There’s been a lot of discussion in the past few weeks, over whether or not movie theaters are doing their job, when projecting Hollywood’s movies up on their screen. At the center of all the controversy are 3D movies, which must be projected differently from 2D movies. In particular they must be shown brighter and the truth is that a lot of theaters, trying to save money on expensive bulbs, simply aren’t doing this.

The movie industry’s starting to get worried. There’s a growing movement against 3D and there are hints scattered throughout the box office, for anyone who wants to look for them, that audiences may be getting sick of the whole 3D thing. That’s making it more critical than ever that those 3D movies are being shown correctly, if there’s any hope of 3D and its higher ticket prices sticking around for awhile.

That’s probably why last week Transformers: Dark of the Moon director Michael Bay sent a letter out to projectionists begging them to project his movie properly. That seemed like a big deal at the time, but apparently it's not. Projectionists claim letters like this are commonplace and have started speaking out on the subject through Reddit. Several of them claim that most filmmakers go a lot further, resorting to actual bribes as a way of convincing them to do their job. In particular this theater employee claims Pixar goes the extra mile in this, saying:
I was a projectionist during the release of UP and Walle, and both times PIXAR sent a letter directed at the projectionists. If I remember correctly, the letters were warm and somewhat personal, and showed a lot of pride in the directors work. I am desperately searching to find the letter from andrew stanton for Walle. Many directors plead for the projectionists to not cut up the film too badly, check the brightness on the digital houses, and turn the volume to the correct level. Pixar, unlike Michael Bay however, not only sent me a letter with each print, but also sent tshirts, hats, trading cards, and a sweet contest. For every major release, pixar's perfect projection contest sends out secret techs to the theaters, and does a drawing out of the best theaters and gives the entire booth staff a trip to pixar studios.
Backing up that claim, another post left by a different projectionist insists much the same, saying:
Every single Disney and/or Pixar movie has come with a letter, they will even send little trinkets and toys, even t-shirts. If I remember correctly, Bay sent out letters for the last two Transformers as well.
The fact that studios like Pixar are going through so much trouble to try and convince projectionists to do their job suggests that in a lot of cases, as we’ve all suspected, they probably aren’t. You can’t really blame the projectionists for this, it’s the job of the theater chains that hire them to make sure they’re going through the trouble necessary to show their movies in a way that people might actually want to see. But since theater chains don’t really seem to care, Hollywood has apparently resorted to bribery as a way to convince other people’s employees that it might be worth their time to do their job.

This has all come to a head because of 3D but it’s not just affecting 3D movies. Last week Ebert ran a long and detailed post on the way lazy projectionists aren’t swapping out 3D lenses when showing 2D movies, resulting in dim and depressing images projected up on screen for 2D audiences. The good news here is that according to this projectionist it’s only a problem with Sony 3D projectors, and if you’re seeing your movie in a theater with Christie projectors, it’ll never be an issue.

A projectionist at the Alamo Drafthouse has chimed in on the issue as well and confirms that not only is it fantastically difficult to swap out those Sony 3D lenses to show 2D movies, a lot of the time even they aren’t changing out everything. He says:
If we know we are showing 2D ONLY on a given screen, Alamo projectionists will swap out the 3D dual lens for the 2D lens. We are one of the only theaters in the country that routinely does this swap. If we are running a complex schedule with 2D and 3D on the same screen on the same day, however, we DO leave in the dual 3D lens for the 2D presentations. However, we DO remove the polarizing filters from in front of the lenses for 2D screenings. The polarizing filters are what drastically reduce the light.
Bottom line here, the place you choose to see your movies matters. If theater owners want people to keep showing up and buying tickets at their establishment, maybe it’s time they start paying attention to the details. Theater owners need to care just as much about the way they’re showing these movies as the people who made them do. 3D may be dying, but unless you want it to take 2D with it, now seems like a good time to start paying attention to what you’re showing your audience.
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