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Charly Haley, Published September 16 2012

It's My Job: Projectionist maintains Fargo Theatre's equipment

FARGO – As head projectionist at the Fargo Theatre, Justin Schroepfer, 23, enjoys giving audiences a good cinematic experience. He’s going on his third year as a projectionist.

Q: Why do you like the job?

A: It’s fun. It’s different. It’s half a technical job, half putting on a show, so it’s a good balance of having fun and doing hard work.

Could you describe those two parts of the job, maybe starting with the technical side?

On the technical side, it involves mainly maintaining projectors, threading the films, breaking down films, splicing – anything like that.

What about ‘putting on a show?’

That part comes in because our whole system isn’t automated, so things like opening the curtains and bringing down the lights, I’m still in control of. So it’s still a matter of making sure everything’s in focus and whatnot. Making sure everything sounds good and looks good, and just making sure everything’s a good cinematic experience for anyone watching the film.

Do you have fun with the job?

Yeah. Every now and then, people will applaud afterwards, which if you think about it is weird because it’s a movie; there’s not live actors. But if you think about it, maybe they’re applauding me in the booth or something for putting on a good show.

Tell me about when things go wrong.

We have older equipment, so every now and then things will break on us in the middle of a show, things like – anything really, in the projector. It’s just old. So when that happens, you’ve just got to stay calm, take a look at everything and just fix it as quickly as possible to get the show running again.

Why doesn’t the theater get a new projector?

We’re looking into that, but the cost involved is just tremendous, and we’ve got to keep playing movies in the meantime, so we’ve got to make do with what we’ve got.

Do you have any funny stories from the job?

The first thing that comes to mind is when I first started as a projectionist, someone came in … and no one else was really showing up at that point, it was just a lesser-known film and it was late on a Monday or something, but a guy came in and asked us if we could throw up on the screen a “Will you marry me?” thing. He was going to propose. But he didn’t understand how film worked. He thought he could write on a sheet of paper, and we could put that into the projector and it would project onto the screen. That’s not how that works.

So what ended up happening is there’s a mic in front of the theater. … They were the only two there, and they sat in the balcony. He came down and got on the mic and proposed, but he couldn’t hear her answer because she was all the way in the balcony. So he had to run all the way back to get an answer, and I think she said yes. … I thought it was funny and cute.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

My favorite thing would be the putting on the show part. When you boil it down, my job is pretty much turning off the lights for people in a room and shining a light onto the screen. But it’s more than just that, really. It’s making sure everything’s in focus, you just want to make sure ... that there’s no distractions for them watching the film – you want them to be involved with the movie.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Charly Haley at (701) 235-7311