Film Collecting Basics(I. HIS

Chapter Five

Showing Films



    The following discussion presumes the use of safety film only. Remember that nitrate film requires approved projectors in approved booths.


    While it goes without saying that the correct projector is required, the correct aspect ratio is also very important.

    In all but the most expensive professional 16mm projectors the aperture plate will be fixed and represent an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Ensure that the screen masking accommodates this ratio. There are anamorphic lenses available for 16mm projectors, and a true CinemaScope print will require such a lens in addition to the projector’s primary lens. Again, ensure that the screen masking accommodates the 16mm anamorphic aspect ratio. See the paragraph entitled UNDERSTANDING FORMATS/ASPECT RATIOS.


    All 35mm equipment utilize changeable aperture plates. As most 35mm installations are fixed, not portable, these aperture plates are nearly always adjusted by careful hand filing to suit the screen masking.

    When screening a print in the old 1.37:1 Academy ratio, you may utilize an aperture plate cut for Cinemascope, which has the almost the same frame width (21.3mm) as Academy ratio (20.9mm), by adding heat-resistant metallic tape to close it up vertically to the proper height (15.2mm). For best results, however, and if screening many prints in Academy ratio, it is well worth the effort to prepare and use the correct aperture plates.


    For optimum results projector(s) should be installed at a height that precludes a person in the audience from blocking the light throw, even with arms raised, and should be installed in an acoustically-insulated booth so that projector noise is not a distraction.


    As noted earlier, the are equipment choices that will affect presentation.

    In the 16mm arena, one may use an economical single portable projector, a pair of pricey portable "auditorium style" projectors equipped for changeover operation, or a very pricey theatrical machine equipped for 6,000-foot reels. Used projector costs range from under $100 or so for portables, $500 or so each for auditorium machines, and up to $15,000 and more for the very best of the theatrical machines. Quite a range! Don’t be afraid of 16mm changeover operation if you can find a pair of suitable machines. All it takes is timing (countdown) leaders and cue marks as previously discussed, and changeover operation can be challenging and fun.

    In the 35mm arena, one may use a single projector for reel-to-reel running if you don’t mind the many "intermissions," a pair of machines arranged for changeover operation or a single machine and platter like the megaplexes. DeVry made "portable" 35mm equipment for years and examples are usually available. One enterprising chap used to sell remanufactured Simplex "standard" projector heads with small Ballantyne soundheads mounted on an engine stand for portability and fitted with 6,000-foot reel arms and an incandescent lamphouse for about $1,000. Arguably, 35mm projection equipment is pricey, but the image quality is excellent.

    Within the 16mm community you will hear arguments about the relative merits of self-threading machines, slot-load machines, and manually-threaded machines. The bottom line, however, is the "film handler." A sloppy uncaring "projectionist" given a new print and the finest available equipment will inevitably screw up, while a caring and careful student of film handling can usually take an old print and adequate equipment and produce a fine show.


    A major cost driver in projectors is the type of mechanism used to "pull" the film, frame by frame, past the aperture plate.

    All but the most expensive professional16mm projectors utilize a "claw" with teeth that engage with the sprocket holes and pull the film down "intermittently." The problem here is that 16mm film has but one sprocket hole per frame, and the teeth are not necessarily the full width of the sprocket hole, and most projectors employ only two teeth. If a loop is lost, resulting in the film being pulled continuously through the gate, these teeth will do what any teeth worthy of the name would do – chew up the film. To this end, there are repair machines that apply perforated tape over the torn sprocket holes to save the chewed footage. A less desirable method of repairing torn sprocket holes is to apply splicing tape, but this sort of repair is visible on the screen.

    However, 35mm projectors and theatrical 16mm machines utilize an intermittent sprocket whose teeth engage fully with the film’s sprocket holes. The intermittent sprocket is driven by a "Geneva movement" that employs a precision-machined star and cam arrangement to effect the intermittent turning of the sprocket. This results in steadier pictures and more positive film control than claw type movements.


    It should be self-evident that projection equipment requires cleaning and lubrication. Daily maintenance should include cleaning of lenses, and periodic maintenance should include cleaning the film path, especially the gate area, and periodic lubrication, all as recommend by the manufacturer. Service manuals may be viewed and downloaded from and from Always use the manufacturers’ recommended lubricants. Consider dust covers for equipment not in use.

    Maintenance is especially important for 35mm equipment and theatrical 16mm equipment since such equipment is designed for applications where regular servicing is normally provided by theater chain tech support personnel. Geneva movements require special attention.

    Some cleaning materials that are proven include Neumade XeKOTE ("zee-coat") for film gate cleaning and lubrication, and Rosco lens cleaner and tissues for cleaning lenses and reflectors.

    Supplies such as the foregoing are available at cinema equipment dealers. If possible, find a dealer near you and introduce yourself. If there is no dealer near you, try the following web sites: (West Coast); (southeast US); (national).

    Xenon lamps can explode and require special handling precautions. Read and understand the manufacturers’ instructions and warnings and always use gloves and face protection as recommended. Never, but never touch the surface of a Xenon lamp with a bare hand or fingers!

  3. SOUND


While 16mm portable equipment is usually complete with an amplifier and speaker, most 35mm equipment is not.

While much could be written to guide a 35mm enthusiast in choosing sound equipment, the 35mm side of the collecting hobby is in the minority, so I will do no more than touch on the subject.


The basic format is the mono optical soundtrack. The first successful stereo surround film was Disney’s "Fantasia" in 1939! Not much happened thereafter until the Dolby Laboratories perfected a noise reduction system in the 70s and later a surround sound system (Dolby Stereo) that afforded left, center and right channels at the screen, plus surround. A matrix scheme encoded these four channels into a two channel optical soundtrack. Later processors also afforded a subwoofer output. The so-called "Dolby stereo" prints can still be played on older mono equipment.

As the tiny-screen megaplexes proliferated, many "processors," providing simulated stereo/surround, came on the market for the small, low-end auditoriums. These promised rather a lot more than they were capable of delivering, however, and the few that remain today are in very low-end houses.


Meanwhile, audiences’ ears were becoming accustomed to equivalent advances in the home entertainment market, and theater sound systems, to remain at the cutting edge, developed new sound systems (DTS, named for Digital Theater Systems) that afforded left, center and right channels at the screen, plus left and right surround channels, and a subwoofer channel for the "low frequency effects" that emphasize the first two octaves of the audio spectrum. Such systems utilize CD ROMs for the digital sound, synchronized to the film through codes.

Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS) added center-left and center-right channels for a total of seven! Quite a departure from the granddaddy mono optical sound that served us from 1927 through the 70s! And all representing an enormous equipment investment to the exhibitor!

THX certification of components is assurance of quality. THX certification of a theater is a good reason to patronize that theater.


Back to reality, if you have a 35mm projection system with a mono sound head, whether with an older photoelectric cell or a newer solar cell, congratulations! It will probably provide better sound than the best of the 16mm systems. Still, it is possible to swap components and upgrade to stereo if you have the money and inclination.

If you have a stereo sound head, a Dolby stereo processor would be desirable, along with the required amplifiers, speakers, etc. If you collect newer films with digital sound, you may want to upgrade to that equipment. Be sure to get the DTS disks (CDs) when you purchase the films!

Whatever your sound system, pay attention to the greatest potential weak link – the speakers. Use the best speakers you can afford to get the most from the sound of your very expensive hobby. The sub-woofer and surround channels add startling realism. In today’s highly competitive megaplex business, theater owners spend really big bucks to give their customers a thrilling entertainment experience and to keep them coming back for more (though they pay little more than "minimum wage" to their film handlers). Similarly, your home screening room equipment will give you the most pleasure if it is equipped to deliver a commensurate thrill to you and your friends.

A potential fly in the ointment for collectors in the near future is the planned switch to a cyan sound track, i. e., a blue rather than black track, that will require a red light source. There are after-market exciter lamp replacements that utilize red LEDs, so the switch to cyan is possible, but a little pricey.

Recalling that some of the earliest sound systems relied on a phonograph disk, isn’t it ironic that state-of-the-art digital sound systems rely on a CD-ROM, the phonograph disk’s modern day equivalent?!


3. FOCUSSING ANAMORPHIC LENSES (hints from Brad Miller)

MATERIAL REQUIRED: A loop of SMPTE 35PA or the older RP40 test film.


  1. Thread up the test film.
  2. Loosen the anamorphic lens locking mechanism. Turn the outer focusing ring as low as you can go, probably 20 feet. (In a short throw room, you might be better off setting the ring to its infinite setting.)
  3. Turn on the projector and lamp. The image will be blurry. Use the projector’s primary lens focusing adjustment to focus the horizontal lines on the screen to be as sharp as possible. Ignore the vertical lines. Once the projector’s focus is set, do NOT touch it again for the rest of this procedure.
  4. Carefully and slowly turn the focusing ring on the anamorphic lens until the vertical lines converge and become as sharp as possible. Ignore the horizontal lines.
  5. Taking care not to bump the focus setting on the anamorphic lens, tighten the locking mechanism.