Backroom girl at the cinema

By Ilona Hanne

"You learn to listen to the hum," says Suzanne Goodwin, talking about her job as a projectionist at the King's Theatre in Stratford.

Suzanne started out over 11 years ago at the theatre as a volunteer, "helping with the historic building and then becoming an usher for both movies and live shows".

Describing herself as "someone who always gives it a go", Suzanne therefore willingly gave it a go when she was asked if she wanted to train as a projectionist. Training under the late Bruce Cook, Suzanne remembers that "when I couldn't work something out he would say to me, 'think it through' and I still apply that to this day".

Suzanne works with two 35mm projectors, with the films running through the machines at 24 frames a second. She explains the purpose of the small black spot that you may have noticed on the screen while watching a film play at the theatre - it is a cue mark that appears to warn the projectionist that it is time to press the change button on the projector. This means that a projectionist is required to watch each movie playing very closely, so it is not surprising that Suzanne says she almost knew the dialogue from The Lord of the Rings off by heart after showing it 16 times.

Suzanne's love of the job has been passed on to her son Steve.

"It's what every mother wants, isn't it?" she laughs, saying that for a while they worked together, before Steve went on to Wellington where he is now working at the Reading's cinema.

"Being a projectionist is all about working behind the scenes," Suzanne comments.

There certainly is a lot of preparation before a film is ready to be shown to the public. When movies arrive at the theatre they come by courier in one thousand foot reels. Part of Suzanne's job is to then splice these reels together to make a complete film. The fact that they arrive in more than one piece actually helps avoid them being stolen, especially when it is a big name blockbuster: "Sometimes they come under different names so people don't know what it is in the box," Suzanne explains.

With the move to digital, the Stratford District Theatre Trust Board, of which Suzanne is a member, is fundraising to keep the King's Theatre operational, with a current aim of trying to raise enough money to buy a digital computer. She explains, "We need to go digital so we can play the blockbuster movies at the same time as the other major theatres in New Zealand."

Walking back down from the projectionist's room, down through the theatre, which is crammed full of memorabilia, Suzanne walks past some retired projectors."It's sad when I think that being a projectionist is becoming a dying art."

- Stratford Press

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