WILLIAMSTOWN -- Dave Blair, projectionist at Images Cinema on Spring
Street since 1985, is standing at the brink of a digital wave that is
changing the way movies are presented around the world.
Beginning next week, his job is going to be very different when the
one-screen nonprofit movie theater switches to programed digital
movies, leaving the 35 mm film projectors behind.
It is the same digital wave that has taken many movie lovers out of
the theaters and into viewing motion pictures delivered digitally
through Internet streaming to their iPads, computers and big screen
Blair acknowledges the coming wave with a good humor and healthy
"I just happen to be standing directly in the path of it," he said,
According to Sandra Thomas, executive director of Images Cinema on
Spring Street, the theater has secured enough funding to move to
digital presentation starting next week.
While the new digital format will offer movie-goers better picture
and sound, the fact is that Images had little choice if it wants to
stay in business.
With the digital system, rather than shipping movies on spools of 35
millimeter film, distributors will be sending data hard drives
containing digital versions of the movies which are downloaded into
the theater's projection system. It will allow the showing of both 2D
and 3D movies and enhanced features offered for the hearing impaired.
"This is the biggest change in film exhibition since the Talkies," Thomas
noted. "The movies will be cleaner and crisper with a better audio
experience. And today, it is already logistically harder to procure
film versions of current movies."
The technology also offers other opportunities, such as simulcasts of
live events and special documentary series, she added.
Images will be showing Life of Pi on film through Tuesday, Thomas
said. The theater will be closed Wednesday and Thursday to install
the new projector system and screen, and will reopen Friday showing
the digital version of Life of Pi.
Being able to change to digital is a significant achievement for
Images, as most nonprofit movie houses are finding it a real
challenge to procure enough funding for the changeover. Thomas said
the transition was made possible through a $16,000 grant from the
Massachusetts Cultural Council and donations from Williams College
and private donors.
"We absolutely needed this to keep the organization going," Thomas
said. "It's something we need to do to survive, but it means a
different livelihood for [Blair] and other projectionists everywhere.
So we have to be able to make the transition and move into the next
Projectionists like Blair, who until now would sit in the projection
booth during each movie showing, will now just download the feature,
program the system to show the movie at the appointed times, and go
Larger movie houses might be able to find other duties for their
projection staff, but smaller cinemas like Images have fewer options.
Blair, who is often seen helping with repair and renovation projects
at the theater, hopes that repair and maintenance might become a part
of his job description. Otherwise, he'll have more time to spend at
home or at his full time job as assistant manager at the Greenberg &
Sons hardware store in North Adams.
For Blair, his part-time projectionist job will go from three to five
days a week to a couple of hours once or twice a week.
"It's just not necessary to have someone stay in projection booth
through the whole movie," he said. "With film, we'd have to watch to
make sure the gears don't slip or the film doesn't break. Not
For movie makers and distributors, this will be a sea-change in the
amount of money it takes to manufacture and deliver a production to
With no more pricey film to purchase (the 13 billion feet of 35 mm
film sold in 2008 will plunge to 4 billion feet in 2013), and no more
bulky movie reels to ship, the savings are significant.
According to a study released by IHS, formerly known as Information
Handling Systems, by early next year, digital projectors will be used
in most theaters. It will be the first time since motion pictures
were developed in 1889 that film projected movies will be in the
minority. In 2004, film projectors were regularly used in 99 percent
of theaters. By 2015, the study predicts, film projectors will be in
regular use in only 17 percent of cinemas around the world.
And some movie distributors have notified their customers that they
will no longer be offering film versions, moving to strictly digital
formats in the coming months and years.
For movie houses, the cost of the changeover -- roughly $70,000 to
$80,000 per projector -- is slightly offset by the marginal savings
in labor costs as projectionists' hours are reduced, Thomas said.
Despite all the advantages offered by digital, Images is hanging on
to its two 1950s-era 35 mm projectors, Thomas noted, so they will
still be able to show classics or specialty productions on film.
"It's all well and good," Blair said. "Technology is going to change
everything anyways. And this digital system is supposed to present
perfection from one end of the movie to the other. We'll see how it