Sometimes I forget the 7 years I spent building film.
When I was 19 I got my first management position working for a three screen movie theater. The man that hired me was a great example of how to be a good manager. He was knowledgeable, authoritative, balanced and had a great sense of humor. His honesty and strong work ethic was admirable and I learned a lot from him. I remember one time I decided to get entirely too high on a lunch break and when I was back on shift he noticed immediately. Instead of reacting with moral outrage or firing me, he made a few jokes and then after I had time to come down and realize how I had put my position in jeopardy, he took me aside and had a conversation about what he expected of me and how once he was done expressing his disappointment he made it a point to not keep a grudge. That's when I learned that you can be a leader by being honest about your expectations and not let the tension create a long lasting problem.
That theater is also where I learned how to build film. Before digital cameras and digital projectors 35 milometer film dominated the film industry and it was a lot of fun to work with. A standard movie came on about three to six separate reels that had to be spliced together to make two very large reels. Then the two huge reels were threaded onto a huge metal platter. Also, the ads at the beginning of the movie had to be added in as well as the cues for the projector to turn off and the theater lights to go down and then back up had to be added. Then the film was threaded through a complex set of rollers, through the projector and back onto another platter from the inside out.
The reels would arrive in large metal tins containing the separate reels and trailers that would be added. Sometimes the tins would have code names so that the handlers wouldn't know what movie it was and steal it. This was always a fun part of the business because it meant that I knew something most people did not and that what I was working with was very important and expensive. After the media would arrive I would have to create the approved trailer reel. At the beginning end of a reel were many frames of black that would have to be cut off with a splicer tool and when two ends would meet I would tape them together on each side of the seam. It was important to cut exactly at the frame ends and the connect them smoothly. With 24 frames per second and about an inch per frame a two hour movie was roughly 170,000 inches or 14,400 feet (~4 miles), so it took quite a while to turn separate pieces of discrete media into one coherent presentation.
I can remember one time, when I was first starting in the projection booth, I was alone trying to build a film late at night when most of an entire reel fell to the floor. I spent hours, cursing and sweating, trying to wind up and disentangle long lines of dark film strewn this way and that across the floor. I would often stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning previewing the films that I built to make sure there weren't any errors. I watched "The Notebook", "Veggie Tales" and many other terrible movies but I also watched some of the best movies alone or with work mates after hours where we had the entire theater to ourselves.
I spent hundreds of hours working in dark booths manipulating hundreds of miles of 35 mm film and developed an expertise in an area that would soon become obsolete but I met a lot of great people, had great conversations and learned a lot in projection booths. I worked hard and learned most of what there was to know about the projection profession, when I wasn't distracted from my work by an amazing scene in the next great movie or surveying the theater from the booth window watching people eating entire dinners or engaging in public sexual acts. It was a time well spent but to no real end. Soon after I left the theater I worked at converted to all digital and building film changed to organizing files on a computer. There are still theaters that haven't converted and there will always be those who appreciate film and the older ways and I'm glad I got the experience of being a small part of the real film industry.