A view from behind Kent theater’s locked doors

Erica Crist

In every movie theater there is a hidden room.

It’s usually located at the top of some stairs behind an unmarked door or at the top of an elevator you need a key to operate. This room has a low ceiling, and it is full of buzzing machines that send strips of film flying by. Its only occupant, the projectionist, scurries around frequently checking a clock on the wall.

The projection room in a movie theater is rarely seen, with the exception of an occasional birthday party tour. But Brad Staiger, manager and projectionist at the University Plaza Theater, said he spends most of his shift in this room threading film and starting movies.

“I like the behind-the-scenes part of it,” he said. “Being able to see the different parts is neat, and you’re the one who puts it all together so you take pride in it when everybody sees the movie.”

Staiger said his job begins when a movie arrives at the theater in five to seven pieces. Since every second of film requires 24 frames, a two-hour movie plus previews can be as long as two miles when stretched out. Therefore, films are provided to movie theaters on numerous reels that must be spliced together, Staiger said.

“Splicing tape is like Scotch tape but stronger,” he said. “There is an overlap on the top and bottom of the film, and you splice it together through a machine that punches holes in the film. Hopefully, you would never see a new reel start.”

The platter, which is located on the side of the projector, consists of large discs about five feet in diameter. Each disc is large enough to hold the length of an entire film, which is wound in a circle around the center “brain,” Staiger said.

“Before they had the big platters, they would actually switch projectors during the movie,” he said. “They would run a reel and then switch to the next projector without anyone noticing.”

The film has small holes on its edges that allow it to be held by gears called sprockets, Staiger said. After the projectionist threads the beginning of the film, an electric motor turns the sprockets that cause the film to be pulled from the platter across the room to the projector.

Inside the projector is a “tiny and bright xenon bulb,” he said. The bulb is located in front of a mirror that focuses the light and reflects it through the film, which is zipping past the projector at 24 frames per second.

The film then travels back across the room and is wound onto a receiving disc. When a movie is no longer shown at the theater, Staiger said it is taken apart, put back on separate reels and sent back to the film company.

In most theaters, there is a long line of projector after projector all in the same room, but Staiger said that is not the case at the University Plaza Theater.

“This used to be a one-screen cinema,” he said. “Then it went to two screens, then three, then six. Then a grocery store that used to be next door closed and the theater got four more.”

Now the theater has 10 screens and five separate projection rooms. Staiger said he threads and starts all the movies from 7 to 8 p.m., and then he has a break while the movies play to help customers. An hour later, he goes through this process again with the 9 p.m. films. On weekends and during holiday breaks, Staiger said he has an assistant projectionist to help.

“We try our best to start movies on time, but since we have different booths, we have to walk through everyone in the theater and a customer might stop you for help,” he said. “Five different booths makes it more challenging.”

Michael Varrati, graduate student in English, said he has been a member of the Kent State International Film Society for five years. Varrati said local theaters have made improvements since he came to Kent, but he would still like to see a wider variety of films.

“I wish they had a wider scope of films, but I understand because they have to appeal to the college demographic,” he said. “But being involved in International Film Society, I want to see foreign or independent films that don’t get a local release.”

Senior English major Patrick Rigney said he really enjoys the University Plaza Theater and usually goes to the movies once every two weeks.

“You can’t really beat Mondays,” he said. “It’s $5 for a ticket and a small popcorn.”

In addition to five-dollar Mondays, Staiger said students can save $2 on Tuesdays with a college ID.

Contact public affairs reporter Erica Crist at [email protected].