting, and it may be possible to work as an assistant projectionist on a part-time basis.

Opportunities also exist to attend short courses and part-time training programmes provided by organisations such as:

  • BKSTS - The Moving Image Society (who offer a free one-day course for projectionists and trainee projectionists).
  • Scottish Screen.
  • The National Film and Television School.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Initial training is usually on the job. Most cinemas now belong to major leisure complexes and training is becoming increasingly formalised as a result. Odeon Cinemas, for example, runs its own training school that is also used by other companies.

The Projectionist Certificate is a new qualification run by BKSTS. It is a certificate of competence covering the minimum standards for the industry, from film handling to dealing with evacuation procedures. Further details are available at www.bksts.com.

The British Film Institute (BFI) is running a new training programme covering digital projection and multimedia box training. The David Lean Foundation also runs occasional one-day courses for projectionists.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A cinema projectionist should:

  • Be able to work on their own and be self-motivated.
  • Have good IT and technical skills.
  • Be practical and able to solve problems quickly and efficiently.
  • Be patient, alert and observant.
  • Have good sight, hearing and hand-to-eye co-ordination.
  • Observe strict punctuality to run the films according to the programme.
  • Be able to follow written schedules and timesheets.
  • Be able to carry out routine jobs quickly.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion opportunities are greater for those working for a large leisure group. It may be necessary to change employer to gain promotion.

Projectionists usually begin working at one of the large cinema chains and then move into smaller independent cinemas, where they can become more involved in the whole business of cinema.

Cinema projectionists may progress to senior or chief projectionist. Some may move into administrative or managerial roles.

Some projectionists work on a freelance basis. There may also be some opportunities working on cruise liners and at holiday camps.

Get Further Information

The British Film Institute (BFI), 21 Stephen Street, London W1T 1LN
Tel: 020 7255 1444
Website: www.bfi.org.uk

BKSTS - The Moving Image Society, Pinewood Studios,
Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire SL0 0NH
Tel: 01753 656656
Website: www.bksts.com

The National Film and Television School (NFTS),
The Registry, Beaconsfield Studios, Station Road, Beaconsfield,
Buckinghamshire HP9 1LG
Tel: 01494 671234
Website: www.nftsfilm-tv.ac.uk

The National Media Museum,
Bradford, West Yorkshire BD1 1NQ
Tel: 0870 701 0200
Website: www.nmpft.org.uk

The Projected Picture Trust, National Museum of Cinema Technology,
Bletchley Park, Bletchley, Buckinghamshire MK3 6EB
Website: www.ppttrust.org

Scottish Screen, 249 West George Street, Glasgow G2 4QE
Tel: 0845 300 7300
Website: www.scottishscreen.com

Skillset, Prospect House, 80-110 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1HB
Free careers helpline: for England, Northern Ireland and Wales Tel: 0808 030 0900 for Scotland Tel: 0808 100 8094
Website: www.skillset.org/careers

The UK Film Council, 10 Little Portland Street, London W1W 7JG
Tel: 020 7861 7861
Website: www.ukfilmcouncil.org.uk

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