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December, 1999

Projected Characters

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LUKE BUCKMASTER goes behind the cinema, behind the camera, behind the . . . . the Balwyn Cinema, in a search for experience. And finds characters.

You're comfortably sitting in the cinema, holding an extra large box of popcorn and a drink is resting between your legs. The girl of your dreams is sitting next to you, and the action flick you are seeing has been praised by all your friends. Your seat is a triumph to sit in, and the air around you smells a ravishing scent of stale lollies and half-eaten choc tops. There's just one problem - when the hell is the movie going to start?

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Probably not for a long time, since Bob the projectionist at Balwyn Cinema is frantically running up and down its many flights of stairs, desperately trying to manage three screenings at once. All the while, he still manages to drink coffee out of his Batman mug and have friendly chats with the women downstairs. Just a moment in the busy life of a projectionistů

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I'm not sure what words I should use to describe my stay at the Balwyn Cinema - beneficial, frenzied, exuberant, sublime and hardheaded will do for starters. You see, working with Bob himself for three days straight is enough to quench you for life but not enough to keep you longing for more. But it didn't stop there, as I also had the privilege of being around three other intriguing people. Aside from the projection machines and films, it's almost as though I really was caught in a real life character study, in which I would be rapidly introduced to new people - all with their own set of unique values, beliefs and opinions.

On the first day, I strolled into the Balwyn Cinema wearing what would probably be best described as a nervous half smile. I was wrong when I thought that the ladies behind the box office desk might mistake me for a customer. I had the words "Bumbling Work Experience Kid" written all over me. One of the ladies took me upstairs to the projection room, and introduced me to Bob. At first, Bob seemed nice enough. I was wrong. One day, when he asked me to wind some film up, I told him that I felt nervous about handling such valuable material (after all, each film is worth about three grand). "Don't worry, this is just fu**in rubbish, I wouldn't give you it if it was worth anything," he said. I felt reassured. But seriously, Bob is a great bloke - one of those rare characters whom you meet when and where you least suspect.

Most of my time at the cinema was spent cleaning, assisting in winding up films, and regularly checking the projection machines to see whether the film was coming through properly. The interesting thing about being a projectionist is that you can get constant exhausting work for, say, an hour straight, and then you might have that time later on with practically nothing to do.

Along the way, I met Tony - an employee of Palace Films Distribution who regularly had new spools of films to prepare for a screening or other such purposes. On my last day of work experience, he gave me a tour of his work place. I was very interested by it, as I could easily picture myself having a job similar to his later on. Tony was fun to talk to and is a very likable bloke.

When I wasn't working with Bob, and I wasn't talking to Tony, I was with Clinton and Ashley - both projectionists. Clinton has an obvious fascination with his work and the many machines and gadgets around him, and he lets that fascination flow into those around him. Ashley (who Bob warned me is a born again Christian by saying "watch out, he might convert you") has sophisticated views on the world's media, believing that every fiction movie or television show is a false representation of society.

Looking back, I don't consider my work experience week as a time of working consistently with projectionists. I consider it as obtaining a small peek into the lives of some very intriguing people. And - watch out Balwyn Cinema - I just might drop by from time to time and say hello.

© copyright Luke Buckmaster
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