BLOG: View from the projection booth

I work in back. I see no smiles. – Vol Kowolski, Bruce Almighty (2003)

Just kidding, sometimes I see smiles through that very small port glass window at the back of the auditorium. Hi, I’m Jason, and I’m the Technical Manager, projectionist, I.T. guy/guru/grand master of all things technical. Call me what you wish, but I’m particularly partial to the last one.

If I’m doing my job properly, it’s likely you’ve never seen me unless I’ve briefly left the projection room for some coffee or to scavenge snacks to replenish my energy. You should only worry if I possess neither of these things as something has gone horribly wrong.

The projection department consists of myself as well as a team of volunteer projectionists who give their time to operate the cinema’s state-of-the-art projection equipment and ensure you get the best possible audio and visual experience.

I spend a lot of my time working behind the scenes chasing distributors for features, formatting content, building playlists and quality checking everything that goes on screen.

I hear you ask, ‘how does it all work? Isn’t it just a Blu-ray/DVD and you press play?’ Not at all! Cinemas must adhere to strict security protocols and standards in order to screen to the public. This is done using a Digital Cinema Package, or DCP for short.

DCP files are often large, varying from 2GB to 400GB depending on the content, and therefore must be transported to us either via a special high-speed hard drive or via a high-speed fibre broadband connection. We ingest these files onto our server, and they contain the feature/advert/trailer as well as varying audio tracks, subtitles and audio description (the last two are not always available).

Once these files are ingested into our system, they also require a special key to unlock them for playback which is sent to us separately. The key confirms that our equipment matches what is on file for us and then unlocks the content for playback within a specific date range. This is done to minimise piracy and ensure we only screen within the dates agreed upon.

Each screening has its own playlist with customised adverts and trailers suited and rated to the feature. Before we open for the weekend, each one of these playlists get quality checked for picture formatting, audio levels and lighting cues before it is screened to you lovely folks.

Outside of regular screenings, I also head up our Arts on Screen events and Pop-up Cinema. These events take a little more manual work than our regular screenings as they’re all screened live. Most of the time, our Arts on Screen events come to us via a satellite feed broadcast straight from the venue. At Saffron Screen, we are all about backups, so we have two independent dishes on the roof and two receivers running simultaneously so we can switch from one to the other in the event of a failure.

Pop-up Cinema always takes two technicians to run, so we have a team of technicians specially trained with our equipment. This is because we essentially build and tear down a cinema’s worth of equipment in one night. We have a kit consisting of two different sized screens, projector, amplifiers, microphones, media players and audio-visual routing equipment so we can seamlessly transition from the holding slide to trailers to feature film. All of this is a manual process, and it’s tailored to the venue we’re working with, so this can be a challenge.

Well, that’s me in less than 600 words. Everybody stay inside, sit in the dark and watch movies; it’s guilt-free and safe!

See you in the future, snack donations welcome.

Jason