Motion Picture Projectionist
Motion Picture Projectionist
Education and Training: Typically high school and an apprenticeship or on-the-job training
Salary: Median—$8.32 per hour
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Motion picture projectionists operate all of the equipment in the projection booths of indoor cinemas and drive-ins. They use movie projectors, audio equipment, and machines that rewind film to provide film entertainment for the theater's customers.
Projectionists must inspect films before they are shown. To do this they place each film reel on a hand rewinding machine and look for holes, worn places, or other defects. If necessary they repair any defects found in the film.
In most cases full-length motion pictures are recorded on several reels of film so projectionists must operate two projectors at a time. When one reel of film is ending, projectionists must have the other projector and film reel ready for showing. Projectionists know when to change projectors by watching for cue marks on the movie screen. When the cue marks appear, they close the shutter of the first projector, open the shutter of the second projector, and then rewind the first reel on a rewinding machine. The first projector is then ready for threading the next reel of film. An average reel runs about twenty minutes. This process is repeated until the entire film is shown. Some projectionists are assisted by a motion picture projectionist's apprentice.
Projectionists also clean and oil the equipment, check for defective parts, and make repairs. For major repairs they are assisted by a service repair worker.
Education and Training Requirements
There are no specific education requirements for motion picture projectionists, although a few cities and states require that they be licensed. Projectionists must have good mechanical ability because the equipment they use and repair is complex. Excellent hearing, eyesight, and manual dexterity are also important.
Many projectionist jobs are unionized. To qualify as a union projectionist a candidate must serve a one- to two-year apprenticeship and pass a union examination. Apprentices must be at least eighteen years old and have a high school diploma. They learn to operate projectors and other equipment by working on the job with experienced projectionists. Some do not get paid while they are learning; others do and they may also hold other jobs in the theater.
Some projectionists learn their skills at vocational or technical schools or on the job at small, nonunion theaters; however, theaters with union contracts will not hire nonunion projectionists.
Getting the Job
In large cities projectionists who have served an apprenticeship usually find jobs through their union. Nonunion members can apply directly to local nonunion theaters. Projectionist positions are also listed in the want ads of local newspapers.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Motion picture projectionists who work in large multiscreen theaters may advance to the position of chief operator. Some projectionists become service repair workers who fix sound equipment and projectors. Occasionally an experienced projectionist becomes a theater manager.
The job outlook for motion picture projectionists is poor. Although the number of theaters is expected to grow slightly through the year 2014, increasingly sophisticated projection equipment does much of the work automatically. Most openings will occur as workers retire or change jobs.
Both indoor and drive-in theaters are usually nice places to work. Most projection rooms are comfortable, clean, well lighted, and well ventilated. Projectionists must be able to work independently and be willing to view movies over and over again.
Many motion picture projectionists work part time. Full-time projectionists work forty hours a week, including days and evenings. Their hours may be split over six days of the week instead of five. Some work in more than one theater, especially in multiscreen complexes.
Where to Go for More Information
International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories, and Canada
1430 Broadway, 20th Fl.
New York, NY 10018
Earnings and Benefits
Generally theaters in cities pay better wages than suburban or drive-in theaters. According to data from the 2004 Occupational Employment Statistics survey, motion picture projectionists earn a median salary of $8.32 per hour. Benefits for full-time workers may include paid vacations and health insurance as well as retirement plans.