Presentation, training and distinction between urban and suburban cinemas (Mike Williams)

Mike Williams interviewed by Richard Wallace

Projectionist Mike Williams provides an overview of presentation and showmanship in cinemas. He outlines how he was trained by the chief to uphold particular aesthetic standards and the impact that this has on the experience of the audience.

Clip

Show Transcript
There was no formal training at all. Not at all. I literally learned lacing up by standing behind projectionists and watching them. And then I was allowed to do it myself. But where we extolled in my opinion was, we were taught showmanship. How to put a film on the screen. One of Frank Saunders’s … one of the things he drummed into me from the very first day I met him, I think maybe the second day, we stood at the back of the auditorium in the morning and the screen was open. The tabs were open, the skirtings were open. And he said, “Mike,” he said, “you see that down there? It’s the screen,” he said, “and I never want to see that again.” And I sort of looked at him, gone off, and I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “That screen there,” he said, “when the tabs open it’s the punters’ window on the world. They don’t want to see a screen, they want to see a picture on the screen and lose themselves in their imagination.” He said, “That's the job that we do. If you show them the screen, they lose the imagination, it becomes a picture on a screen instead of a picture in its own right.” He said, “I never, ever want to see you open those curtains on a blank screen.” And I only ever done it once and he sent me home. Literally, I thought I’d had the sack. Said, “You don’t do that in my theatre, you go home now and think about it”. Remember in those days visiting the cinema was a night out. So if you could extend the night out for the enjoyment of the audience, that's what showmanship is all about. If people can come out and they’ve been to Brazil and they’ve been to London and they’ve been to Rome and they’ve enjoyed the experience you feel good. You really do feel good. It’s a strange thing. When I … for a short time I was trainee manager, assistant manager, and I used to stand at the back of the audience at night when they were coming out, as the cur… the tabs closed, and stand at the back of the audience and it was good to feel how they felt. ‘Cause it would emanate from them. And you could tell that an audience had been entertained, you could feel it. And at that … it made you feel good, that you knew the performance had been a success. It’s a little like … and it comes from the stage days, you know, you’re only happy with a stage production if the whole production has gone right. We used to feel the same about the cinema. It had to run right, it had to give people entertainment. It had to feel as though they moved into a magic kingdom. That’s what cinema was all about. It should still be all about but it’s not unfortunately. But that's the showmanship, you just felt satisfaction with the job. A lot of cinemas didn’t bother, you had no showmanship in a lot of the suburban cinemas, would be lights out, screen open. And that was it. And there was an awful lot of that going on. An awful lot. They used to make us feel a little sick, you know, seeing the way we projected film and seeing the way somebody else, oh, dear me. Really terrible, really terrible and I mean, I, I went not long, not long before I got married, I went as a chief operator to the Capital Cinema in Blackwood. And it was run on a shoestring, literally, absolutely literally. Only two operators there

Title

Presentation, training and distinction between urban and suburban cinemas (Mike Williams)

Description

Projectionist Mike Williams provides an overview of presentation and showmanship in cinemas. He outlines how he was trained by the chief to uphold particular aesthetic standards and the impact that this has on the experience of the audience.

Source

Interview with Mike Williams

Publisher

The University of Warwick

Date

04/12/2015

Format

.mp3

Language

English

Type

Sound recording
interview extract

Coverage

1956-1964

Interviewer

Richard Wallace

Interviewee

Mike Williams

Date of Interview

25/08/2015

Location

Cardiff

Transcription

There was no formal training at all. Not at all. I literally learned lacing up by standing behind projectionists and watching them. And then I was allowed to do it myself. But where we extolled in my opinion was, we were taught showmanship. How to put a film on the screen. One of Frank Saunders’s … one of the things he drummed into me from the very first day I met him, I think maybe the second day, we stood at the back of the auditorium in the morning and the screen was open. The tabs were open, the skirtings were open. And he said, “Mike,” he said, “you see that down there? It’s the screen,” he said, “and I never want to see that again.” And I sort of looked at him, gone off, and I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “That screen there,” he said, “when the tabs open it’s the punters’ window on the world. They don’t want to see a screen, they want to see a picture on the screen and lose themselves in their imagination.” He said, “That's the job that we do. If you show them the screen, they lose the imagination, it becomes a picture on a screen instead of a picture in its own right.” He said, “I never, ever want to see you open those curtains on a blank screen.” And I only ever done it once and he sent me home. Literally, I thought I’d had the sack. Said, “You don’t do that in my theatre, you go home now and think about it”. Remember in those days visiting the cinema was a night out. So if you could extend the night out for the enjoyment of the audience, that's what showmanship is all about. If people can come out and they’ve been to Brazil and they’ve been to London and they’ve been to Rome and they’ve enjoyed the experience you feel good. You really do feel good. It’s a strange thing. When I … for a short time I was trainee manager, assistant manager, and I used to stand at the back of the audience at night when they were coming out, as the cur… the tabs closed, and stand at the back of the audience and it was good to feel how they felt. ‘Cause it would emanate from them. And you could tell that an audience had been entertained, you could feel it. And at that … it made you feel good, that you knew the performance had been a success. It’s a little like … and it comes from the stage days, you know, you’re only happy with a stage production if the whole production has gone right. We used to feel the same about the cinema. It had to run right, it had to give people entertainment. It had to feel as though they moved into a magic kingdom. That’s what cinema was all about. It should still be all about but it’s not unfortunately. But that's the showmanship, you just felt satisfaction with the job. A lot of cinemas didn’t bother, you had no showmanship in a lot of the suburban cinemas, would be lights out, screen open. And that was it. And there was an awful lot of that going on. An awful lot. They used to make us feel a little sick, you know, seeing the way we projected film and seeing the way somebody else, oh, dear me. Really terrible, really terrible and I mean, I, I went not long, not long before I got married, I went as a chief operator to the Capital Cinema in Blackwood. And it was run on a shoestring, literally, absolutely literally. Only two operators there
one working, one not working. Simple as that. So you had to do everything including cleaning the toilets, literally. And it was awful, awful. If you film, with the footlights on, the guy that ran the place used to play hell with us. “Do you think I can afford to pay for electricity to have lights on here?” you know, and that's how suburban cinemas were run. It was scandalous really.

Original Format

One-to-one interview

Duration

00:03:43

Bit Rate/Frequency

320kbps

Cinema

ABC (Olympia) Cinema, 67 Queen Street, Cardiff
Capitol Cinema, 8 Hall Street, Blackwood

Citation

The Projection Project, “Presentation, training and distinction between urban and suburban cinemas (Mike Williams),” Projection Project, accessed March 24, 2019, https://projectionproject.warwick.ac.uk/items/show/397.

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