Dollar Tuesdays: The Reset Button

As per most customer-centric jobs, there stands a gallery of “usual” questions we get asked over and over again at the Dollar Theater. Half price Tuesdays, without fail, increase the frequency at which us lowly box office workers have to field these mind-numbing inquiries.

“Where are your movie times listed?” Honestly, have you ever been to a theatre that didn’t post its times somewhere on the front of the building?

“How much are your dollar hot dogs?” If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

“What’s Inception about?” Worst. Question. Ever.

“Is [insert movie title here] ok for my kids to watch?” The MPAA isn’t a government agency. It’s ok-ish to trust them. If anything, they scrutinize movies too much. Why? To avoid angry calls from the same people who gripe at me for advocating that their ten-year-old see Hall Pass. That’s the film’s target market, right? I practically came out of the womb quoting Glengarry Glen Ross, so North on my moral compass is probably due South to most.

And the number one, queen mother, F dash-dash-dash most-asked question on dollar Tuesdays:

“Can you rewind the movie for me?”

Workplace edict requires I respond with a polite, “No sir/ma’am, that’s not possible,” and then stand idly by as they swear at me in front of the very kids they didn’t want going to see Adjustment Bureau because it’s PG-13 for language.

But the Internet is a marketplace of ideas. And the writing space afforded me in the blogosphere is just long enough (800 words or less, right?) for me to fully disclose why we can’t rewind the movie.

For starters, there is no rewind button. We are not a digital theater. Your ticket is one dollar. In a good round, we get maybe 400 people, and that only happens two days a week. On James Cameron’s naughty/nice list prioritizing who will get digital projectors and when, we’re just behind the Dino Theatre at the Muskogee Natural History Museum. You know, the one using CG that was cutting edge in 1983 to show meteors pelting the earth and killing pixilated blobs that are supposed to be dinosaurs. Or maybe you don’t know because nobody ever watches it.

Oh, and Muskogee has a population of 12.

Our film doesn’t come on hard drives. It comes on reels, about five or six depending on the movie’s length. Come Wednesday, these reels are carted up to our projection booths where a dazzling array of hooks, clamps, gears, sensors, and lenses, all fueled by a Xenon bulb, await their dispersal. It’s a system akin to Ideal Game’s Mouse Trap, only breaking the bulb is nowhere near as fun as triggering the cage – Xenon can do some funky things to the human condition.

I like to think that the projector system and the Hollywood studio system are one and the same. The so-called “brains,” which spin the platters holding the film, are the movie studios. Their swinging arm holds the sensor that tells the platters to spin and allows the film to play. No brains, no movie. Yes, the irony of this comparison is plain to me, but for every GI Joe 2 announcement, there’s a Dark Knight Rises news blurb to counter. So just roll with it.

The platters themselves are essentially the studios’ lots. They are where the movies are made. If a movie turns out to be a lemon, chances are some slice of a studio lot saw the turd crowning. Same goes with the platters – if there’s a problem in the projection booth, nine times out of ten the mistake will be somewhere on the platter.

When the film has been loaded lovingly atop the platter, it’s time for the projectionist, the hero of our story, to thread it. Threading is execution. It’s where the connection between gathered information (the dormant film) and displayed information (film passing over the bulb’s light) is made. Much like a director taking words from a script page and inventing what will become a picture show. It’s also execution in the sense that the director, just like the projectionist, will be professionally dead should the film fail to play.

And finally, my personal favorite, the projector head as the three-act structure of a screenplay. Act I: the film sensor. As screenplay Jesus Syd Field preaches, story hooks need to be placed early in movies to draw audiences in. This hook is usually what the trailers will focus on. Source Code: this is not his body. Unknown: they stole his life. And so on. If the hook isn’t tight, just like the film around the sensor, the cogs won’t turn and nobody will see the movie.

Act II: the sound drum. At this point inside the projector head, the film is having to overcome all sorts of twists and turns, bumps and bruises, clips and friction to continue on its journey. The middle fifty pages of a screenplay (aka, the desert) apply the same injuries to the protagonists within. It’s like totally the journey, man.

Act III is the film’s resolution. Except instead of crossing some sort of finish line, it crosses the bulb and exits the projector head. I guess that exit could somehow be the denouement, but I’m tired of running this parallel and you get the gist by now.

All that to say this: would you ask Frodo to start back over at the Shire after he reaches the Inn of the Prancing Pony because little Tommy’s karate ran long? Would you ask Indy to go back on the circus train after breaking into the Nazi castle to rescue Attila the Professor because all but one member of the opposing team quit in a Halo slayer game, and it took 20 minutes to finish?

No, I can’t rewind your gorram movie! It’s not a DVD. It’s not TiVo. It’s miles of film moving at 24 frames per second, always teetering on the brink, and it’s my neck if it doesn’t work. It’s disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.

So please, just go sit down. Movies nowadays recap what’s happened every ten minutes anyway. And maybe, if you’re feeling festive after the credits roll, thank your projectionist for guiding the movie through to you unharmed. It’ll make his or her day.


3 Comments on “Dollar Tuesdays: The Reset Button”

  1. Meg says:

    Love the three-act play analogy. Syd Field would be proud (as would J-Mad).

  2. Daniel Haymes says:

    Sweet fancy Moses this was a funny post. Keep ’em coming!

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