Prometheus in 4D
July 9, 2012 7:04 AM   Subscribe

I just went to see Prometheus last nigh in 3D. Unfortunately everything was out of focus and so it was more like 4D. I talked to the manager and he told me I had two options: 1. Refund immediately 2. Free voucher at the end of the film So I am just wondering about how a modern movie theatre operates...

The movie was not yet over (maybe 30 minutes in at that point) but he never implied he would even take a look at the issue. Sure enough it never got less blurry throughout the showing (I opted for #2).

Afterwards my gf and I were speculating. Do they somehow not have projectionists anymore in multi-screen movie theatres? Is everything put on automatically?

Is there some difficulty is focusing a 3d film? So they don't bother if the film is part way?

I also noticed they didn't stand at the exits and hand everyone a voucher, just anyone who asked. So I guess they wouldn't want to stop the projection of the movie in order to fix it, to keep from giving everyone a voucher?
posted by Napierzaza to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There were apparently a large enough percentage of the people in that theater who were perfectly happy with the film the way it was, or at the very least weren't complaining about it. Hopefully someone else can come in and explain the details of focusing 3d projectors, but I think it's safe to assume that it was far more cost effective to recompense the few who complained than to futz with the settings mid-film and probably inconvenience everyone (and probably have to give vouchers to everyone).
posted by Freon at 7:16 AM on July 9, 2012

Most cineplexes have all their movies spliced together on really large platters, so if there's a misfeed on the film, there really isn't much you can do about it until the movie has run its course. There are projectionists in every movie theater (IATSE, the union that regulates projectionists, has rules about such things), but there's only so much you can do when a film is running.
posted by xingcat at 7:20 AM on July 9, 2012

I was in a projection room 7 or 8 years ago at a theater that was relatively modern but not the best of the best. They had 10 screens and all of the projectors were controlled automatically. I got the impression that no one was there to make sure that the projectors even turned on at the appropriate time, which explains the few times we've sat in a theater looking at a blank screen past the posted start time. They did have an operator up in the projection room for one specific case, I remember: when a movie was to be shown on multiple screens, someone was needed to start feeding the already projected portion of the film into the neighboring projector.
posted by msbrauer at 7:23 AM on July 9, 2012

Best answer: Professional theater projectionist here; yes, we do still exist. I currently run IMAX, but I've been a projectionist since 1984, and was involved with handling & showing film in other ways for several years even before that.

Unfortunately, many theaters think that it's a job that anyone can do, and they've often got poorly-trained or even UN-trained people in the booth. A further complication is that your average multiplex has one projectionist running several screens; the usual is one person for up to 12-14 screens, and MAYBE two people for 18-plus screens.

Since you're talking about a 3D showing, not 2D, I'm going to diagnose it was one of four problems, two of which are relatively easily fixable. First thing to remember though, is that 3D is actually two completely separate prints of the same film, shot from slightly different angles --- just as your eyes are seeing the same thing at slightly separate angles --- and run on top of each other using two separate projectors. These two complete prints of a 3D film are called, catchily enough, the Left Eye and the Right Eye.

One possibility is that they simply didn't have one or both of those separate prints in focus; this would have been EXTREMELY easy to fix, by the simple use the projector's focus knob.

The second possibility is that when they set up those two completely separate prints in the two separate projectors, they had one out of sync with the other --- the left and right eyes MUST be threaded up to exactly the same frame; the solution here would be to stop the show and re-thread.

The third possibility is harder to fix, and cannot be done mid-show: perhaps they set up the left eye on the right and the right eye on the left. Dumb, because you're dealing with prints that are clearly labeled, but possible.

The fourth possibility is that you and your GF are quite simply some of the people who don't see 3D "properly", for physical reasons having to do with your eyes --- but you know if this was the answer, if you've seen any previous 3D movies. (Personally, I HATE 3D with a passion; it gives me massive headaches.)

And finally: their reaction (basically blowing off your concerns and not having someone afterwards handing out vouchers to all) was purely and simply bad customer service, and I can't help you there!
posted by easily confused at 7:27 AM on July 9, 2012 [30 favorites]

Response by poster: @xingcat I wonder if Prometheus is even a celluloid projection though.

@easily confused. Thanks for the info, it is somehow more complex in the case of multiple projectors. I have seen 3d before so It's not that my face is incompatible with it.
posted by Napierzaza at 7:43 AM on July 9, 2012

Well, I worked in a theater for 6 years (where I learned projection), and I think that manager was being a jerk. As easily confused said, there is a focus knob. On a film projector, it's possible to knock a movie out of focus by, say, bumping the lens housing hard with your elbow. But you can readjust it. I'm assuming digital projection lenses have a focus knob--they have to, since focus depends on the "throw" (distance from lens to screen). So he probably could have fixed it. Many customers do complain when there's actually nothing wrong (we always got tons of complaints when filmmakers used color filters, for example), so he may have been jaded, but still... not cool.

Free-movie vouchers are given out pretty freely, in my experience. The theater doesn't get the ticket money anyway, and if you come again you'll possibly buy more popcorn (which they do make money for) so it's a win-win for them.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 8:14 AM on July 9, 2012

Most moviegoers these days apparently don't notice (or don't care about) projection problems or poor on-screen image. I see it even in "screening room" type theaters where the owner should know better. Most movies these days look better on my 22' Vizio than they do on the theater screens available to me. See here and here.

If you (like me) are among the lucky few that notices these issues, get a refund rather than a ticket voucher to yet another poorly-projected movie. If enough of us start doing it, maybe the theater owners will eventually pay some attention to it.
posted by Currer Belfry at 8:46 AM on July 9, 2012

This seems to be SOP for theaters today for all kinds of complaints. We complained about some rowdy patrons, and instead of actually dealing with the issue, they offered us a refund immediately or after the film.

We opted to get a refund after the film, and the manager insisted on giving us passes to see the same movie with the same chain (which had no other locations in DC). Eventually, I made enough of a stink about the "manager" misrepresenting the theater's refund policy, and threatened the dispute the charges with my credit card company that the real manager gave me (and the dozen or so other people who had gathered to make the same complaint) a full refund.

Apparently it's cheaper to process a few refunds and send people on their way than it is to actually deal with the issue. If they fixed your film during the showing, more people might haven noticed and demanded refunds themselves. In our case, the managers didn't want to evict an entire row of patrons from the theater, as they would apparently have been legally obligated to refund the tickets of the [many] rowdy patrons.
posted by schmod at 9:28 AM on July 9, 2012

Best answer: I am a projectionist too! (hi easily confused!!)

With very few exceptions, all present-day 3D films are digital (in the form of Digital Cinema Packages). On a digital projector, there's no focus knob (focus is adjusted electronically through a configuration menu that may not even be accessible to projectionists), and it might not even be possible to stop the show to troubleshoot (see the parts about the time constraints on DCP keys here). This article is about a different type of problem with 3D projectors, but many of the issues (technical and social) probably still apply to your situation. Oh, and to answer your other question — yes, not having a projectionist at all is a thing. With DCP, you can theoretically just have a technician come in once a week to ingest the new files and set up the automation — and then away it goes.

Basically — the technical side of running a movie theater has been deprofessionalized. Sometimes this is forced (there are many, many more technical constraints on digital projectors and DCPs than there are on film projectors and celluloid prints — most of them deliberate, of course, and in the name of "security" — so even if a projectionist is unusually knowledgeable, there's nothing they can do). Sometimes this is simply because it's cheaper to have the manager also get the projectors ready and the complaints are infrequent enough that it stays worth it.

If you want to avoid this kind of thing, give up on seeing new films and start going to the art house, if you're lucky enough to live near one. The one- and two-screen theaters showing older, independent, and foreign films are (with dwindling exceptions) the only ones left who are doing it old-style, in many cases because the distributors who are still shipping films on celluloid require them to (the Robert Bresson retrospective that just toured the US was screened entirely on 2000 ft. reels at the distributor's request, for example - a very traditional, hands on way of projecting a film that requires the constant attention of a projectionist, which is seen as a good thing because it helps prevent damage to the print). Problems still crop up with traditional film projection, of course — but it's much more likely that, when a problem comes up, there's someone up there who's even more frustrated than you and trying their darnedest to fix the problem.
posted by bubukaba at 9:57 AM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

(I suppose it's not exactly that running a projection booth has been deprofessionalized, since there are obviously still professionals who install and configure projectors, and technicians who come and fix the problems when they crop up, eventually — but the balance of power has shifted from the technicians and operators to the projector manufactures and the film studios. I'm sure there's a term for this kind of shifting, but I'm not thinking of it right now...)
posted by bubukaba at 10:04 AM on July 9, 2012

Former popcorn jockey / untrained projectionist here. Was there actual depth to the image, or were you seeing what looked like two (flat) images at once? It could be that the projectionist forgot to push the Real-D 3D filter in front of the lens (visible in this picture of a consumer 3D projector).
posted by EmGeeJay at 1:01 PM on July 9, 2012

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