You handle film when you unpack it from
the can, when you inspect it, when you thread it,
when you project it, when you
unthread it, and repack it. Handling also occurs when you
clean, repair, splice,
break down, make up and store film. Each of these occasions is an
opportunity for things to go wrong. But if you have learnt and practiced the
right way to
handle film you should have few concerns. More importantly, your
suppliers will have
confidence in your ability to care for their precious, and
in some cases, irreplaceable
films. The procedures outlined below are set
out in an approximate chronological order,
from the time you take delivery of
the print until you send it back. If you borrow films
from the National Film and Sound Archive you will be required to complete and
forward a report for each
film. This requirement is mentioned at appropriate places
in the text. It’s
worth spending a few minutes on the report, as it is the most effective
bringing the Archive’s attention to the need for repairs and replacements.
When you receive a print for screening
it will be in a case containing several plastic
or metal containers called
‘cans’. Each can contains a reel of film. Before opening
a case you have
just received, examine it for external damage.
NOTE any damage for inclusion in
your report. When you open the case the
be a snug fit. Ideally, the cans should be wrapped in a layer of
bubble wrap as
extra protection, and any excess space in the case should
be packed with bubble
wrap or a similar material to buffer any movement
of the cans during transit.
Before opening each can inspect it for damage.
NOTE any damage for inclusion in
your report. Each reel should fit snugly
in its can.
If the can is too big for the reel excess space should be packed
to prevent the
reel moving during transit. When unpacking, note that the
can is the right size
for the reel. If not, make a note to include in your report.
For each reel in a print, before
untaping the leader, carry out the following checks:
1: Ensure you have the right print
by checking the film title is written on the leader.
2: Ensure all reels are included
and in the right order. If you were expecting
a 150 minute film but you received
only two cans, you definitely have a
problem. Check the cans and the leaders on
each reel to work out which
reel is missing. Even when the right number of cans
arrives don’t rely on
what is written on their labels. Check that each
individual reel number
and its sequential position e.g. ‘Reel 1 of 3’ or
‘Reel 1/3’ are written
on the leader.
3: If you are expecting to screen
the print in Cinemascope check that ‘scope’
is written on the leader. If it
is not, inspect the film with a loupe or large
magnifying glass to find out
whether you have a scope print. The images
on a scope film are compressed
sideways by the camera lens, so they look
unnaturally tall and thin. If the film
images appear to be normal you won’t
be needing the anamorphic lens.
If you are unable to identify a reel
after inspecting the leader:
Single reel print:Inspect the first section of image
using a loupe or large
magnifying glass. It may be easier to thread and project
the reel from the
until you can identify it. If you do this, don’t try
to save time by reversing the
projector to rewind afterwards. Unthread the film
and rewind it on the bench.
Never reverse a projector with film threaded in the path.
Individual reels in a multi reel
print:Use a loupe or large magnifying
check the print’s other reels to make sure you have a complete print
they fit together in sequence. You may need to do this on either the
or the rewind bench
After you have identified the reel,
correct any wrong information on the leader
or splice a new leader, preferably
green, to the beginning of the film and write
all essential information on it.
After screening, correct any wrong information
on the tail, or splice a new red
tail to the end of the film and write all necessary
details on it.
NOTE any problems for inclusion in your
report. If all this sounds complicated,
don’t be alarmed. In practice, most
reels are easily identified very quickly.
When you take a reel out of its can,
hold it vertically and look at one side, then the other.
Take your time. Note
any irregularities in the wind, such as perforation repairs and splices,
could affect smooth projection.If you need to examine the film more
closely, take it to
the rewind bench and wind on slowly for a few metres of
image, stopping as necessary
and examining the film with a loupe or large
magnifying glass to get a good idea of its
condition. Examine as much of the
print as you need to form an opinion. If you are still
unsure, thread the print
on to a projector and run it through until you are satisfied you
know what to
expect during a screening.
If necessary, strip the tape off bad
and resplice (see Section 7 - On
the Bench, below). Film is precious, so do not cut
out frames unless they
are irretrievably damaged. Bad splices show up as wrinkled,
aligned and overlapping. They can all cause problems when they
get to the gate.
Note any damage or problem areas and any repairs carried out for
the Film Ready
Ensure the film is wound on correctly,
head out, ready for projecting. The start of
each reel has a plastic leader that
should be green. If the leader is red it is probably
the end of the reel, which
you can quickly verify by checking if the word ‘tail’ or ‘end’
on it. If the tail is out, rewind the film before doing anything else. To make
sure the film is correctly
wound, hold the reel vertically in your left hand, so that
when the leader is
untaped it comes off the top of the reel to the right (clockwise).
perforations should be on the edge of the film closest to you (the near edge).
If the perforations are on the far edge
of the leader it means either the tail is out,
regardless of the leader’s
colour and markings, or that the print has been wound
on to the reel inside out.
In either case, untape the leader, inspect the print to find
out what needs to
be done, then fix the problem on the rewind bench
(see Section 4 - Troubleshooting: Preparation, Getting the Film Ready,
Don’t even think about loading an
incorrectly wound reel on the
projector. In the past it wasn’t unknown for
projectionists to thread an inside
out film by twisting it through 180 degrees
so that the perforations were on the
correct side as they entered the film path.
This practice can seriously damage
old film, not to mention your reputation.
2: Setting Up
Setting up procedures are common to all
projection systems. Each one needs
a screen, which has to be positioned at the
right distance from the projector.
They all need power, they all have reel arms
that fold or dismantle, they all
need at least one spare reel and they are all
connected to at least one speaker.
When you project a 16 mm film the width
of the image on screen will be
1.33 times its height. This relationship between
height and width (1: 1.33
in the case of 16 mm film) is called the ‘aspect
ratio’. The image should fill
the available white space on screen. To achieve
this result you need to place
your projector at the right distance from the
screen, which can best be done
by experimenting, using a short film to test for
frame, focus and volume level,
before the audience arrives. If you don’t have
a test film, start the motor, turn
on the lamp and move the projector or the
screen or both until the projector’s
light fills the available white area on
screen. Adjust focus until the edges are sharp.
Repeat the process until the
sharply focused light slightly overlaps all four edges
of the white screen
space. The distance between the lens and the
‘the throw’, is determined by the size of the screen and the
focal length of the lens.
The following table shows the relationship between
various focal lengths, throw
and screen sizes.
TABLE 1. LENSES, SCREEN SIZES AND THROW
(Distance in metres)
If you are using a zoom lens, setting
the throw is a much simpler process. You can position
the projector at a wide
range of distances from the screen and still fill the screen with a
image. When you set up the screen make sure it
is clean and in good condition.
Try to avoid vertical seams that make
distracting lines down the middle of faces on screen.
A badly wrinkled screen is
not a good look. Brush off any cobwebs, wipe with a clean dry
cloth to remove
dust and if possible, remove mysterious spots. It’s nice to have a screen
the highest industry standards.
But if you can’t afford that level of quality,
just about anything with a flat, white,
non-reflective surface will do the job.
Everything from bed sheets to painted walls
(ceiling paint is highly
recommended) can be used, with varying levels of success.
Set the screen at 90 degrees, vertically
and horizontally, to the lens. If the screen
is not square to the lens, it will
be impossible to get sharp focus on more than one
section of the screen.
The screen should be surrounded by a
solid area of black which serves to
make the screen image appear brighter while
creating a sharp border around it.
Depending on the type of screen you use, the
mask can be fabric, painted ply
wood or just paint. Regardless, it must be
exactly the right size, that is, slightly
smaller than the full projected image.
In most rooms projectors have to be
elevated so the light beam isn’t interrupted
between the projector and the
screen. Special projector stands are available for
this purpose, but they are
generally not very high. So if you need to allow for
people walking under the
beam you will probably have to build one to suit your
circumstances, or make a
suitable platform. Whatever you use, make sure it is
enough to carry the weight of the projector/s easily and that it doesn’t
wobble around. It’s also a good idea to round off any sharp or jagged corners.
It doesn’t matter when you connect
power to the projector, provided electricity
is available when you want to start
the show. A recommended practice is to plug
in and turn on the power only after
everything else is set up and checked. Try to
avoid using extension leads. If
there is no alternative, make sure your extension
lead is in good condition, the
connection points are clean and there are no
suspicious black smudges or melted
plastic anywhere. Never use two or more
leads plugged into each other.
intend screening at different venues such as halls, it is essential to have a
preferably 15 amp, long enough to go from the nearest wall socket, which
always at the screen end of the hall, to the projector at the other
end. It is handy
to have two or three shorter leads as well, for the odd
occasions when the wall
socket is closer, so you do not have a lot of excess
lead lying around on the floor,
creating an accident waiting to happen. If you are about to plug in a projector
you’ve never seen before, and no one can tell you anything about it, check
is set to take AC power at between 230 – 250 volts and at 50 cycles.
usually inscribed on a plate somewhere, or there is a switchable indicator
can be set at various voltages. American projectors were generally
to run on DC power at 110 volts and have to be converted to
run on AC. If they
haven’t been converted, they need a separate transformer.
With most projectors, polarity doesn’t
matter. If your rare projector is polarity
sensitive, test both the wall socket and your extension lead before using them.
Small plug-in devices are readily
obtainable for this purpose. If the wall socket
polarity is incorrect you will
have to use a different projector. If your extension
lead is wrongly wired have
a competent technician rewire it correctly. Don’t
use it for any purpose until
the polarity is corrected. If you intend using a power
follow the manufacturer’s instructions religiously. And you will need
long, heavy duty extension lead, otherwise your audience will have
hearing anything except the generator.
Getting the projector ready for a
screening varies from make to make and model
to model, but all projectors have a
number of things in common.
The important points are:
1. Make sure your projector is
If your projector hasn’t been
cleaned since the last screening, or you aren’t sure
about its condition,
clean it thoroughly, paying special attention to the gate and
film path, before
bringing film anywhere near it. Film is easily scratched by
particles of dust
and grit that accumulate in the gate, on sprockets and along
the film path. Film
also builds up static electricity, which attracts dirt.
Take extra time with the gate,
where the film passes down a vertical channel
where it is held in place by
spring loaded side guides and metal plates.
If grit is allowed to accumulate in
this area it can destroy a print in a single
screening. It has happened, so be
Clean the vertical channel, the
pressure plate, side guides and the sprockets with
a toothbrush. Hard deposits
should not be allowed to build up. To prevent this,
run a small plastic scraper,
toothpick, match or similar small wooden object
along the channel, in the
corners and anywhere else you think would benefit
from the attention. Take your
NOTE: Never use metal to clean your
projector. Screwdrivers, knives and chisels
can scratch metal surfaces. While
they may be invisible to the naked eye, these
scratches can cause catastrophic
damage to film. And if you damage your gate,
finding a replacement could be a
TIP: Good quality cotton buds and
isopropyl alcohol (IA) are a good cleaning combination. While the gate is open,
don’t forget to run a cotton bud dipped in
IA around the lamp aperture to keep
the image edges sharp. Before closing the gate, check with your loupe to make
sure you haven’t left any tiny fibres behind.
The sound drum and all rollers
should be cleaned and wiped with IA. Don’t be
afraid to use cotton buds dipped
in IA anywhere along the film path. Cotton buds
can get into all sorts of tight
spots and you’ll be surprised at the amount of dirt
they pick up. Never use a
cotton bud more than once. Finish the job with a quick
all over, including nooks and crannies that tend to be overlooked.
Cleaning lenses is another thing
entirely. Lens coatings are very easily scratched.
Get rid of loose dust with a
puffer and soft lens brush. Don’t clean the main lens
unless you absolutely
have to, and then use only proper lens cleaning tissue
or cloth. If all else
fails, use a clean soft cloth with a good quality window
cleaning fluid. Don’t
touch your lens with a dry cloth or ordinary household
tissues. Cleaning the
exciter lamp and photoelectric cell lenses can be difficult,
depending on their
locations. If you can, just blow any dust off the lens.
You may have to use a
cotton bud dipped in lens cleaner to get into a really
tight spot. Don’t use a
dry cotton bud. Most importantly, don’t be tempted
to dismantle any exciter
lamp housings unless you know how to reset them|
precisely. Some of them are very
tricky to get right.
Keeping your projector clean has to
be a top priority. Always store your
projector with the manufacturer’s soft
cover in place. If the original cover
has passed on to better things, make a
replacement using an old sheet or
drape a towel over the projector as a
2. Set up the reel arms.Set up the reel arms and make sure
they are secure
so they will not collapse when loaded with full reels.
3. Connect an external speaker to
A single speaker should be
positioned off the floor as close as possible to the
centre of the screen. Make
sure the connecting cable is well away from aisles
and other places where people
can trip over it. If you can’t avoid laying it on
the floor, either gaffer
tape it down or cover it with carpet. With multiple
speakers you will probably
be using a separate amplifier, and setting up for
the best sound will be a
matter of experimentation.
4. If you are screening a
cinemascope print, make sure the anamorphic lens
is fitted on its bracket in
front of the fixed lens, firmly in position.
5. Locate the nearest wall power
socket and lay out the power cable ready
to plug in. Make sure it is taped down
or covered by carpet.
6. Many projectors have a switch
that has two settings for lamp brightness.
Set the switch to low. Under most
circumstances the lower brightness will
not be noticed, but your lamp will last
3: Threading the Projector
Allowing for physical differences
between projectors, the following procedures apply
universally. Where there are
differences, refer to your user handbook in Part
Do not be afraid to fiddle around. But
don’t loosen any nuts, change any settings or
remove any screws until you know
what they do. Follow the general principles outlined
in this manual, use old
film that you keep for testing, and, if you can find someone who
these things, ask questions. More detailed information on particular
is contained in Part 4.
All threading should be done manually.
Manual threading familiarizes the projectionist
with the machine; it keeps the
projectionist aware of the need for a clean projector,
and is a virtual
guarantee that the projector will be cleaned properly and regularly.
threading is simple and reliable and takes only marginally longer than automatic
or semi automatic methods which have more to go wrong with them; and manual
threading is much less likely to damage precious film. Finally, it’s much
achieve seamless reel changeovers when you can set your cues manually,
because you can get them exactly right every time. (See also Section 5 below,
1. Load the reels.
Load an empty reel on the take up arm.
In most cases the take up arm is located
to your left (the rear of the
projector) as you look at the projector from the
operating side. (If you are
having difficulty working out which arm does what
(refer to Chapter 4, Troubleshooting
– Getting Started). Check the empty
reel is the same capacity or larger
than the full reel you intend screening, and
that it is in good condition. If
appropriate, close the keeper that prevents the
reel slipping off the spindle.
NOTE: Be wary of 2000 ft reels,
which look the same as 2200 ft reels because
they have the same external
diameter. You can tell the difference between the
two by comparing their core
diameters. The 2200 ft reel has a much smaller
core. To make sure, check the
footage numbers that are embossed on the reels.
After identifying the print, and making
sure you have the right reel in the right
order, untape its leader. Load the full reel on to the feed arm so
the film comes
off the top of the reel to the right (clockwise). If appropriate,
close the spindle
keeper. Hold the
end of the leader in your left hand and unroll a metre or so
of film by rotating
the feed reel clockwise with your right. Be careful not to
let any film fall on
Before you go any further, check the
perforations are on the near side of the film.
If they are not you still have
some work to do on the rewind bench before you
can start threading. (See Getting
the Film Ready, above.)
If you have a projector that only
auto loads, or is too difficult to load manually,
read no further. Skip to the
section below (Slot loading and Automatic
that applies to your projector.
Insert the tip of the leader from the
left into the slot in the core of the take up
reel. Hold the leader in place
with a finger and slowly rotate the take up reel
clockwise until the leader is
securely held and any slack film is taken up.
Make sure the take up reel is not
buckled or crimped by turning it for a
few revolutions and watching to see if
the leader catches anywhere.
If you have any doubts, replace the suspect reel
more leader from the feed reel
and take it up until you can see your
preferred starting point (eg the number
‘4’ or your own special cue
mark) on the leader. If there is no numbered
leader, measure off 24
frames of leader for every second of countdown you want
You can cut and keep a strip of light ply or vinyl and keep it handy
for this purpose.
Make sure the projector motor switch is
set at ‘Off’ and that when the motor
is switched on the projector will run
forwards. On most projectors the controls
are clearly marked.2. Threading starts at the lamp
NOTE: Setting the leader with the
number 8 over the aperture is traditional
(‘8 in the gate’) in commercial
cinema, where cue dots signal reel changes.
Since the adoption of single reel
systems, cue dots are now rarely used.
For 16 mm screenings, where seamless
changeovers are highly desirable but
not critical, a shorter countdown is
adequate. If you want to execute changeovers
you will need some sort of system
(see Changeovers below). You can’t always
rely on numbers or cue dots,
because many 16 mm films are missing so many
frames they have lost all practical
value. It is better to have a method you can
easily adopt and rely on for all
You can set your standard countdown
by having a strip of material, such as
light ply, cut to the length you want
your countdown leader to be. For each
second of countdown allow 24 frames. For
example, if you want a countdown
of three seconds (72 frames) make your
countdown marker that length. It
only takes a couple of minutes to do the job.
Before threading simply lay
your marker along the leader with one end on the
film’s first image frame
and the other along the leader. This end marks the
point at which the leader
is set in front of the aperture during threading.
Hold the film at the cue point and draw
film down off both reels until it touches
the bench or projector stand. You now
have enough slack to start threading.
Open the gate by swinging open the lens
bracket. Some lenses have latches
that must be released before they will swing
open. Open the shoes on the feed
and take up sprockets. Open any pressure
NOTE: The feed sprocket is likely
to be the one closest to the top of the gate.
To find out, use the inching wheel
to run the projector forwards. While this is
happening, note the rotational
direction of the sprockets. The sprocket that is
turning towards the top of the
gate is the feed sprocket.
Hold the leader loosely in the gate so
that the cue point sits in front of the lamp
aperture. Working from the gate
towards the feed reel, set the top loop, position
the leader in the feed
sprocket with the teeth sitting in the perforations and close
the sprocket shoe.
Test the leader’s setting in the sprocket by gently tugging the
and then right, or vice versa. If it is set properly you will feel the
move slightly then stop when it encounters the sprocket teeth.
If there is no
slack the sprocket teeth may be pressing against the film,
rather than sitting
in the perforations. Release the shoe and draw the film
one way or the other
until you feel it click into place.
If the film is set in the sprocket correctly, but you can’t feel any slack,
the shoe clearance may need to be reset. Check the recommended clearance
5), and if you can, adjust it. If a technical reference is unavailable,
general rule of thumb for shoe clearances is two film thicknesses.
With your projector it may be easier to begin threading with the feed
before setting the top loop and then positioning the film in the gate,
cue point in front of the lamp aperture. You’ll soon work it out.
way you do it, this part of threading is the key to getting the
rest of it
Most projectors have some sort of guide
printed or embossed on them
to indicate the loop sizes. If your projector
doesn’t provide guides,
follow these general principles.
The top loop can be almost any size,
because its only function is to
provide enough slack film for the claw to pull
down without retarding
the constant forward progress of the film. A rough guide
is to set the top
loop so the film enters the gate vertically, without any curve
on it at point
of entry. If the top loop is too small the film will rub on the
top of the gate.
If it is too big it will flap and flutter, adding to the
general noise level and
probably not doing the film much good.
Make sure the leader is sitting
correctly in the gate before closing it.
Test the setting by gently sliding the
leader up and down a few millimeters.
The leader should slide freely unless it
engages the claw. If the claw is
exposed it will catch the perforations and stop
further movement. When
you close the gate, make sure you hear and feel it
locking into position.
TIP: After you have set the film in
the gate, check if there are any splices
or perforation repairs anywhere between
the top loop and the feed reel.
It is a idea to set them forward of the top
loop, to reduce the possibility
of problems at startup.
The bottom loop must be set more
precisely than the top loop. Its size
is important in synchronizing image and
sound, as the exciter lamp must
strike the soundtrack exactly 26 frames ahead of
the lamp aperture,
give or take three frames. If the bottom loop is too large
will be out of sync, which is very distracting during dialogue scenes.
If it is too small, the projector will protest loudly in the form of
Most projectors have automatic loop restorers that will make the
TIP: If your projector doesn’t
have an automatic loop restorer, or if it
isn’t working, you might be able to
restore the bottom loop by flicking
the film down with a pencil. Some
projectionists insist you can use a
finger for the purpose. You can pick them by
their short index fingers.
After setting the bottom loop, thread
the leader under any pinch rollers
and over the sound drum. Ensure the pinch
rollers are closed. They
ensure the film travels over the sound drum at a
From here it is on to the take up
sprocket, which will have a spring loaded
shoe, like the feed sprocket. Again,
test the film is correctly located in the
sprocket by moving it slightly one way
then the other. Then make sure the
film passes under the tension (or snubber)
roller that absorbs sudden jerks
from the take up reel, especially at startup,
before it finishes up on the take
up reel. Check the film is lying inside all
guides, rollers and sprockets.
Your user handbook will have a threading chart
you can check your work
against. After a bit of practice you will develop a feel
for how the leader
should lie in the gate and sprockets, and for the correct
size of the loops.
Test your threading by rotating the
inching wheel forwards. If all is well, the
sprockets will turn, the film will
advance smoothly and the take up reel will
rotate clockwise. If the film
doesn’t move immediately, don’t worry; just keep
rotating the inching wheel
until things start moving as they should. If they aren’t
moving after a few
seconds, you might have a problem. Check the threading.
Test again. If it
doesn’t work this time, open everything up and thread again
from the beginning
(See also Chapter 4 - Troubleshooting, Threading).
In slot loaders the film is slipped into
a slot that runs around the side of the
machine. All you have to do then is turn
the machine on, after which mysterious
things happen, the film is automatically
positioned where it is supposed to be
in the film path and you are ready to
start your show. In the heyday of 16mm
film slot loaders were very popular. They
are easy to use and when they work
well they make life very easy for
projectionists. But when things go wrong
slot loaders can be the stuff
nightmares are made of. If the slot loading mechanism
decides not to participate
and you have to thread manually it can be a real test
of your ingenuity and
patience. Some slot loaders also have the undesirable
habit of starting the
motor and lamp simultaneously.
In fully automatic threading projectors
retracting guides are placed at strategic
points along the film path and a
special take up reel is fitted on the take up arm.
After the mechanism is set
the motor is started, the film is fed in and directed
by the guides along the
film path until it is picked up and loaded by the special
take up reel. The
mechanism automatically releases when threading is completed.
The main problem
with fully automatic threading is the special reel, which has
to be retrieved
for re-use after every screening. These machines can be threaded
the special take up reel by setting the guides, turning the motor on and
the film into the start of the film path. After sufficient leader has emerged
the other end of the film path the motor is turned off and a tug on the film or
the tension roller retracts the guides. The leader is then attached normally to
an ordinary take up reel. When it works, automatic threading is
But, as with slot loading there is a lot to go wrong and it
doesn’t save much time
or add anything to the challenges or pleasure of projecting. When it goes off the
rails it can damage film, especially where the
mechanism is concealed and the
projectionist cannot see what is happening in
time to shut down quickly.
When threading automatically the
following procedures are mandatory:
1. Trim the leader. All projectors
with automatic threading function have
trimmers built into them.
2. Activate the threading mechanism
that sets the guides in position. This is
generally done by pressing a lever or
button that is clearly marked. After it
is activated, the mechanism locks in
place until it is released. If you forget
to set the guides, and if your
projector doesn’t make provision for your
forgetfulness, the film can be
damaged because it has nowhere to go after
it enters the projector. At the very
least it will be creased, which won’t
improve its chances of loading
automatically at the next attempt.
3. When the guides are set in place
switch the motor on. Insert the end of the
leader at the start of the film path
until it is drawn into the machine. If all is well,
the film will be guided
along the film path and emerge ready to load on the take
up reel. Allow a couple
of metres to emerge before switching off the motor.
4. Tug on the film or tension
roller to release the automatic threading
mechanism. This will cause the guides
to retract away from the film path.
If you forget to retract the guides they
will interfere with the passage of
the film during screening.
If the film does not automatically
thread properly, stop the projector
immediately. With some projectors it is easy
to release the guides,
open whatever needs to be opened and retrieve the leader.
then search for and fix the problem.
Possible causes include:
incorrectly trimmed leader; adhesive on the leader;
badly damaged leader; the
guides have not been properly set; the film path is
obstructed by accumulated
dirt and the gate is not properly closed. This list is
not exhaustive. Theoretically, any automatic threading
problem can be fixed,
after which you can start all over again. However, by the
time you finish you
could have threaded the projector manually and be well into
On some projectors manual threading is made unnecessarily
difficult by the
machine design, which requires panels or other parts to be
you can access the film path.
4: Final Preparation Before Screening
Plug into the wall socket and
switch power on. Switch on power at the
projector. Most projectors have a pilot
lamp that signals when power is
available to the projector.
Test the exciter lamp by switching
the sound on but keeping the volume level down.
If the exciter lamp doesn’t
light, turn the power off and replace the lamp. Test again.
When you switch on
the exciter lamp there will probably be a short, sharp ‘bip’
speaker. You can test the system further by raising the volume until you
hum. For startup, set the projector
treble control at about three quarters,
and the bass at about one quarter. You
will monitor these levels during the screening.
everything at least once
Power on; reels secure, keepers
closed, threading and loops correct, exciter lamp lit;
Now check the projector is ready by
rotating the inching wheel.
Everything should move together. Sprockets should
rotate, the film should move
forward and the take up reel should start taking up
NOTE the film is engaged on the sprockets, that the top and bottom loops
are forming and reforming and that the film is confined by any guides.
film is not moving, or if it slips out of the film path, something is wrong.
the problem then test again, using the inching wheel.
NOTE: A lockout prevents power
going to the projector lamp unless the motor
is running. So there is no way of
knowing if the projector lamp is working or not
until your screening has
commenced. You can get around this, at least partly,
by delaying the house
lights fade to blackout until a few seconds after you have
started screening. If
the lamp blows soon after startup you will be able to
stop the projector and
replace it without causing serious interruption to
At startup the following steps occur in
sequence very quickly
1. Turn on the motor. If your
projector is fitted with a clutch, engage it after you
turn the motor on. The
film is now running.
2. Countdown according to your
3. At ‘zero’ turn on the lamp.
There is now picture on screen.
4. Turn up the volume to a level
you know will be adequate until you fine tune it.
5. Focus. If there are titles or
captions on screen, it is easy to obtain good focus
quickly. If not, concentrate
on getting the centre of the screen image in focus.
The next three steps follow immediately.
6. Check that the screen image is
centred. If the image is too low or high, adjust
its position using the tilting
device at the front of the projector. If the image is off
centre, gently lift
the front or rear of the projector and move it sideways until the
centre of the
image is in the centre of the screen. You may have to do this in
increments until the image is right.
7. Check that the image does not
contain any frame lines. Adjust as necessary
using the framing knob or lever
(check your handbook, or see Part 4).
8. Go to the rear of the audience
and monitor the clarity and volume of the
sound. Listen carefully to a few lines
of dialogue and adjust the volume, treble
and bass controls until you are
satisfied. It may take several adjustments.
TIP: Mark the volume setting on a
piece of masking tape stuck next to the
volume control knob so you can return to
it easily if needed.
The following procedures continue
throughout the screening:
9. Continue to monitor focus, frame
10. Monitor the projector and reels
from time to time. Check they are
winding correctly and not grabbing the film.
Especially check the take up
reel for even wind.
During the screening, be prepared for sudden events. For
a. Loud chatter can indicate the
projector is having trouble maintaining the
loops. Be ready to shut down and
reset the loops. You may have to quickly
unthread and inspect the print for
damage eg perforation damage or old
repairs that continue into the feed reel.
Before you rethread you will have
to decide whether to skip some footage and
lose continuity or risk
b. When a drive belt breaks on a
belt driven projector, the film will stop
moving but the lamp will keep burning
at high temperature, very close to
the film. Some loss of film is inevitable,
but you can limit the damage to
a single frame if you are alert and shut down
c. When a lamp or exciter lamp
blows you lose picture or sound.
Fortunately neither happens very often, and
when it does it is mostly
at startup. In either event, shut down and replace the
won’t delay proceedings for more than a minute or so. Never
any part of a replacement lamp with your fingers.
Always use a cotton glove or a
One of the more interesting challenges
attached to being a projectionist is running a film
on two projectors and
switching from one reel to the next so seamlessly the audience
the changeover. This was standard practice in commercial
the introduction of systems that run a large single spool or
platter through one projector.
Some cinemas still run two projector systems, but
they are an endangered species.
The traditional key to seamless
changeovers are cue dots, which are small circles in
the upper right corner of
the screen image. Each dot is printed on four consecutive frames
(a total of one
sixth of a second) so if you blink and miss the first cue dot it’s all
after that. When the first cue dot appears on the screen, the
projectionist knows he
has eight seconds until the next cue dot appears. When
the second dot appears the
changeover is executed. Achieving smooth changeovers takes
practice. You have to
know your equipment well and you need to become so
familiar with the steps involved
you can perform them quickly without thinking. For changeovers to work smoothly
projectors have to be matched beforehand. It is best to do this using a small
of test film you keep especially for the purpose, so you are familiar with
on screen and its volume level. Run the test reel on both
projectors until you are satisfied
with your set up.
Briefly, the cue dot changeover
1. While reel 1 is running on
projector 1 thread reel 2 on projector 2.
Make sure your leader is set in the
gate at 8 seconds (Number ‘8’,
or 192 frames) from the first image frame.
Switch on the exciter lamp
on projector 2, but keep the volume level very low.
(To switch sound from one projector to the other you will need a
allows you to switch sound from two sources into a single
line. These items are
readily available at specialist audio stores.)
2. When the first cue dot appears
start counting and simultaneously start the
motor of projector 2. This starts
reel 2 running.
3. When you reach the count of
‘7’ the second cue dot will appear or be very
close and the first image
frame on reel 2 will be about one second away from
passing in front of the lamp
aperture. The instant the second dot appears
several things have to happen in
Without pausing, check focus and
frame, and make necessary adjustments.
a. Switch on the lamp in projector
2. This gets the new picture on
screen. At the same moment switch off the lamp
in projector 1.
This takes out the old picture. The changeover will often be
by a fade to black that is edited into the print to coincide with the
of the reel.
Switch sound from projector 1 to projector 2.
Raise the volume to required level.
down projector 1.
Then go to the back of the audience and
check the sound and volume level.
Make necessary adjustments.
With practice you can perform the first
four of these functions (a, b, c and d)
within 2 seconds and have time left
over. The tail of reel 1 should be still on its
feed reel. When you are happy that everything is
running normally you can
unthread the tail of reel 1, wind it on, unload the
reel, tape it down and replace
the reel in its can, ready to be rewound or
returned. However, in the real world
. . .
In practice the value of cue dots on 16
mm film is at best questionable,
as many films and leaders have been cut and
spliced so often they are completely unreliable. If you really want to use cue
dots you will have to run each reel
through on the rewind bench to check they
are where they are supposed to be.
If they are not, you will need to splice on
your own leaders or use an alternative
NOTE: In the past, projectionists
sometimes scratched their own cue dots in
the emulsion. On a list of things not
to do, this is right at the top, just under
never reversing the projector.
It is easy to devise a system that
doesn’t rely on cue dots at all. It’s not as
precise, and it takes a bit of
time to set up, but it works. Wind reel 1
through on the rewind bench until you
get to its final scene. Measure back
a few seconds and examine the image until
you spot a point you will
recognize when it comes up on screen.
Also measure the
seconds (say, 6) between your cue and the end of
the reel. Make a note of your
visual cue and its timing. Do this for all
reels except the last reel. For the purpose of the exercise,
projector 1 on the left and projector 2 on the right.
When you are
screening the film and reel 1 is running, load projector 2
and thread it so that
5 seconds (120 frames), which is one second shorter
than your cue, separate the
first image from the lamp aperture. Five seconds
is your countdown. (Allow one
second in which to see your cue and to act
on it.. If your cue is at 8 seconds,
your countdown is 7 seconds, and so
on.) Turn on the exciter lamp and turn the
volume up to the satisfactory
starting level that you established during your
The changeover procedure now is:
1. When your cue appears on
projector 1 start counting and simultaneously
start the motor on projector.
Place your right hand on the lamp control and keep it there. Place your left
hand on the lamp control of projector 1.2. Keep counting. On ‘5’ turn
lamp in projector 2 and turn off the lamp in projector 1.
3. With your right hand switch
sound from projector 1 to projector 2.
4. With your left hand switch off
the motor in projector 1. (Running the motor
and the attached cooling fan for a
few seconds after the lamp is switched off
helps avoid sudden overheating in the
lamp, which in turn helps increase lamp
life. With some practice you will be
able to delay turning off the lamp until
after you have adjusted focus, frame
When you have completed these four steps
the picture will be on screen and
sound will be coming out of the speakers. The
image and sound may not be
perfect but you can fix them very quickly. Just run
through the same steps you
followed after startup. Without any delay:
5. Check focus first, then frame
and volume, and adjust as necessary.
While this method has little of the
romance attached to the traditional cue dot
system it is uncomplicated and
actually works. Like all methods, it needs to
be practiced. Some projectionists
use mechanical blinds, slides and shutters
to shift the image between projectors
while they concentrate on switching
the sound. These devices certainly make the
job easier, but they are not
absolutely necessary. A refinement in all changeovers is to
turn down the
volume before switching the sound, then turning it up after
this cuts out tell-tale speaker noises it is not absolutely
necessary. But it is
a nice touch and can be perfected with practice.
With older films, when 'The
End' has faded to black on screen, or after the credits
rolling, switch the lamp off immediately and bring the house lights up.
have been screening a contemporary film bring the house lights up while the
credits are still rolling, as they can take several minutes to run all the way
Wait until the end of the credits before shutting down the sound and
house music. Let the motor run for a few seconds
after switching the lamp off,
but switch it off while the tail is still on the
If you allow the tail to be pulled through the projector, the last
couple of centimeters,
which are kinked because they were tucked into the core
of the feed reel, tend
to grab the sprocket teeth, tearing the perforations. This is especially likely to
happen if the tail is old. Leaving the tail on the
reel simply means you have to
unthread and wind the tail on to the take up reel by hand, a process that takes
perhaps 20 seconds on a bad day. Some projectors
discourage this procedure
by making manually unthreading very awkward and time
consuming. In these
instances, you don’t really have any choice but to let the
tail wind all the way
through, and take your chances.
6: After The Show
Film libraries generally prefer to
rewind their prints after they are returned, so they
have to wind them only once
while inspecting them. If the print you have just screened
has to be returned,
tape down the tail and replace it in its can ready to be sent off.
If you need to rewind a film use a
rewind bench. Most projectors have a rewind
function, but there’s nothing like
doing the job by hand. It doesn’t take very long
and you can vary the speed
and tension to make sure of a good wind every time.
More importantly, if you
want to examine a print for problem spots, or fix a bad
splice, it’s a lot
easier to find the place, stop, do the job and start again using a
on a bench. A good wind produces a reel of film that
looks flat and
even, without any sagging when you hold the loaded reel
vertically. When you
run your finger over the edge surface it feels smooth. The
tension is firm but
allows slight movement. Keep experimenting until you can do
a good job
Load the feed reel on the left
spindle so the film comes off the top of the reel clockwise.
Attach the red tail
to the take up reel on the right spindle so that it winds on at the top
clockwise. The perforations will be on the far side of the film. Secure and
the nut on the take up spindle. Start the wind slowly and build up
to a moderate speed.
You can control the speed and tension by holding a cloth
pad over the centre of the
feed reel and spindle and pressing gently against it.
As the take up reel fills your winding
speed will slow down. By the time you
finish a 2200’ reel the feed reel is really whizzing
around while the take up
reel is barely moving.
Do not stop in the middle of a wind
unless you need to examine the print. If you have
to stop, gently increase
pressure on your cloth pad at the centre of the reel, not on its
use reels that are bent and kinked. Apart from making it difficult to get
winds they can damage film. New reels don’t cost much.
Each reel should be packed in its can
immediately it comes off the projector. When
all the cans are back in their
case, make sure they can’t bounce around by packing
empty spaces with bubble
wrap or a similar packing material. Before closing the
case, complete your
report and enclose it with the cans. After you have closed
and fastened the
case, secure loose tape ends with adhesive or masking tape
so they don’t flap
7: On The Bench
Film splicing used to be an arcane craft
involving overlapping leading edges,
complicated mechanical devices, emulsion
scrapers, mysterious fluids and other
things best forgotten. Today, thanks to tape, splicing is easy.
Simply make sure
your splicer is in good working order, that the blades are
sharp and the perforation
punches are clean. Check the leading edges to be
joined are cut square and in the
right place (not part way through a frame), and
that they are clean, so the tape will
stick properly. Match the sides to make
sure emulsion is joining emulsion, butt them
together on the splicer and apply
tape. Make sure there is no gap between the leading
edges. Give the tape a good
rub to flatten it completely, trim the tape using the spring
blade (which also punches perforations in the tape), then turn the film
do the other side.
After you’ve finished, inspect your work very carefully.
When you bend the film,
a good splice will curve with the film. By contrast, a
poor splice will collapse.
If there are any wrinkles or bubbles, or if the
splice overlaps, or if you just do not
like the look of it, do it again. If you need to repair an old splice,
always strip the
old tape off first and inspect the leading edges. Don’t
simply cut out a few frames
to save time. If the leading edges and their frames
are in good condition use them
for the new splice, making sure any old tape and
adhesive are removed first.
Using the wrong tape can cause real
problems. Don’t use ordinary adhesive tape
to make a splice. It is not the
right thickness, it dries out, becomes brittle and
detaches from the film within
a few months. Worse, its adhesive is unstable and
over time will spread to
adjoining layers of film on the reel, creating sticky patches
that will arrest
the film’s progress during screening, causing serious damage to
lots of consequent screening problems and inevitable loss of some
Don’t do it.
Up and Breaking Down
In commercial cinemas most prints are
delivered on cores, which have replaced
reels. Before the print can be screened
all the cores have to be combined into
one continuous length of film that will
go through a projector without stopping.
This process is called ‘making up’.
After the film’s season is finished, the print
has to be sent back to the
distributor the way it arrived. So it has to be
‘broken down’ to its
original component cores.
Unless you are equipped
with a single
reel system, it is unlikely you will ever need to make up or break
down a 16 mm
feature. However, you may need to combine several short films
on a single reel
for a special event.
1. Sort the films into the
screening order, and for the purpose of the exercise
call them #1, #2 and #3.
2. Start with #3. If it is head
out, rewind it so that the tail is out.
3. Select a reel that is large
enough to hold all three reels of film.
4. Wind #3 on to the large reel,
5. Undo the splice joining the
leader to the first image frame. Remove any
adhesive still on the film.
6. Roll the leader around a couple
of fingers and tape the end of the roll
down with masking tape. Using a felt tip
pen, write ‘#3 Head’ on the
masking tape, and put the rolled leader in its can.
7. Make sure the tail of #2 is out,
if necessary by rewinding.
8. Remove the splice between tail
and final image, roll, tape, mark and
put in its can, as above.
9. Splice the final image frame of
#2 to the first image frame of # 3.
Check the splice is satisfactory.
10. Wind #2 on to the large reel.
11. Remove the splice joining the
leader and the first image frame of #2,
roll, tape, mark and put in its can.
12. Repeat the process for #1,
leaving the leader in place.
Your made up reel is ready to roll.
NOTE: If you want to create a short
break between films, so that the
audience can have a think about one film before
going to the next,
splice in a few seconds of black.
When you are breaking down the composite
reel everything happens in
1. Put the large reel on the feed
(left) spindle of your rewind bench.
2. The first piece of film to come
off the large reel will be the tail of #3.
Wind #3 on to its original reel, tail
3. Undo the splice joining #3 and
4. Splice the #3 leader (make sure
you have the right leader) to its film.
5. Wind the leader on, tape the end
down and return the film to its can.
6. Splice the tail of #2 to its
7. Wind the film on to its original
8. Undo the splice joining #2 and
9. Splice the #2 leader to its
10. Wind the leader on, tape the
end down and return the film to its can.
11. Repeat the process for #1.
Unless you are methodical it is very
easy to get loose leaders and tails
mixed up. Always keep them rolled, taped,
marked and in their correct
cans until you need them again. And always identify
leaders and tails
before you re-attach them to their films.