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Q&A: DCA projection team talks Tarantino

#DCAcinema

29 July 2019

Quentin Tarantino's new film Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood is a star-studded epic that's already earning rave reviews. A cinematic ode to 1960s-70s L.A., it tells the story of a fading actor and his stunt-double (Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt) struggling to keep their careers afloat in a fast-changing world, while looking on enviously at the seemingly charmed lives of neighbours Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski…

Fast, funny and visually gorgeous, we know this'll be a must-see for our loyal cinema fans, so to make it a really special experience, we're thrilled to bring you Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood in glorious 35mm! We ventured into the magical world of the DCA Projection Booth to chat to Ian Banks, our chief projectionist, and newest addition to the team Cieran McCusker about the joys and challenges of this much-loved film format.

Hello Ian and Cieran, we're so excited to see the new Tarantino in 35mm! What do you think is the most appealing thing about seeing a film in this format? Can you remember the first film you screened on 35mm?

IAN: To me the most appealing thing about presenting a film in 35mm format is the excuse to fire up the wonder of engineering that is a 35mm projector. They really are something to behold and the symphony of gears and sprockets whirring away is strangely soothing. In an age of built-in obsolescence there is something very satisfying about watching a machine doing it's job for 30 years or more, sometimes way more!

The machinery is complex but there is an elegant simplicity to the process, the projector lens acting just like your eye. In a sense you are seeing a reversal of how the image was originally captured, which can't fail to involve you.

Now the first film I projected took a bit of chin scratching, but I think it was Ruby in Paradise at the Steps Theatre about 25 years ago.

“The machinery is complex but there is an elegant simplicity to the process…”

CIERAN: I'm both ecstatic and very fortunate to be able to screen Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood on 35mm, such is the rarity of the opportunity these days with new releases being 99% digital.

While digital is crisp and sharp, a good 35mm print can retain such quality and greater depth of detail whilst also managing to bring something conversely soft and warm to the image. It's more pleasing to the eye. This is even more so the case when the film in question has been shot on 35mm and is being presented on a brand new print, as will be the case with our shows!

Until I officially became a projectionist in January this year, I'd had experience of doing bits and bobs wherever I could find and pester any projectionists to show me how to run 35mm and 70mm! So while I might have laced up some reels of Dunkirk here or done changeovers during 2001 there over the years, I guess it wasn't until this March at DCA here where I did my first full 35mm show - and that was the 1953 Japanese film Where Chimneys Are Seen.

As a projectionist, what are the challenges of a 35mm film run? Does the team need to do special training or prep?

IAN: In this case, not blinking! We are showing the film on spools with changeovers, proper old-school. The cue marks are on screen for about one-fifth of a second which is around the same time it takes to blink. You miss it and you flash the tail leader on screen, which would have projectionists the world over face-palming. Lots of lacing-up, constant checking, rewinding, maintaining the focus, it's all go for us and it feels like running a live event.

CIERAN: The greatest challenge of running 35mm is being constantly on the ball and concentrated and this comes through the greatest training: practice. Monitoring the focus, lacing-up correctly and accurately, keeping an eye (and ear) on the film tension and sound, the art of the changeover - these are just a few of the many things you can be shown and must think about when running 35mm but which you can only improve on by doing yourself.

As for preparation, that begins as soon as we receive word of a 35mm booking and we'll begin to do everything we can, from simply oiling and greasing the machines to cutting new aperture plates and replacing sound heads if necessary!

Any other tips or behind-the-scenes secrets you'd like to share with us?

“…see if you can spot when we changeover between projectors”

IAN: You might have already been introduced to the humble cue mark by Brad Pitt in Fight Club, so It's fitting that he's starring in this, and you'll catch a glimpse of some vintage projectors too. Cue marks are at the top-right of the screen every 18 to 20 mins, so see if you can spot when we changeover between projectors. I'm hoping you won't or I'm getting rusty !

CIERAN: If you're interested in working as a projectionist, the greatest words of advice I've learned are: don't flap, check you're picking up the right reel to lace, and always clip the bottom spool.

Wow, thanks to Ian, Cieran, and everyone working behind-the-scenes to bring us this sumptuous cinema treat in 35mm - we're confident Quentin would approve.

Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood is screening in 35mm from Wed 14 - Thu 29 August; booking opens on Tue 30 June. Enjoy (and don't blink)!

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