Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Terrence Malick instructs projectionists on Tree of Life

According to various reports, director Terrence Malick has issued a four-point instructional guide to projectionists who screen his newest release Tree of Life. It's kind of unusual that a director has to release such edicts about their work, but it is an even sadder statement of just how the professionalism of being a projectionist has gone downhill in recent years. There are many woes of the modern movie watching experience and like the villain for most of them, I'm going to blame the multiplex!

Unfortunately, for audience members who care about such things as aspect ratio, sound or even having the damn film in focus, crappy projectionists are just one more reason to signal the death blow for the idea of a film print [which truly breaks my heart to think about]. Soon, there will be nothing but digital projection anyway, so my rant, like Malick's, is probably a waste of energy. I don't care. There are so many shoddy, untrained, uncaring people working in projection booths these days that the chances of seeing something perfectly correct is 50/50. And that's me being generous with those odds.

Last week I saw The Beaver and it sounded as if the audio was being run through water. I had to get up and go complain, missing the first couple of minutes of a movie I was writing a review for. I actually told an employee IN the theatre, but she said the director meant to do it that way. I just looked at her like she was drunk and went and found the manager. It was magically fixed about a minute later. The depressing fact is most theatres employ someone in the booth on the cheap, even though this makes no sense because a projectionist has the MOST impact of anyone in the entire theatre regarding the viewer's experience of watching a movie.

Malick's instructions are pretty simple for any would-be projectionists out there, but if you are a projectionist and you are reading CineRobot, chances are you are at the top of the game and won't need these at all!

  1. Project the film in 1.85:1 aspect ratio
  2. Set the fader on Dolby and DTS systems to 7.5 or 7.7 [higher than the standard setting of 7]
  3. With no opening credits, cue the lights down before the opening frame of reel #1
  4. Projection lamps should be at "Proper standard (5400 Kelvin)" and the Lambert level should be set at "Standard 14."
The worst thing for me when Tree of Life comes to Tulsa and plays at the local multiplex--I can almost 100% guarantee that a few of these instructions won't be followed. I might contact the theatre and just pass them on, but even then I'd put it at 50/50 it will be projected properly. 

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