The Showroom – Touring the Light Fantastic

Since opening almost twenty years ago, The Showroom Cinema’s been a virtual lighthouse for independent film.
We stepped into the beam for an exclusive tour of the projection rooms to find out how the magic happens (Photographs courtesy Marek Payne)…

From the outside, The Showroom’s an art deco theatre of dreams. Go behind one of the many keycoded doors however, as we did for our tour of the beloved indie cinema's backrooms and you quickly realise that neatness is built around a labyrinthine network of corridors, staircases and semi-lit rooms…  
Before too long we were struggling to work out which floor we were on, as the Overlook Hotel-like twists and turns started to merge into one. Just as we were starting to look round for an axe we found the main projection room where we met Kate the projectionist, who proceeded to show us how to thread a 35mm film.

Kate also checks to make sure there isn’t a ‘brain wrap’ on the film as it’s laying itself out on the new reel. “What’s a brain wrap?” If the film’s gone on the inside of one of the rollers it’ll start getting tighter and tighter until the film stops. Woah. 

Xenon bulb on the Showroom’s 35 mm projector. Xenon bulbs are designed to mimic natural sunlight – which might be why movies feel so real. Here’s a page of Thai movie projectors, including another Prevost Officine Milano. Lovely.
Lighting the Xenon lamp on the projector is known as ‘Striking the lamp’ because it ‘strikes’ into life like a match.

Projector mechanism. My career as a projectionist failed to achieve take off when it turned out I couldn’t for the life of me spot the ‘cigarette burns’ in the corner of the screen that indicate a swapover of reels.
Around this time I realised I had mouth freeze from eating too much Showroom Chocolate Fudge ice cream when I was unable to say the word ‘projector’ properly.

Journalists are always looking for hot leads (*ducks to avoid flying crockery*).

Old prints. Mostly from Celluloid Screams. Critters was rumoured to be hidden somewhere in the pile. Nitrate film wasn’t even allowed on buses, Kate told us.
Kate recently found out her great-great auntie used to play the piano for silent films in Rotherham and her grandma’s brother used to be a projectionist. Movies in the blood.

An example of a DCP (Digital Cinema Package). A collection of files on a hard drive. You plug it in. Not quite as romantic as reels, and plenty of things still go wrong with them, like subtitles not working. Thing is, as Kate explained, if there’s a problem with a reel you can get inside the project and sort it out, oftentimes. Not an option with DCPs.

From 2 Days in New York. Moustache and glasses on Chris Rock is code for ‘I’m not going to be funny’.

Make up bench. This is the splicer, used as part of creating the reels. The projectionists will get film inspection sheets, inspect the film for damage, repair it if necessary and splice together anything that needs repairing.  Adverts tend to come on USB sticks nowadays.  Kate’s got a great story about a Fight Club-style splice in a pop video she worked on once which you can ask her about if you meet her.

The book is there to record any problems with the machinery. It’s like reading a projector’s diary.

The subdued lighting throughout the projection rooms is strangely comforting. Easy to imagine losing track of time when the closest to windows are flickering movie images shadowplaying in slits.
So with the advent of digital the trailers, adverts, curtains and main feature are put together via these touch-screens. Kind of like a Nintendo DS minus the fun. Kate breaks it down for us in this video –

16mm projector. Not used very often. The drawing shows the path of the film around the projector mechanism for reference.

The second projector room.  Felt like we were deep, deep inside the bowels of the building at this point so it was a bit of a surprise when we turned the next corner and went through a door that took us back to the foyer. Isn't it amazeballs the things that go on behind the walls of your favorite indie?


Thanks to the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield for showing us round and to @MarekPayne  for photographs.

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