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Base theater manager says the art is in the reel changes

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer
Photo by: Nick Stubbs
Bill Doser, base theater manager and projectionist, loads one of the projectors.

Sundown is coming on a Friday afternoon and Bill Doser is getting ready. Twenty-minute spools of this week's feature film are lined up and ready to go on the projector. He loads the trailer reel before heading downstairs to duck his head into the theater to check the temperature. Popcorn explodes in the big, glass popper behind the counter and the nutty corn smell fills the lobby.

About that time his first customers are walking up the sidewalk - an airman and his companion. It's "Willard" playing this night, the story of a loser who lives with his elderly mother and an army of killer rats he has trained to do his evil bidding.

Doser started out 13 years ago as a projectionist at the base theater. He was active duty Air Force then but stayed on after his retirement, eventually taking over management of the theater. He still serves as projectionist, a job he says can be challenging when things go wrong.

"My goal is to present a movie as seamless as possible and provide an enjoyable movie experience," said Doser. But it doesn't always work out. He recalls nights when film has broken and film piled onto the floor. Film has jammed up and projectors have just gone out completely. The crowd doesn't like it much, he says. But most of the time they understand these things happen.

But problems, while memorable, are the rarity and most every night the audience can count on a good time and that "seamless" presentation upon which Doser prides himself.

The theater doesn't have the new computerized projectors and that means reel changes are done manually, the old-fashioned way, said Doser. As a 20-minute reel approaches its end, a black dot known as the cue flashes in the upper right corner, signaling the projectionist to start the second projector. If he hits his mark the viewers never notice the change.

"That's the most important thing," said Doser. "You don't want anyone to see that change and I hate to even mention the cue, because once you know about it you might start seeing it."

"Gods and Generals," a Civil War epic, played recently. There were 13 reel changes in that one, Doser said, "so that was a busy night for me." Most films have just five reels, he said. In addition to the visuals, Doser said sound is important to the movie-going experience. A couple of years ago the theater was upgraded from a single speaker to 16-speaker Dolby Surround Sound.

"That made a big difference," said Doser. "There is a lot more impact." Doser describes himself as a film buff. Even though he's working, he says he gets a chance to watch on from the projection booth. The best part of the job is seeing movies that surprise him - the ones "I wouldn't ordinarily want to see based on the previews but turn out to be pretty good."

"I sit up here sometimes and laugh and people accuse me of being an old softy, but sometimes a get a little tear in the eye on a particularly sad movie," said Doser.

One might think being a theater manager would give him his fill of movies, but Doser says he often does on "dates" with his wife to other theaters. For one, it allows his to see the newest releases, something he can't do at the base theater, which usually gets films a month to six weeks after they have been released. Interestingly, base theaters overseas often get movies sooner than in the states, he said, sometimes within a week of U.S. release.

But even though the films lag behind the rest of the theaters, there are advantages. The admission price to the 600-seat theater is just $2.50; concession stand prices are 10 percent below the commercial theaters and, "our medium popcorn is bigger than the large downtown," said Doser.

A new movie is played Friday night and another on Saturday night. There is a free movie once a month, a courtesy of the film distributors and Hollywood, which started the practice for the military after 9/11. There is a kid's matinee each Saturday afternoon and Doser is careful to be sure it is suitable for young audiences.

"I don't want to see parents down here complaining about a movie I put on," he said.

The biggest hit at the theater ever was "Black Hawk Down," the true story of a special operations mission gone bad in Mogadishu, Somalia. While most movies play just once, sometimes twice if they are really popular, the film played five times, said Doser. One of those screenings was a private showing just for Special Operations Command.

"A lot of the people who came to the movie knew some of the soldiers who were lost in that operation so it was hitting close to home for them," said Doser. "One of the guys who came was actually part of it and was there (in Mogadishu as a member of the operation)."

 

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