A Hollywood job fades to black: Film projectionist

Old film projector.

Ever since the Great Recession started more than five years ago, Americans have paid closer attention to how we bring in a paycheck every two weeks. But the American labor market started changing long before the financial crisis. Today we're starting a new series on Marketplace called "Disappearing Jobs" to examine the changing job market.


For the last 40 years I've been a motion picture projectionist. A film projectionist.

A friend of mine was managing a sleazy old theater called the Vagabond Theater and said "our projectionist just quit. Go in there and run it."

I didn't care about getting paid, I just wanted to go in there and do it. So for $3.50 an hour, I taught myself. I found a stable union job and I was told by my older peers that I could probably keep this job forever. I would never have to retire because it didn't require physical labor, it just required your know-how on the equipment.

Everybody in America went to the movies every week, so we were important. Also, "projectionist" was listed as the highest-paid industrial job in California. I like to remind people of that now that they're trying to pay us nothing.

Digital movies drive change
My favorite quote is still the studio executive who said "we have a robust system and we can pay any idiot $5 an hour to run it."

So why do away with the film projectors? The reason is everyone loves new technology, and now they have it.

I still intend to be the last projectionist alive. But it will be a real accident if I get more jobs.

About the author

Lee Sanders is a motion picture projectionist based in Los Angeles.

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