Guy Wheatley is head projectionist and co-event coordinator for the Salt Lake Film Society, where he has been working since 2012. He spoke to City Weekly about the theatrical movie experience in the 21st century.
How has the job of projectionist changed since you've been doing it?
I was part of the last generations of projectionists to be trained with film. The Broadway and Tower were still laggards around winter 2013/2014 in terms of converting to digital, so I got to see a year or two of that before the transition. Now it involves ingesting the content digitally, either downloaded over a high-speed digital network, or shipped on hard drives, or external drives sent by smaller distributors, plus the key [codes], which allow us to actually show the films.
Does the experience of watching movies in a theater remain special?
One of the things I like about the cinema experience is that it's one of the few times we can revert to a childlike state of awe, just kind of be subsumed by the experience. Working on the technical end of it does take a little bit off that magic, but I still very much enjoy that reaction of people who are wowed by cinematography, or profound acting, or a great director.
Do you watch people watching movies, perhaps to wait for reactions to a particular moment you know is coming?
It was during Lars von Trier's Melancholia when it was coming into theaters. In that final reel, when that rogue planet is entering Earth's orbit, and the whole movie has been leading up to it, [the characters are] having that impromptu picnic ... waiting for the inevitable end. [The planet] Melancholia just emerges bigger and bigger into the screen, flames engulf the screen, then blackness. And you could hear a pin drop in that theater. It was a different sort of climax from a typical blockbuster film. That was a moment in which the entire audience was just rapt. I would take time to duck into the end of that movie.
Does the idea of 'summer movie season' inspire a particular reaction in you, for better or worse?
It's quite a positive reaction, because I can remember countless weekends and late summer nights as a teenager in the '90s, and it was kind of what you did. The options—either financially or in terms of where you could go—were limited, and that was what you did with your friends. You want to stay up for relief from hot days, and you're staying up late all the time, or at least I was. So there was a feeling of camaraderie of going into a packed movie theater on a hot summer night, losing yourself in the movie, then talking about it after at the diner du jour or somebody's house or apartment. And we definitely still participate in that tradition with our Summer Late Nights at the Tower. I think we can combine that youthful summer experience with a little bit of an art-house sensibility and get the best of both worlds.