Terrence Malick's Instructions for Projectionists Showing 'Tree of Life'

June 5, 2011
Source: San Diego Reader

The Tree of Life

One of my most common complaints at too many movie theaters is in regards to the projection being off, whether it's too dim, out of focus, poorly framed, not loud enough, or something to that effect (which ruins it for me). Apparently master filmmaker Terrence Malick isn't too happy about these problems either, and since he can't personally show up in the shadows of every movie theater currently showing his new Palme d'Or winning film The Tree of Life (full release schedule on Fox Searchlight's site), he has put out a simple guide, a set of instructions, for projectionists to follow to ensure truly perfect presentation. Read on!

These instructions come from the San Diego Reader website, where Scott Marks republishes the letter that Malick sent "to the attention of every projectionist" showing The Tree of Life. Apparently he starts out by saying that "proper theatre projection is fast becoming a forgotten art" (which I totally agree with) and then goes on to tell the projectionists to consider the following guidelines while showing his film. They are:

1. Project the film in its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
2. The correct fader setting on Dolby and DTS systems is 7. Malick asks that faders be kept at 7.5 or even 7.7, system permitting.
3. The film has no opening credits, and the booth operator is asked to make sure the "lights down cue is well before the opening frame of reel 1."
4. With all the recent talk of "darkier, lousier" images, operators are asked that lamps are at "proper standard (5400 Kelvin)" and that the "foot Lambert level is at Standard 14."

You tell ’em, Malick! Now if only every projectionist at every movie theater, even those making minimum wage, would follow these rules for every print and make sure every theater is up to spec, then maybe people would be more willing to go out to see movies in theaters again. This reminds me of when George Lucas had a certification system for theaters back when Star Wars was being shown, to make sure that every theater was always up to spec and projecting the best quality at all times. Why isn't there a certification system like this in place today? Any idea? Everyone knows a movie can easily be ruined by careless projection issues, and Malick's right in relentlessly pursuing the best projection—that long, lost "forgotten art"—for his film.

Plus, if there's any film that demands truly perfect presentation, it's The Tree of Life, that's for sure. It's gorgeous to watch and the cinematography in it is sure to get some awards acclaim later this year. If you're planning on seeing it at all, make sure you catch it in theaters before that opportunity goes away forever.

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Like a boss.

Cedric Ceglowski on Jun 5, 2011


Malick is awesome.

Terry Craig666 on Jun 5, 2011


This is why I'm going to see the film at the TIFF Bell Lightbox than a mainstream theatre (despite the film opening there a week later).  I'm sure the people in that venue know what they're doing.

Sean Kelly on Jun 5, 2011


Guess I'm gonna have to print this out and hand it to the projectionist before I go to the theater next weekend 🙂

bryansays on Jun 5, 2011


Thank you soo much Alex for posting the release schedule! I've had the hardest time finding one!

Jonah on Jun 5, 2011


This is nice, but I find it hard to imagine any cinema screening this is going to have a sub-par projectionist. Multiplex's wont touch this shit, and those are the places where you get dark 3D lenses being used on 2D prints, and shitty sound, and so on. Any art house venue worth it's salt will have a full time, accredited projectionist, not some mouth-breathing recently promoted 18 year old.

Lebowski on Jun 6, 2011


@Lebowski:twitter I work at a movie theater and noticed on Saturday that there were some 2D movies being projected with the 3D frame. I immediately told one of the assistant managers about it and he removed them as soon as he could. Another thing: if there's a sound or picture problem that can't be fixed immediately, then the managers won't notify the customers about it before they buy a ticket; they'll just wait till one of them complains about it and give them their money back or a raincheck. Like, from November of last year til April of this year, the surround sound speakers in our biggest theater weren't working. And not once was a sign put up on the box-office window explaining this to customers.

Butinmyarms on Jun 6, 2011


It's crazy isn't it? I have sworn off a bunch of different cinemas because of the shitty experiences I've had. One time (when I was seeing The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, yuck) the sound was so bad it was like surround sound coming through a diverse range of crackly, 1950's radios. Seriously if I had the money I would drop a hundred k on a projector/surround sound setup and quit going to the cinema.

Lebowski on Jun 6, 2011


I saw it @ Chicago's Landmark theatre and was underwhelmed. It was one of those smaller theatres with statdium seating, but the screeen was very small. It also sounded like it was standard stereo, not 5-1 and there was an occasional flickering effect on the images, like someone irising up and down. I miss the old days when a special screening meant showing it in 70mm in a 2,000 palace.

marisman on Jun 6, 2011


Since he didn't mention making hand puppet shadows I'll take that as a blessing. You see im a projectionist in Austin and I do a great dionosaur hand puppet shadow. So since Terry forgot my favorite character in his final everybody-goes-to-symphonic-heaven scene (nice Stardust Memories homage, dude!) I'll continue to add him trotting across the water in the background. I've notice a wave of goosebumps in the audiance usually follows.

Flinch on Jun 6, 2011


My local 14 screen multiplex has reduced it's projection crew from 9 to 4. And the! Soon they'll have only 2 staff. Unfortunately I was the one of the projectionists who was let go. One computer now controls all 14 screens! 

John J on Jun 6, 2011


I'm from the old School of Projectionist. I was brought up in the Projection Box before video and DVD. I was in my local Vue Cinema, there was no showmanship anymore. It was just banged on, no thought put in to it, No Curtains anymore, the picture was dull with a small ghosting of the picture. It broke down on startup. Then their was a one hole perferation rack at the start of the film, which took a while before the projectionist came to is notice. Fucking Rubbish. In my day if I had left a rack for the start of the film I would have had a Warning letter and a bollocking.

Excel on Jun 7, 2011


Nobody takes you seriously when you use the word "Rubbish."

Michael on Jul 19, 2011

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