I used to work with my dad in the projection booth, and so, on his behalf, I
take a little umbrage at some of the comments directed at projectionists.
The absolute hodge-podge of aspect ratios that modern screens represent
often has no relationship to the original aspect ratio of the movie as shot.
Screens are sometimes arbitrarily made to fit the front of a building,
without much regard for the ratio of width to height. Films are sometimes
projected to suit the lenses available in the booth without regard to the
best lens to use.
Projectors come with a series of "cropping (or backing) plates" that can be
slid into the gate to create a crisp frame line on the screen. (or on the
black masking around it) Often, the top and bottom of the frame so carefully
composed by the cinematographer end up being projected on the inside of
these plates, never making it out of the booth at all.
Proper presentation, something which my father took as a serious
professional responsibility, no longer seems to play much of a part in the
In some theatres, standard ratio prints are projected through the same
cropping plates as anamorphic films - they all end up on the screen the same
shape, but the edges of the anamorphic frame are misssing, or the top and
bottom of the standard ratio frame are missing. (You get the worst of both
I beleive it all started in the 1950s when Hollywood invented CinemaScope,
VistaVision, SuperScope, Cinerama, ToddAO, and a host of other formats, with
the chief objective of attracting people away from the small screen
rectangle of TV to the new and exciting shapes of the big screen. You could
end up with three different aspect ratios in the same program: standard for
the newsreel (close to 1-1); with an anamorphic for one feature (2.35-1) and
a 1.85-1 second feature. Not only did this need different backing plates, it
also needed different lenses. Obviously, projectionists can no longer make
these changes during a presentation when they are responsible for operating
not one but a muliplex of cinemas, when the program is mounted on a single
platter instead of on separate reels, and where once the projector has been
started, there is no stopping it until the end of the show. One lens and one
plate is all you get. Tabs and masking can be changed automatically prompted
by magnetic signals on the film, but so far as I know there is no way of
changing a lens or backing plate, and then refocusing automatically.
The practice of showing all films through the same plate has become so
common now that film makers sometimes count on it and leave stuff showing in
the top and bottom of the frame that they expect will end up being cropped
in the projector.
I suppose there are not many projectionists left of my dad's generation, who
would have replied; "If it's in the frame it should be on the screen - all
Chris M. Worsnop
Consultant, speaker, workshop leader, writer
media education, assessment, writing
2400 Dundas Street West Email: <[log in to unmask]>
Unit 6, Suite 107 Phone: (905) 823-0875
"Work eight hours, and sleep eight hours; but not the same eight hours."
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama.