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How Do I Become a Projectionist?

A projectionist has to switch out reels about every 20 minutes during a film.
High school and college students often work as projectionists.
Local movie theaters often hire part time projectionists.
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  • Written By: Soo Owens
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2014
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As with many career paths, there are several ways to become a projectionist. A good candidate should display skills in both mechanical and digital mediums. Most formal training is found on-the-job, while other skills can be worked on independently.

Projectionists have many different duties. They use and repair several different pieces of equipment and are responsible for the condition of the film itself. They inspect the projector and other machines as well as the film prior to a showing, searching for any flaws or imperfections, and service each if necessary. They must sync the visual element of the movie with the sound element. A projectionist must maintain this as he or she switches the reels out between two separate projectors about every 20 minutes that the movie plays.

Some theaters will not have a mechanical film projector but a digital one. The projectionists that work at these theaters must familiarize themselves with the software used and troubleshoot it if the need arises. The sound and the film are combined on a form of digital media that is simply plugged into the computer and played. This requires less input from the projectionist, but the individual must still be on hand.

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While training to become a projectionist, it is important to work on and develop the ability to multitask. Projectionists must keep track of a variety of different processes that are all taking place at the same time. As they are responsible for not only the visual image but also the sound and troubleshooting of any problems that may surface, the ability to multitask is a critical skill.

Most projectionist positions have no education requirements. A background in handling audiovisual equipment tends to help. Most high schools offer courses in video production and computer science that are useful to someone who wants to become a projectionist. It is also a good idea to take any courses that offer close work and familiarization with machinery and its service.

Obtaining any position at a movie theater is a good place to start after high school. The manager and current projectionist should be notified of your desire to become a projectionist. If possible, become an apprentice projectionist, which will allow you the opportunity to become a union projectionist after one to two years. This stage is important because most projectionists are unionized, with the exception of those at small, independently owned and operated theaters.

If accepted into a union, the union will aid you in acquiring a projectionist position. It is rare for projectionists to be in high demand, though, so union aid can help substantially in finding an open position. Always emphasize all your good mechanical skills as well as good dexterity, vision, and hearing.

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