Behind the Scenes at Greenbelt Theatre
On Saturday, after the showing of Little Miss Broadway, I had a chance to go up to the projection booth of the Greenbelt Theatre and observed the breaking down of the film into reels.
A circular iron stairway leads from the lobby level to the projection booth.
Angela Handran, Greenbelt Theatre’s manager, stands next to the theatre’s three-level platter system, with the projector behind it.
A three-level platter system can have two films loaded at the same time. The third level (currently the top level) is empty and is called the “take-up reel” to receive the film that is played on another level. Little Miss Broadway is currently loaded on the middle level and is being transferred to a reel as it has finished playing and will be returned to the distributor. Each reel can hold about 20 minutes of film, and Little Miss Broadway comes in four reels.
Hope Springs, the other film being shown at the theatre, is on the bottom level. It comes in six reels, and the film was taped together and put on a platter.
Angela Handran shows me where the film should go in the Simplex 35mm projector. Currently it is empty. Later, she will fit the Hope Springs film into the projector for the next showing.
As one reel is about full, Handran slows down the turning platters in order to locate the connection point.
When transferred to the platter, the film from the four reels was connected end to end using a special transparent tape. “Not Scotch tape,” Handran tells me. Here she takes off the tape to separate this reel of film.
Next a special section of film is connected to this reel of film, again using transparent tape, to protect the film and identify the reel.
This way, the fourth reel of Little Miss Broadway has been separated.
The theatre’s Dolby stereo sound system.
The process is then repeated for the next reel. Here Handran places an empty reel.
The film from the platter is connected to the reel.
Handran makes sure the film fits in the reel.
She then turns the power on and film transfer starts.
During transfer, Handran tells me that classic films such as Little Miss Broadway normally come in heavy metal reels. The newer ones, such as Hope Springs, now arrive in plastic reels.
Breaking the last connection
The four reels of Little Miss Broadway are ready to be returned to the distributor.
Next, Handran fits the film for Hope Springs into the projector.
It goes through the projector from top to bottom.
The film goes back to the platter stack and winds through a series of rollers.
Then it is connected to the take-up reel, which in this case is the middle level.
Handran fits the film into the projector.
She checks the film to make sure that it has gone into the rollers completely.
If the film does not go into the roller completely, the edge of the roller may scratch the film. It is now ready for the next showing.
Little Miss Broadway is a one-time show. It started at noon and finished a little more than one hour later. The next show, Hope Springs, will start at 2:45 p.m.
Handran tells me that this kind of 35mm film system is rapidly being replaced by digital projection and studios such as 20th Century Fox are considering digital-only distribution. With digital, the production, maintenance and shipping costs will be lower. Nowadays, with satellites and the internet, theaters may even show sports games and operas live. She estimates such a system may cost something like $75,000 to $125,000. She also says that many other parts of the theatre are aging and need to be updated such as electrical lines, pipe lines, bathrooms, boiler room, concession stand, and ticket booth. The Greenbelt City Council is set to discuss issues related to the Greenbelt Theatre on August 20.