The Projectionist

The film projector of the UP Film Center costing more than 2 million pesos in the 1980s

ALEX J SOCORRO WRITES : Due to the rapid advancement of technology, the film projector has virtually outlived its usefulness. No doubt, it is nearing extinction. In a year or two, perhaps, it will be relegated to the storage of oblivion.

The 35 mm film has been the standard medium ever since the motion picture gained popularity. Moviehouses were equipped with projectors that would play the movie reel for exhibition on the big screen.

The film, so-called because the images are stored on films, runs in the projector at 24 frames per second. This gives it a semblance of movement hence the term motion picture to mean moving images.

Each frame is a film, the same one used by the still camera of the olden times. It is produced by the movie camera. Later it is developed into a negative and eventually reproduced into a positive version. This positive film is the movie.


The reels of Rosario and Emir for showing in UP Film Center 

One reel has an approximate running time of 25 minutes for the length of 1,000 feet. So a full length movie of 90 minutes would be needing at least 4 reels. If a movie is shown in 100 theaters, at least 50 copies are produced (because of the sharing scheme).

The reel is not exactly light unless someone is an expert like Orly Delos Reyes. By just looking, one can surmise that setting up reel in the projector is not an easy task. Caring for the film is also a must because a mere scratch could ruin it.

Orly has been with UP Film Center for 37 years as a projectionist. “Dati dalawa kami kasi madalas ang palabas dito.” With the emergence of the DVD, the films are becoming rarer and rarer.


Veteran cinematographer Jun Dalawis at left with his long time friend Orly Delos Reyes, the UP Film Center Projectionist 

From the can, the reel is rewound to make it ride on the reel holder that will later on be loaded in the projector. Sometimes the projectionist would attach a second reel to the first one so the running time would be 50 minutes continuously.

“May patama naman,” Orly says while pointing to the marker in the last part of the first reel and in the beginning of the second reel. That “patama” is the indicator of the overlapping of the 2 reels.

“Pagkarga niyan sa projector, tuloy-tuloy lang.” Orly is so adept in handling the reel that it looked easy for an observer. Work has been easier because of the rewinder. “Dati walang motor yang rewinder, manual ang paikot kaya nakakangawit.”


The marks that indicate overlapping of reel 1 and reel 2 

The film projector is actually a rig having 2 reel holders and 2 lenses. When the first reel is consumed, the Projectionist would flick the switch so the light would shift to the second reel. He would then unwound the first reel and load the third reel in its stead.

When the Projectionist is negligent and he forgets to shift the display lens to the next reel, the movie screen would turn blank. And the Projectionist would be warned by the shouting and heckling of the audience.

But there are times that the reel is at fault. “Minsan napuputol ang film. Pag nagkaganun, medyo matatagalan kasi ikakabit pa.” Splicing is by connecting the reels with masking tape by a gadget similar to that used by film editors.

For incidents like that, it is common for the audience to be irritated. Shouts of “soli bayad” would instantly fill the air. “Dapat kasi may PA (public address),” Orly suggests so that the problem could be explained to the audience.

There are times that the volume of the movie’s sound is not uniform in all the reels. “Kaya dapat matalas din ang tenga mo,” advises Orly as he adjusts the volume of the projector’s sound system. Normally, the volume difference is only slight.

But the magnitude of the lighting is also adjusted. “Pag mahina ang ilaw ng projector, kita naman na madilim. Pag sumobra ang liwanag kahit gabi na ang eksena ay maliwanag pa rin,” Orly explains with a chuckle.

For some gripes of the Projectionist, “Noong araw walang aircon ang projection room kaya mainit.” But smoking was allowed that’s why the presence of smoke in the projection light was evident when the audience would look back at the projection room.

For a commercial theater Projectionist, it is a given not to watch the movie.” Kasi sa sound lang parang napanood mo na lalo na kung puro dialogue ang pelikula.” Besides, the movie is shown 3 or 4 times a day for 1 week or longer if the movie was a hit.

Manning the projector is no easy task. “Mahirap pag mag-isa ka lang lalo na kung sa commercial theater. Hindi talaga kaya,” Orly emphasizes that it is nearly impossible to operate the projector the whole day all by your lonesome.


The dvd projector, poised to replace the film projector 

With the DVD projector, “walang kahirap-hirap kasi pagsaksak ng dvd, hintayin mo na lang matapos.” Of course, the adjustments to the lighting and to the sound volume go with it but much simpler now.

As if talking to no one, Orly utters a wish, “Padali ng padali ang operation ng mga projector. Sana laging ganun.” With the continuing progress in the digital age, Orly’s wish will definitely come true.

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