Continuing on the theme of surprises, I had a whopper on Saturday night. The theatre is in the midst of the annual CBC Imax film festival. I enjoy it because I see new films, and because it shakes up the routine. On the other hand, I dislike it because it shakes up the routine.
The worst part is I’m not familiar with how each film starts and ends. If I start a film, and see and hear nothing when it’s supposed to start, you can understand how I might grow concerned with amazing speed. Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man is just such a film. I typically keep a close eye on the elapsed time, which serves as a count-down before the film starts, and have the lights down, sound system switched, and dowser open about a second before the count-down reaches zero. Most films start right on time so some sort of image hits the screen just as the lights fade completely. The Cirque film has two or three seconds of silent blackness before anything happens. Of course, this is plenty of time for me to start thinking I’ve made some sort of dreadful mistake. Because the film festival is just over two weeks long, I don’t have time to become familiar with any of the eight films in such a short time, especially since I work only three shifts during the festival.
The surprise I mentioned is more properly labelled a screw-up and it was completely my fault. We can have six films mounted and ready to run at any given time. Since we’re rotating through eight, periodic changes are required. We use a battery-powered lift to swap films because your average 40 minute Imax film weighs more than 100 kilograms. It’s like a forklift, but you push it rather than drive it. To make a long story shorter, I lowered a film print into the one currently being shown. The platters touched, and this caused more friction than the drive motor could overcome, yanking the film out of registration. The projector started making an odd noise … a good sign film was being chewed up at 102.9 metres per minute. By the time I stomped on the emergency stop button, twenty seconds of film was trashed.
I’m completely embarrassed it took me so long to realise what was happening but I was bombarded by stimuli which didn’t seem to make immediate sense. The most pressing was the platter on the lift starting to tip, and the last thing I ever want to be the cause of is a film dump. There was the weird sound from the projector, and I also noticed the tension arm moving, which it never does in the middle of a film. It all should’ve added up in my head, but things only completely clicked into place when I saw the image on the screen looking like there was no flicker or pull-down shutters in place. Emergency stop.
Part of me would’ve preferred to see the film break. The damage to the print would then be limited to a few metres, rather than thirty metres. But Imax film uses a polyester base, which certainly can become mangled, but is very resistant to breaking or tearing. If there was sufficient force to break the film, it’s likely the projector itself would have been damaged. Happily this was not the case. A ten minute test showed the projector weathered my screw-up with no ill effects.
My boss will certainly take heat for this as a replacement reel will have to be ordered to replace the damaged portion. I’m not sure how much of the heat will trickle down to me. It is possible I will be fired. I think it unlikely because although others have been let go for similar mistakes, it’s always been the last straw with a number of other problems leading up to the ‘big one.’ The last time I caused film damage was 1989. Even so, other than this significant aberration, they’ve been pleased with me working part-time and filling in during vacations and emergencies as far as I know. We’ll see what happens, but I’ll accept whatever they decide even if it’s the golden handshake.
The chief projectionist came in to effect temporary repairs and he was very amused at my saying the last time I had damaged film was in 1989. He was a pre-teen at the time.
The real kicker of this whole event was the film I damaged was Niagara: Miracles, Myths, and Magic. Niagara was pretty much the only film showing at the theatre I first worked at. I lost count after running it 2500 times. Even after not seeing it for almost two decades, I still cringed at the music. You could say it’s not my favourite Imax film. Having it involved in this incident doesn’t make me like it any more, despite the long absence.