VIDEO: Spinning reels at the back of cinema is what makes movie magic happen
Continuing a series of features looking at different jobs, Chris Jones steps inside the projectionist's booth to find out how films are screened.
IT is one of my favourite feelings in life and I have just made it happen for a few dozen people at once.
And I did it all with the flick of a couple of switches.
I'm talking about that magical moment when you are sitting in the cinema, hunkered down in your seat, the lights as low as the hubbub of conversation around you.
Then, all at once, the lights begin to dim, filling the cinema with comforting darkness. The room falls silent and the only sound is the soft buzz of the curtains drawing back: the film is about to start.
There are a hundred reasons why watching a film will always be better in the cinema but for me this moment is the big one. That total immersion in the world of film begins here, with those lights fading down and that screen rolling out.
And now, standing in the projection booth behind screen two at Quad, I have just flipped the switches to make this happen for an audience settled in for a showing of Les Miserables.
It is an odd feeling; exhilarating and yet somehow deflating, like seeing how a stage illusion is performed. But that movie magic needs to be conjured somewhere and, according to Quad's projectionist Aron Brown, it happens inside the projection booth.
The 29-year-old said: "I think the projectionist is vital to the cinema experience. It is definitely an art form and it takes time and practice to do it well.
"If you go to the cinema and the timing of the lights or the music is wrong, if the sound is too loud or the film is skipping or snaps, it will ruin your evening.
"But you don't get the thanks. Whoever thinks to thank the projectionist? But maybe that's a compliment: if you do your job well, no one will know you have done anything at all."
I said before that I got the screening under way with a few switches; that wasn't entirely true.
Aron had been queuing everything up for the last few minutes, making sure the volume levels of the music (the soundtrack from Les Mis) in the cinema are just right, waiting for the seats to be taken.
He was talking me through the procedure, watching the timer count down, when suddenly, right on the stroke of 2pm, he fell silent.
He span into action, whirling from projector to sound controls, hitting each thing off – lights, curtains, sound – in perfect unison.
My role was to flip the switches but it was Aron's consummate timing which created that wonderful moment.
Then, the adverts were on the screen, bathing the engrossed audience in a cool white light.
"Sorry about that," says Aron, explaining his sudden silence.
"I guess I'm just so used to doing it myself. I love to time it all together. See, you might go to one of the multiplexes and the lights will go, then the music, then the screen. But I like it to be one seamless motion. It just draws you in."
This attitude sums Aron up; it is quickly apparent the 29-year-old is obsessed with perfection in his job.
He loves it and the evidence is everywhere.
From the DVD collection on one wall, arranged in meticulous alphabetical order (even making sure the two versions of the film Crash are shelved chronologically) to the faulty film copies stored in a blue plastic basket and labelled "EVIL", this is a man whose love of films is matched only by his desire to create the perfect experience in which to view them.
He works in Quad's projection booth, a long, dark corridor which runs behind the two main screens. You reach the booth by elevator, the top floor.
The doors slide open and you stare into a dark, dingy space flanked by projectors and control banks. Silver-lined heat pipes and cables snake across the ceiling and the only sounds are the light wheezes and ticks coming from the massed electronic equipment.
It is an odd cross between NASA, a cave and an old man's shed but Aron is right at home, skipping from screen to screen, tending to screens and tinkering with dials.
The majority of movies are now filmed and projected digitally. This means they arrive at Quad on chunky hard drives, about as big as a paperback book. These are then slotted into a computer stack and the film downloads, ready to be beamed out across the auditorium to the silver screen.
Once the amount of screenings is up (negotiated with the film's distributor), the data is deleted.
The assumption is that this makes projection easy enough for anyone to do. But Aron disagrees.
He said: "There's no doubt it is easier. But the principles of good projection work are still vital, the timing and the atmosphere and the knowledge of what to do is something goes wrong."
And even in the digital age, things can go wrong.
Aron said: "You get films skipping. And it's difficult to know quite what to do. With digital, once it's playing, that's your film. I've only seen a few skip and they have resolved themselves, but it's not like 35mm, where you can alter things on the fly."
Formerly, films were shown on 35mm projectors. These big beasts would be hooked up to fat reels of film, which was feed through the machine at high speed, one frame after another, forming a moving picture on the screen.
There are still a couple of 35mm projectors at Quad because some films are still made on the stock.
Aron fired one up for me, loading a giant reel on to its spindle and switching it on. The clank and whirr of the bulky machine is instantly evocative for any film fan.
Aron lights up as he watches the reel spin, gleefully telling me that this hour-and-a-half film could stretch from here to Nottingham if it was fully unrolled.
He says: "You can't leave the projector with 35mm.
"If you nipped out to get a sandwich, the film could snap and you would have people sitting in the dark, not knowing what was going on. You have to adjust focus as you go, too – it's really hands on.
"For long films you would have two projectors and you would have them both set up and when you saw the cigarette burns – little marks in the corner of the screen – you knew you had eight seconds to switch to the second reel on the other projector.
"The timing was crucial if you wanted a seamless change."
There are still some films, mainly smaller, independent ones, filmed on 35mm (one recent rare exception was The Dark Knight Rises, which was available on the format) but digital is overwhelmingly the preferred choice for filmmakers.
Aron said: "The thing is, 35mm has this amazing look. It's hard to put into words, but it's the colour, the contrast, the feel.
"I know immediately when I'm watching a 35mm film and, for a projectionist, it feels much more exciting to screen."
So what does it take to be a projectionist?
Aron's answer is complex.
"I started out working for the Metro cinema, in Green Lane. Usually, the only way in is to work at the box office and worm your way in. I had the opportunity to become a projectionist and it was my dream job," he said.
"Thing is, now, it doesn't actually take much to be a projectionist at somewhere like Showcase or Odeon. So even if someone came up to me with a CV of two years projection experience at a multiplex, I would have my doubts.
"Because I know there is more to it at a cinema like Quad. We show lots of different films, smaller and older films. And I do way more than just put films on. So I would want to see a passion for cinema and projection in whoever I took on."