South Africa 2: New mini doc “Portrait of a projectionist”

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Portrait of a projectionist from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

My south Africa workshop tour is almost over. Johannesburg and Cape Town are wrapped with just Durban left, then off to a game reserve for a few days. There is some space in Durban, if interested click here!!

Teaching is enormous fun…but the idea of coming to South Africa and not creating films or telling stories would have been upsetting. So I have set out to make a short doc in each of the places I visit. Durban may be tough as I am there for such a short period of time and have no full day off…but I will try. There is always the Londolozi game reserve afterwards.

For my Cape Town film I really didn’t know what I wanted the story to be about. Johannesburg was the epic Ponte Tower doc which in underneath this film…It was an uplifting film about a miserable place, with epic visuals...all shot on the Blackmagic Camera. I wanted something so utterly different…and something that didn’t simply tread over familiar ground. Ponte had not been done astonishingly enough! Most of the stories suggested to me for Cape Town either had been done or simply didn’t connect with me or excite me.

We were heading out to try and find something as I only had the one day off to get the film done…we went off to pick up Humphrey Bande who knew a few people, to see if we could find something. Dale then pulled up outside the place where Humphrey was working, a theatre. I said to Dale “Is this an old movie theatre?” he replied “no, but there is one here just like that”. I knew straightway that was what I wanted to go and film. An old celluloid movie theatre. The type that have almost all gone these days. I really wanted to make this film before they have become extinct.

Heading off to the slightly ooh-aah named “Labia Theatre,” we found out that Coco Van Oppens (who I knew and was taking photos of the workshop here) knew the owner. So she phoned up, explained and we were in.

Straightaway I went up the projection booth to meet the projectionist Redwaan (I thought he was called Red One which made me chuckle!) He was a delightful man who had been working there for 24 years but been in projection booths since he was 7. We talked, I explained what I wanted to do, he was a little bit nervous but said OK.

So using the loaned 1DX from Canon South Africa (mine has gone kaput and needs to repaired back home), a few lenses, my Zacuto target shooter rig / Z finder, Miller DS20, Roland R26, Sanken Cos 11, Rode NTG2 and Rode Stereo Video Mic pro, we started filming.

We had no additional lights with us, as the plan had been to shoot outside…so now that I was faced with a more challenging situation, it was a case of getting Redwaan to stand in the right spot to make the most of the available light….bouncing a 3200k spot fixture onto a wall to give Redwaan the key he needed and shooting at 1250 at F1.8 (slightly too shallow to be honest, as focus was a little tricky) I got a nice looking shot…except no catchlight. So I got Humphrey to hold a movie poster the white side forward and up high to give that essential catch light into out subject’s eyes…so important, as without this the eyes are lost.

Audio was recorded on the excellent Roland R26 external recorder and the lovely Sanken Cos11 lav mic hard wired in. So warm and rich, that mic!

Reference and back up b-roll sound was the excellent Rode Stereo Video Mic Pro.

12 minutes later, the interview was done and one of his films was late to start! 🙂

Redwaan was a pleasure to interview. Really warm, honest and genuine. He had a huge number of rich fascinating stories. As a huge film buff, listening to them was a massive pleasure. What we had in this theatre is so special to me…it’s places like this that made me love cinema so much and made me adore film in my eternal quest to make my video look as much like film as possible.

After that, it was time to get the awesome Canon 100mm L macro out and film lots of details of the projector and film itself! Such wonderful machines! Dale did record b-roll on the NTG 2 too, but I actually ended up using the sound of the Stereo top mic as it sounded pretty damn good, since I was close to the audio source.

A few handheld shots on the Zacuto rig of Redwaan resetting the projector next followed by a little bit of splicing and we were almost done. A shot of him from inside the theatre looking through the window and the job’s a good ‘un!

Two hours after arriving, we were wrapped and we had a great story. I did do a few extra shots in the lobby, the concession stand, ticket booth and inside the theatre, but they were totally superfluous for the story I wanted to tell. Best to get them just in case though…you never know!

Shooting tight and fast is what I do. Having a news background taught me well. I don’t need to spend all day getting in their way at the theatre. I don’t need to shoot 6 hours of rushes. I don’t need to do a 2-hour interview. I just need enough time. That’s all…and what I got was easily enough. I know when I’ve got what I need…that is when I stop. This will come to you with experience if you don’t have this. Always better to overshoot than undershoot though!

I adore the image out of the 1DX and I still love to shoot on DSLRs. I love the size and the freedom it offers you. My C300 is still my favourite camera, but I didn’t bring it with me. It was that or the FS700, and super slow motion would come in super handy for the Safari shoot and for the workshops…BUT that full frame image…yum! The Mk3 image is great, but the 1Dx is exceptional and very filmic. That is why I bought one.

Yes, it still means dual system sound, but that’s pretty easy. (although nowhere near as easy as XLR inputs on a proper video camera!)

That full frame look cannot be replicated by a super 35mm sensor, it’s so unique. I love it. That is why there is still a very massive use for DSLRs in real work, mainly the full frame ones.

Lenses used were the Canon 50mm F1.2 for the interview. The Rokinon Cine 24mm T1.5 for the walking shots. The Canon 100mm L macro for all the detail shots. The Rokinon 14mm Cine T3.1 for the two massive wides. For the shot of Redwaan in the booth from the theatre, I used my 70-200 F4.

All editing was done in CS6 and all grading in Colorista II. Film grain was added as a mark of respect!!

Film is sadly dead now. This breaks my heart – it has been so important to me growing up and basically is the reason I am doing now what I am doing. This film captures the last dying heartbeats of a magical thing and the joy and sadness of a man who symbolises the love that we have for this wonderful thing called film. I hope when people watch this they will remember what seeing a movie on film actually was like and how special it was. Most of us won’t ever see a film projected on 35mm ever again. That is terribly sad thing.

Ponte Tower from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.


  1. absolutely fantastic philip, what a find! Redwaan was brilliant!, i was totally drawn in to this one, i actually felt emotional about how passionate he was about his trade, really feel for the guy when digital comes in.
    fantastic work philip. really enjoyed that one. very inspiring.

  2. Lovely work! Can’t believe you did the interview in only 12 minutes. I mean, it feels like it has depth and width, it’s not superficial. Red One must really, really love his job.

  3. I keep watching your videos and you always seem to nail the interview lighting (regardless of location or camera you use). Your years of newswork camera op shows very well. You made the comment “make the most of the available light….bouncing a 3200k spot fixture onto a wall to give Redwaan the key he needed and shooting at 1250 at F1.8 ” I am surprised you did not have a light kit with you (because I sure could not be as good at improvising with nothing). Any idea of the wattage of that spot? I need to get a much better feel for what people use because I am attempting to get similar quality, but doing more news casting type interviews locally (mostly of indoor artistic events) and I am trying to either be prepared with an 2-4 light Arri kit (and the mess of stingers etc that means) or just try to make a mobile and versatile kit out of who knows what. I know I don’t want LED’s because of the CRI and color casts.

    1. cheers Steve…i explained in post why we had no additional lights with us.

      no idea of wattage exactly…i guest probably 40 watts…

      You don’t want LEDs? Fair enough but I think that would be a mistake. I use them all the time. My doc If not now when you can see on here used Litepanel 1x1s as the main light source. lovely. No chance I would use hot lights in places like that. Cool lights are essential for interviews in small places.

      1. I would love to use LED’s. I’ve just seen the green cast from some of them and lots of posts on the net about that. I am with you about the hot lights and its especially true where I live in a quite hot climate. Thanks, that may be the direction we go. I’ve used the Litepanel bi-color before and I didn’t see a problem but I thought we were getting away with it because it was shot on a Canon 5d Mark Ii but for a SD (640×480) tv station. (I’ve watched all your work and I could not tell any of them were using LED’s.)

  4. Hi Philip. A very human and nostalgic piece on the world that vanishing. The only thing I might miss would be a view of desolated cinema auditorium while the projectionist spoke about movie magic but I guess it was not accessible for filming. Perhaps better without it, otherwise “tears might come to my eyes”. Thanks Stanis

  5. My main genre is documentary and I am thinking about buying a C300. One main negative point I keep reading about is that the picture is not really “filmic” – more like video.
    What would you say – especially compared to the 1DX and the BMCC?

  6. Great work again Philip… always exciting to see a NEW short film/doco loaded by you… yep you are right about the catch lights in the eyes… with out them there’s not to much happening and you nailed it here just by using good old ingenuity…
    Looks like the Rokinon Cine lenses are getting a good work out also… Thanks again for sharing your work… Cheers

  7. Very nice. If you like this you might also enjoy a video I made with similar subject matter. It’s really a teaser for a slightly longer doc about community-owned cinema that still uses 35mm projection. I submitted the truncated version for the Rode Rockumentary competition that Mr Bloom recently served as a judge on.

  8. Very nice!
    You really found a great character to tell a moving story.
    I still work (as a hobby) as a projectionist. We converted, last year to digital and I really miss the tactile sensation of celluloid.
    I don’t think Redwaan should worry too much about his job. Showing the film really is not hard – just push a button. But, the film still needs to be loaded into the projector and then a ‘play-list’ needs to be made. So as long as he can learn some computer skills, there is plenty of work to be done.

  9. Philip,
    Thank you for “Portrait of a Projectionist”. Your film hit home for me. I started out as a projectionist when I was 15 at the local movie theatre. Redwaan describring the feel of the film ,the smells and the sounds of the booth brought me right back to my booth. Thanks for reminding us that DSLR’s still have a space in are choices for shooting.
    Like the use of film grain ( for respect ) .

    Thanks for listening and keep up the great work.

  10. Great work on the doc. Reminded me of my ol’ film school days back in the mid-90s. That shot of the splicer tape… I remember how I was always so proud of my cuts because I could lay the tape down with no bubbles. You had pride in each of your edits. Not that this doesn’t exist nowadays, but it was certainly different and more tactile back then. I miss that (but I don’t miss cleaning and re-splicing my trims every night!).

    That Sanken is so smooth. Been wanting to get one for quite some time. What levels do you generally set the R26 to? Do you do the auto-sensitivity to set initial sensitivity ever? Also do you use the limiter? The R26 is great. There’s no comparison to the Zoom.

  11. it took my heart, because I fully know what the projectionist means.
    I have lot’s normal 8 and super 8 films on my own
    and love cinema over all.

    PLUS your film about Olly Knights caught me TOO.
    This made me look after my 40 year old REVOX tape machine.
    It works and I found a sweet old tape with my small kids on christmas on it.
    I now sent my REVOX in for a complete overhaul.

    Thank you,

    1. Phil,

      In its simplicity, you truly mastered, once again, a great story to share with all of us.

      I think I actually smelled the film running through the projector.


      – sid

  12. Really nice little film Philip. My first job was syncing double system 16mm on a Steenbeck. Those were the days. I really connected with Redwaan’s story not just because he’s good talent but because you told the story through him very nicely.
    Does the 1DX really have a little more resolution than the 5DMK3. It looked great!

  13. Philip, another great piece, excellent stuff, I love these little videos you are shooting in SA.

    I’m curious as to why you use the Roland R26 recorder natively and not a field mixer first into it. Sure, one more piece of kit but it would seem easier to get sound levels (SD 302 has big knobs and bright led display) and then you could just hit record on the Roland R26. I’m sure you’ve considered this 😉

      1. I have neither a mixer or an external recorder but I think it would be easier / quicker to set the levels on the field mixer and then hit a single button on the recorder rather than messing around with the recorder, menus, fiddly knobs etc and then hitting record. As I said before I have zero experience with this so what I’m thinking is most probably misguided 😉 (big bulky SD mixer in a big etc)

  14. Philip, I really enjoyed this…. As a cameraman for over 30 years film has been my passion.
    Redwanns enthusiasm and emotion was very touching. Your simple approach worked well and I’m sure made him feel at easy.

    Great stuff

  15. Wow Philip what an amazing story and you tell it masterfully!

    It’s even more of an overwhelming a piece for me having been right there to watch you work. I am humbled..

    Great meeting you Philip, keep doing your great work. You’re setting a high standard for us newbies & pros alike. I’m inspired to take my craft seriously and discover these hidden stories….and to get a proper tripod 😀

  16. Film is not dead! 5:40…shutter synced on film and film looked like it was alive! I have done this in film school as a poor man’s telecine. You frame up slightly wider (for slight repo in post) and slow it with fingers till you get it to lock up and let it go. Works perfectly

  17. Hi Philip. Really great film, and touching for film guys like us 🙂 I would really like to see some comparisons between the Rokinon Cine lenses and Canon / Zeiss. Could you please try making a post about this? The images speak for themselves, so just the same framing, lighting, image and then different lenses so you can compare them to one another.
    Would be great 😛

    Thanks, and again – Great film!

    – Tim

  18. Excellent as usual! 🙂 I’d be really curious to see you interact with the people you feature in your films. If some day you could have someone make a behind the scene film focusing on that it would be very informative!
    I you don’t mind I’d like to formulate a constructive criticism. I would have enjoyed a deeper DOF on this piece. I love shallow DOF but on this it took me out of the film a few times. When the projectionnist was talking and moving in and out of focus I found it distracting. Also, he’s talking about the equipment and I wanted to explore the projector and the projection booth while he was talking about it but I couldn’t because most of it was out of focus. This is a piece where I think separation by exposure values would have been better than shallow DOF. Just my 2 cents.

  19. Hey Philip!

    As incredible as this was directed/shot/cut, I would say the responses you are able to get from your interviewee are equally impressive! Would you mind showing us what kind of questions you ask during the interview, please? Thanks Philip!

  20. Philip, you have a very charming protagonist here, but unfortunately, 80 percent of what he says gets lost! I just hope Vimeo-staff is finally going to realise, after watching this video, that adding subtitling technology is really their number one priority. This is feature we have been waiting for for many years. Can’t you pull some strings!

  21. Philip, this is by far the best work i’ve seen from you! Perhaps it’s just because of my personal connection to that stuff. I worked as a projectionist when i was in school, 15 years ago. And everything in your documentary reminds me of the feeling, the sound and even the smell of these old projectors. Even the film slicer, seen in your movie is exactly the same modell as i worked with. Those days were the beginning of my fascination of 35mm film and filmmaking in general. This magic of film drives me still today every single day and prepared my career. Thanks for this time travel! I will miss film.

  22. Philip,

    if you wish to know more about Africa

    look at docos about Bror Blixen and George & Joy Adamson and Richard Leakey buy book ” end of the game ” by Peter Beard available from Amazon

    British archives is a great place to start looking for personalities in African history such as Frederick Selous, Frederick jackson etc

    it’s wonderful stuff

  23. beautiful film, but what are you on about? film is still around, sure it’s dying out but we still have heaps of film projectors in cinemas in Sydney, as well as IMAX.. that’s not going away too soon. IMAX is the most brilliant use of film and we’ve still got plenty of that!

    1. well apart from no more 35mm film cameras being made anymore, fuji not making film anymore and kodak going down the pan and 99.9% of cinemas dumping film projectors for digital film is alive and kicking 😉

      Imax is a unique and different beast and cinemas like the labia here could never in a million years use it or afford it or have screens for it. Even Imax will disappear with 5k,6k and 8k cameras. Some call it progress, others call it the end of an era. After all why go to the cost of using film when digital looks so good. I just saw Skyfall, Roger Deakins, film obsessive. Looked amazon. ARRI alexa.

      It breaks my heart but we must be realistic here.

      1. I don’t think shooting a few rolls of 16mm film, together with development and telecine costs will break
        the bank. Its more of a hassle, and less sensitive in low light yes, but good to do from time to time.
        Focuses your craft, even going back to digital.

        1. Hi Bojan

          Honestly. i see no point. especially to “show support”….making the film shows support. Why make your life harder, spend unnecessary money and use up more time than you can spare for this. Sorry but I don’t get it.

          I don’t shoot film. I shoot video. That is what I do and am very happy doing it. 🙂

          1. I did not mean to get things into an argument, and if it did come across that way,
            I apologise. The only reason I started this conversation is because of your last
            paragraph –

            “Film is sadly dead now. This breaks my heart – it has been so important to me growing up and basically is the reason I am doing now what I am doing. This film captures the last dying heartbeats of a magical thing and the joy and sadness of a man who symbolises the love that we have for this wonderful thing called film. I hope when people watch this they will remember what seeing a movie on film actually was like and how special it was. Most of us won’t ever see a film projected on 35mm ever again. That is terribly sad thing.”

            It seemed that you really love film, and are not happy that it is going away, and
            because you are one of the most influential people in the internet filmmaking
            community, you could do something about keeping it relevant and important.
            This does not mean that everything should be shot on film, but it also does not
            mean that everything should be shot on digital either.
            If this is not the way you feel, and I made a mistake, again I apologise and will not
            bother you anymore with this.

  24. Hi,

    Good write up. Thank you so much about having this site and especially about your last “life work” blance post. However just need to ask you about your audio. Why do you still do so much split sound. I mean it kind of contradicts the simplicity of your setups. I know the Roland is good but isn’t any pre amp gonna a be a bit better. I mean there is nothing wrong with having split sound and sync in post, i do it too, especially if I don’t plan to end up with too many shots. However I was thinking of going for Juicedlink pre amp and Sennheiser G3 + rode and maybe a NTG 3 for ambient. I’d have the lav on camera right and ambient on left. My field recorder would be the backup audio so if I mess up then I’d need to sync.

    Don’ get me wrong there is nothing wrong with your workflow it’s just thatI have been thinking about changing mine a bit and maybe there is something I have not though of?

    Cheers for the help and the post

    George from Finland

    1. Thierry,

      So you gave me a massive 18 minutes to see that you had commented, read it then approve it, before you wrote this comment?

      I don’t live with the computer in front of me. So comments takes days to get approved as I am too busy or have no interent. It is just me here running all of this.

      When you comment it says it is being help for approval, you showed pretty much no patience! I shall quote you “what a pity” 🙂



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