Booth Usher

“Hello, tech support.”

“Hello, this is the Ibaraki Film House here. We’re having trouble getting the film to play.”

“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”

“It’s not a digital film. It’s a film film.”

“Oh, right. Don’t you have a projectionist there?”

“What’s a projectionist?”

“A projectionist is the person who receives the cans of film, counts them, splices them if necessary, loads them on the plate, unspools back into 2000 foot reels…”

“What’s a reel?”

“…replaces the bulbs if they go out. Checks for dust.”

“How do you get dust on a film?”

“Well, in the case of Macross Plus, someone actually used one of the canisters as an ash tray for a few weeks. That didn’t help. So have you got a projectionist?”

“You must mean Ken the Booth Usher?”

“What’s a Booth Usher.”

“Well, he’s the guy who makes the film start, you know.”

“Aha! So he must be your projectionist.”

“Well, he serves popcorn and hotdogs… and then when it’s time for the film to start he…”

“Goes into the back room and presses Play?”

“Er… Yes.”

“Okay, I think I see the problem. You see, you have what’s called a state-of-the-art cinema.”

“Yes we blimmin’ do.”

“And the trouble is, that a state-of-the-art cinema, in the eyes of many corporations, is simply a giant DVD player with a hotdog seller outside.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Well, it is if you are having a… are you having a film festival?”

“Yes, we are!”

“So you’re showing some old movies?”

“Some of them date back to the late nineties!”

“The 1890s?”

“No! The 1990s!”

“And let me guess, they’ve arrived in big round cans full of black plasticky stuff in long strips.”

“Yes! So can you tell us what we need to do. We can play DVD, Blu-ray, Digibeta, HDCAM, full-on digital…”

“Do you have a pen and paper? Okay, good. Write this down: ‘Invent time machine. Go back ten years. Remember to keep training projectionists.’

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #99, 2012.

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7 thoughts on “Booth Usher

  1. Too bad—I have a bit of experience with projection of 16 mm. Of course, you’d have to pay all of my expenses, including a translator.

  2. Ok, I’d heard the Macross Plus story before, but given the source I’d kind of dismissed it as hyperbole (said source had in the same article dismissed two high profile and best selling series his company didn’t own the rights to in a manner that made him seem very shortsighted, or was just insulting the competition). Is this sort of thing common?

  3. Mistreatment of assets? Oh yes, it’s very common. For many years, the Japanese studios regarded cels as toxic waste and would do anything to get rid of them. Meanwhile, by the time a Western company gets round to buying the rights, a studio has often junked all their PR assets on a show considered to be old news in Japan, leaving a foreign company with nothing but two pieces of artwork and a lucky gonk to promote the show on its overseas release.

    I once worked on an anime dub where we had to reassemble the M&E (music and effects) track from a set of reels of Nagra tape, and I once *didn’t* work on an anime dub because it turned out to be impossible to reconstruct the audio, as the M&E track had actually been lost. Unless we wanted to build it ourselves again from scratch, we were looking at a silent movie.

    Think of it like TV in the 1950s. The fact that anime could be sold abroad later on took a number of companies somewhat by surprise, often when nobody could remember where they’d left the masters.

  4. does this relate to an anime about a chicago based criminal courier with a very james-bond style red car where the dub had very noticeably different sfx to the original language version?

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