A look behind the scenes as Cromer cinema goes digital

PUBLISHED: 11:00 02 February 2013

Head projectionist Robert Matthews with the new digital equipment at Cromer cinema. 

Head projectionist Robert Matthews with the new digital equipment at Cromer cinema. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

A “silent movie” revolution has reached the projection rooms of Cromer’s multi-screen cinema.

The clattering reel-spinning gadgetry harking back to the pioneering days before “talkies” has given way to gently humming digital technology.

All cinemas are converting as the era of film comes to an end after a century. It means better quality sound and pictures for moviegoers - and changes behind the little glass, beam-lit, window into the projection room.

Cromer’s Movieplex is among the latest to undergo the transition, as its owners West Country-based Merlin Cinemas spend £1.8m upgrading 35 screens in 11 venues.

It means farewell to the north Norfolk multiplex’s four old projectors, and the giant metal “cake stands” which stood next to them feeding the reels of film - which could stretch up to five miles for a long movie.

In their place are digital machines, with computer screens and keyboards, which can be programmed to dim the lights, open the curtains and run the film on “autopilot.”

Projectionist Robert Matthews said the new equipment would provide better quality pictures as film could get worn and scratched.

Preparation for showtime was different. Previously the movie arrived in a handful of reels, which had to be spliced together on site - with trailers and adverts - on to the cake stand. There was the potential for the film to come apart, taking a lot of time and patience to put back together.

Now the movie arrives in a gadget the size of a paperback book, to be plugged into the projector. The downloaded film was then triggered to play by the arrival of an emailed “key” code.

He said the technological leap from revolving reels to clinical computers was “like going from VHS tape to DVD” on people’s domestic TV home entertainment equipment.

“It is a shame to lose the old system, because it has been around such a long time. I knew all its quirks, and the equipment is now all heading to the scrap heap. But the digital pictures and sound are much better,” said Mr Matthews, from Cromer, who worked at Norwich puppet theatre before joining the cinema 12 years ago.

Greg Adams from Merlin said: “The old 35mm was as good as digital when new, but it deteriorates. They are not going to make 35mm soon so the industry is having to change. The film distributors save money because they don’t have to produce prints for every cinema. The digital projectors are more expensive to run as they use more power but they provide more flexibility.

The aim was to make the Cromer cinema completeLy automated and programmed - but it was not anticIpated jobs would be lost, just changed.

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