The new Star Wars movie opened with a record-setting $50 million day (including midnight screenings). It is showing in 3,661 theatres domestically (US and Canada), but the number of prints distributed is over 9,000, or well over two per theatre. In turn, multiplexes can show movies on even more screens than they have prints if they shuttle reels from auditorium to auditorium (e.g., start Reel A playing at 7:00 pm in auditorium 1, then carry it to auditorium 2 and start it playing at 8:00pm). Once a famously snoozy job, being a projectionist has become much more demanding in recent years as multiplex owners have figured out how to maximize their use of prints.
35mm prints are extraordinarily expensive: about $1,500 apiece. Because "Revenge of the Sith" is longer than usual, I'd guess that about $15 million has been invested just in domestic prints. Obviously, it will soon make more sense to distribute movies to theatres digitally on reusable hard disks or on stacks of DVDs, but that's an open invitation to piracy. (There's plenty of piracy already, but the awkwardness of analog to digital copying slows things down a bit.)
One thing that drives me nuts is when the sound slips out of sync with the pictures. That must happen 10% of the time. It must not bother other viewers as much because I'm usually the first person out of his seat to alert the projectionist. (They almost always fix it immediately.) After 78 years of talkies, you'd figure they wouldn't still have this problem, but they do. Projectionist used to be a cushy union job, but as the owners made the job harder, they also got rid of the union veterans and brought in kids to run the projectors, so the quality dropped despite all the technological improvements.
Thinking about projectionists reminds me of the story about the man who went to see a psychiatrist:
"Doc, I haven't had a date in years."
"Perhaps it's that odor that you seem to exude."
"Yeah, that's probably it. See, my job is shoveling up after the elephants in the circus, and it would take weeks to scrub the smell off me."
"Perhaps you could look for a different job?"
"What?!? And quit show biz???"
Jerry Seinfeld tells the story about the time a private plane carrying Benny Goodman's band crashlands on a stormy winter night in a field. The musicians clamber out in their tuxedos, grab their suitcases, and trudge off through the mud and darkness. After a mile or so, the bedraggled bunch comes to a cozy farmhouse. Two musician looks in the window at a family happily playing board games in front of the fireplace, mom bringing hot chocolate, the faithful family dog curled up by the hearth. The saxophone player turns to the trumpet player, shakes his head, and says, "Man, I just don't how people can live like that."