Submitted by: Pickford Film Center, written by Ariana Dorshkind

Downtown Bellingham’s Pickford Film Center recently celebrated 20 years – an impressive accomplishment, made possible only by the immense dedication and work of its staff and volunteers.

These folks behind the scenes wear a lot of hats. From program directors to projectionists, it takes a large, nimble team to make Bellingham’s art house cinema’s reels run.

Pull back the red velvet curtain and take a peek into a week in the life of Assistant Operations Manager Ariana Dorshkind, which she logged during 2018’s Doctober Film Fest – PFC’s busiest time of the year.

It takes a team of dedicated film-lovers to make PFC a success. Photo courtesy: Pickford Film Center

Monday

  • Patiently awaiting the call/email/smoke signal from Michael our program director about what week-long films are booked for Friday.
  • While we wait, a visual schedule can start to be crafted. We have 21 documentaries that have times already set. Room for any Q&As, panels, and/or receptions must be added.
  • An email from Michael arrives! We have one week-long film booked for the Limelight, and one week-long film booked for the Pickford.
    • The Limelight, he says, can be “stacked,” meaning we can alternate showtimes between other films.
    • The Pickford film, he says, needs to run “clean,” meaning it has to have a matinee, a primetime show, and an evening show. It has to appear to our distributors that we have played that film uninterrupted all day.
  • The schedule gets sent out to the staff. All of our tickets go live at the box office and on our website, the print ad listing our showtimes is made. Proofread. OK. Deliver.
Photo courtesy: Pickford Film Center

Tuesday

  • Our weekly manager staff meeting takes place. Always the first agenda item: go through the week.
    • We have over 20 films, 10 special events, and five out-of-town guests. We have to go over each and every event to ensure we’re prepared.
  • Oh no! In looking over the calendar, we realize that a birthday party rental got left out of the schedule yesterday.
    • We have to rearrange the day to fit it, plus send out corrections to all our showtimes and ad. THIS is why we go over the calendar.
  • Everyone has reported and the week feels ready to conquer. The meeting is over and how is it noon already??
  • Take a quick break to eat, then it’s time to make the staff schedule.
  • We want to make sure that days aren’t too long for staff, but we also need to ensure our events are properly covered.  
  • At around 2:00 p.m., our volunteer coordinator Hayley comes in, we check in about the upcoming week and where we need extra help, and the volunteer schedule is sent out. Within minutes, some shifts are filled.
Photo courtesy: Pickford Film Center

Wednesday

  • It’s time to start testing the films in the theater: making sure they look good on the screen, the playlists are set the right volume, and light cues are all correct. This can take hours and I spend most of my afternoon in the cinema.
  • Once a scheduled movie starts and I get kicked out of the theater, it’s time to start inventory.
    • After organizing and making a list, I place orders from our vendors, and make a shopping list for myself of what to get at Costco and Cash and Carry
  • Doctober keeps us busy, so our storage closet looks like it got hit by a storm every week. Inventory can take three times as long during Doctober than it can during a normal work week.

Thursday

Photo courtesy: Pickford Film Center
  • Another morning, another round of testing film. I check in with Ryan, the operations manager, about our outstanding films, where they’re coming from, when they’ll arrive.
  • Ryan then urgently makes calls and emails trying to track down missing content.
  • A filmmaker who was supposed to send us a copy of their content is ghosting us, and their film plays in two days!!!
  • A backup plan is made, and we download an MP4 of the screener that was sent to us by the filmmaker. Then I have to covert the film to a DCP so that it can play off our system in the booth. This can take hours…so I head out shopping while it all processes.
  • After returning from doing all the shopping, I sit down and create a draft of which trailers to play in front of which films.
    • Doctober is my favorite time to build trailer playlists! We have so many upcoming films that I can craft something so specific to each one.
    • Example: A family-friendly matinee about a ballerina is playing, so for trailers I plug in a trailer for a documentary about puppies, a ballet promo, and a documentary about a composer. All these trailers appeal to kids and to grandparents and to ballet fans.
Photo courtesy: Pickford Film Center

Friday: First day of the Movie Week

  • Finish testing all the films at both locations – finally! 
  • Turn the trailer our marketing manager Lindsey made into a DCP file to be plugged in before every showing.
  • Build a playlist for every single movie and showtime.
    • A playlist runs lights, sound and content. I make a playlist that takes viewers from the Dolby countdown, all the way through until the lights come up at the end of the movie. The idea is that no one has to physically be in the projection booth while a movie is running. All a projectionist has to do is cue up a playlist and press play.
  • Take a deep sigh of relief that the movie week is finally off and running.

Saturday

  • Rest as much as humanly possible.
  • That evening, we have a special event for one of our documentaries with a pre-show champagne reception and a Q&A after the film.
  • I help take tickets at the door to relieve some of the staff and volunteers.
  • After introducing the film, conducting a raffle for the audience, and telling everyone to stick around for the Q&A afterwards, the projectionist presses play and the film playlist begins.
  • I sit in the audience and watch the trailers with the rest of the audience to gauge reactions.
    • One woman leans to her friend and complains that she’s already seen this trailer “a million times.” I make a mental note to probably lay off that one for a bit…
  • Once the end credits on the film start to roll, we move in some seats and mics for the Q&A. Once the mics are on and the moderator and guests are in place, the Q&A begins.
  • The projectionist signals to the moderator that time is about up, the audience gets one more question, and we wrap things up.  

Sunday

  • Ahhh maybe today I’ll get to rest….
  • … or not. I get a call from a projectionist that something’s wrong with the sound in theater two.
  • Run to the theater as quickly as possible and perform a sound test. It looks like the left surround speakers aren’t working at all. The first thing I always try before taking drastic measures and bothering Ryan is a hard reboot – which means I turn off all the sound amps, wait ten seconds, and reboot everything.
  • After what feels like the longest 15 minutes of my life, everything is back on and I run a sound test again. IT WORKS! And with only two minutes to spare until showtime. Sometimes I can’t help but laugh thinking about all the craziness behind the scenes that the audience has no clue is happening.
  • I tell the projectionist to call me if any other issues pop up, and then I finally make my way home to nap with my cat.
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