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What does a Projectionist do?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The projectionist is the person who operates the projection equipment in a cinema or drive-in theater and ensures that the film runs properly. Job responsibilities include inspecting film reels for defects, smoothly switching reels without interrupting the film and maintaining projection equipment. If there are any problems while the movie is running, it’s the projectionist’s job to fix them quickly and keep the audience entertained. As a bonus, projectionists are among the first to see all of the latest films, an appealing benefit for movie fans who want to become projectionists.

Feature-length films are recorded on multiple reels for display in the cinema, and it is up to projectionists to switch from one reel to the next seamlessly. Reels are loaded on multiple projectors, and as one reel ends, a cue mark is displayed telling the projectionist to switch to the next projector. Once the switch is made, the completed reel is rewound for the next showing.

Film is fragile and must be inspected before it can be displayed. The projectionist must go through each reel, looking for wear, scratches, nicks, holes or dirt that might cause problems while the movie is showing. Projectionists might also be required to cut and splice film, for instance, to include advertisements. After the inspection and splicing is finished, each reel is loaded on a separate projector to prepare for the showing.

Movies must be in focus and synchronized with the soundtrack. Projectionists might be responsible for running multiple films simultaneously, changing reels for one and then moving to the next film. In the event of a malfunction, it is the projectionist’s job to get the movie running again as quickly as possible before the audience gets restless.

Equipment maintenance is another important part of the projectionist’s job. In a cinema, projection equipment sees heavy use and needs regular cleaning and maintenance to run smoothly. Projectors might require minor repairs from time to time, and it is up to the projectionist to complete these repairs. Projectionists generally are not responsible for major repairs, and in many cases, the machines must be sent to specialists to be fixed. A projectionist, however, might be called on to assist a technician who performs on-site repair.

Employment as a projectionist typically requires a high school diploma or general education diploma. Employers often look for evidence of mechanical aptitude; good eyesight, both up close and at a distance; and familiarity with audio/video equipment. Some employers also look for projectionists who have completed an apprenticeship, which might or might not be paid.

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