How to Become a Movie Projection Operator in a Movie Theater

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Celluloid is going the way of the dinosaurs, so movie projectionists need skills that transfer well.
Celluloid is going the way of the dinosaurs, so movie projectionists need skills that transfer well. (Image: Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Movie projectionists set up and operate projectors to show films to audiences. No special skills are required to become a move projection operator in a movie theater, as most are trained on the job. Having some skills in photography or film production, however, will make you more competitive for the position. Still, movie projectionist jobs are on the wane, as movie houses move toward digital cinema. This is fueled in part by the rise in Imax and 3D movies, which can't be projected on traditional film. Some specialty theaters -- such as outdoor theaters, universities and movie production companies -- continue to employ limited numbers of film projectionists. It's best to have additional skills that allow you to work in related disciplines, such as general audiovisual, wiring, lighting and sound management.

Acquire general information technology skills and experience. As movies move toward digital cinema, the role of the projectionist is shifting toward a person who can program screens from a single computer as well as do traditional equipment checks to ensure movies play properly. Familiarize yourself with digital projection requirements, such as film downloads, hard drive management, maintenance of digital projection machines and light management.

Seek opportunity where jobs are still plentiful. Rather than rely on chain movie theaters, which are rapidly shedding projectionist jobs, go for jobs with museums, universities, production companies, professional entertainment studios, training companies and the military, where traditional 35-mm jobs are higher in number. Red-light districts may be the last bastion of regular movie theater projectionists.

Demonstrate that you have adjunct skills that allow you to work in more functions inside the theater besides the projection booth. In addition to knowing how to operate the machinery like common DLP projectors, you should be able to splice or edit film and make equipment repairs. Show that you can manage inventory, make detailed reports and have reasonable customer service experience. Public speaking may also come in handy as projectionists are often called to use the theater's public address system when there are emergencies. In addition, you may be called upon to train other employees to use projection equipment, as even theaters with 12 screens rarely have more than one or two projectionists on staff.

Tips & Warnings

  • Get training in IMAX projection. It requires some DOS programming as well as learning proprietary software for sound management. In addition, it has special lighting requirements that means theaters that play IMAX films need a dedicated projectionist in the room at all times.
  • Save those who are dedicated to IMAX projection, movie theater projectionist positions are jobs not careers. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated there were only 9,440 motion picture projectionist jobs in May 2010, and they paid a median hourly wage of $9.79.

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