It’s official, I’ve realised that I’m having a mid-life crisis!
For many months now, I’ve been struggling to find direction. In fact, when I think about it, this has been going on for years!
Back in 2011, I was working as the projection manager at my local ten-screen multiplex. I was happy. My days were filled with screening movies, building films up and breaking them down. I managed a team of four projectionists, all of us covering the various shifts over seven days per week.
Life was good. I was being paid well for the work that I was doing; I enjoyed having departmental responsibility and not having to deal with the public. The department was operated almost like a business within a business. Our domain was hidden behind a series of locked doors, among the various projection booths and hidden walkways, well away from prying eyes.
We felt good about the work that we were doing and were pretty much left to our own devices for most of the day. The only time we would venture out of our lair would be to collect film crates as they arrived, and occasionally, to return boxes to the collection point. Our mornings usually involved rehearsing the films that we had built up. This was to ensure that we had spliced the various reels of a movie together in the correct order and to make sure that all aspects of the film were in perfect order, before its first public performance.
Life was good. It was fun.
Then, in April of that year, we were informed that the entire chain was to be converted to a fully digital system. We became redundant and surplus to requirement. We were told that the process could take up to three years to complete, as if that would, in some way, cushion the blow?!
Fuck. We were told that we would be re-deployed elsewhere within the business and that I would be given a chance to become one of the “managers” that ran the operational side of the company. But, we wouldn’t be involved with any of the audio-visual side of things. That sucked balls.
It wasn’t long after this announcement that I began to fall apart. One evening, in particular, stands out as the trigger for a mild breakdown. For some reason, the general manager thought that it would be good idea to “interlock two projectors and show the same film on both machines, a risky manoeuvre. Primarily, one film travelled through the first projector, across the room and through a second projector. This was something that we did very rarely and for a good reason. Syncronising the system was a delicate balancing act, and usually, requires at least one full test run and rehearsal. We were not given time to do this. I was nervous, mainly as the member of staff with the most experience of performing this operation was not on shift that night.
Both theatres were packed that night. I was not “feeling it” when the time came to prepare the projectors for the interlock. Added to this, one of the other projectors at the far end of the building had a malfunction that had delayed me from setting up the dual projector sync. My gut was screaming at me to find some help with the tasks at hand before it was too late.
So, following a rush to “lace-up” the two projectors, everything was set and ready for the performance to begin. The customers had taken their seats, popcorn in hand, prepared for the show to begin. The time came, and the first projector automatically started at the designated time. A second or two later the second projector was supposed to start up, slaved to the first and being controlled by it. All seemed well for about 30 seconds, then the alarms went off and the first projector shutdown. The second projector kept running and began to pull the film through the first projector, ripping the perforations in the film as it went. This was not good!
By the time I had realised what was happening, the second projector had managed to pull about 20 metres of film through the first, before snapping the reel and shutting itself down. The lights in both theatres came up, and my radio crackled into life “projection, come in projection”. The floor supervisor told me what I already knew, both screens were blank, and there was discord amongst the crowds of moviegoers.
I frantically tried to work the problem, ignoring repeated radio requests for an update as I worked. Then, the projector at the far end of the building that had been problematic throughout the day shit the bed and shut down as well. My stress levels went through the roof, and I let out a guttural cry, “FUUUUCCCCK”.
The general manager appeared at the door, trying to figure out the scene before her. Both projectors have alarms sounding, there was damaged film all across the projection booth, and me in the corner, desperately trying to keep my shit together and failing miserably. I wanted the world to swallow me there and then.
The weeks before this “meltdown” happened had been increasingly fraught. My staff were unfocused, and that was understandable under the circumstances, plus there had been a sudden increase in the number of shows that the cinema was putting on. We had, for many years, been able to spend our mornings building up films, maintaining projectors and the various theatres themselves.
By adding extra shows, the cinema ate into that time that we had set aside for all of that essential work. We no longer had time to rehearse the films, maintain the projectors or change the blown bulbs within the theatres. It sucked. On top of this, the senior management team at HQ decided that we couldn’t allow our projectionists to do overtime. Overtime was the only way we could stay on top of all of the work that needed to be done. The department went from calm and efficient, too stressful and inefficient in a matter of weeks. It was as if someone at the top of the organisation flicked a switch and caused all of the problems.
So, here I was, a jibbering wreck staring at my manager like a rabbit caught in the headlights. All I wanted to do was run away and hide, I had failed in a big way, and it crippled me.
Both shows were cancelled that night, and there were never any more interlocks performed with the film projectors. The next day, a Sunday I spent in bed feeling utterly useless. I couldn’t even face my family; such was my feeling of failure. On Monday I felt sick to my stomach, so I made an appointment to see my doctor.
My doctor was an affable man. He sat me down and asked me the usual questions. I explained to him what had happened and told him that I hadn’t felt right since “the incident” at work. He took my blood pressure, listened to my heart and said to me that I was suffering from an anxiety attack. With that, he signed me off work for two weeks and told me to try to relax.
I didn’t get better. It was a year before I was well enogh to return to work. I got involved as best I could. The primary focus of my remaining time at the cinema was preparing for the transition to digital. I learned a lot about the technology, and I was even sent on several courses to bring me up to speed with the next-gen digital equipment that was to be installed. But it all felt like a waste of time. In the back of my mind, I was wondering what the point of it was, mainly as the promise of further employment had evaporated following my extended illness.
In June of 2012, I returned my keys, my uniform and my passes and left the cinema for the last time. I was now redundant, in more ways than one.
For the last five years, I have tried hard to carve out a career for myself. I’ve spent a lot of time and money training myself in new skills. I’ve worked away from home for almost nine months, only returning at the weekend to be with my family. That ended up being a waste of time, covered with a layer of broken promises.
Another nail, but worrying about the past is a thing of the past for me.
Rhona, by then, was supporting us with her novelty cake making business. I continued to try various things in an attempt to make money. Photography has been intermittent, the web design and digital marketing side of things are also irregular, but it does seem to be improving all of the time. The trouble is, I seem to be lacking in consistency. There’s doesn’t seem to be a way for me to tap into the regular work I need to make ends meet. It all seems to be just out of my reach.
Today I have realised that I am the only person that can make the changes required to move forward with my life. I am the problem. I am the person that is holding me back. There is no one else to blame for my situation but me.
There is a certain amount of money that I need to earn, to be comfortable and to provide for my family. It isn’t a lot really, but it seems to be just beyond my reach. That isn’t the only thing in my life that needs addressing, but I am fed up with drifting along, hoping for the best. Things have got to change, and it needs to happen now. No more procrastinating, just laser-focused determination to make a fundamental change in my life.
I have a massive skill-set now, I am going to add to it over the coming weeks and push forward with making the right changes in my life. I’m going to do what I need to do, without relying on anyone else to get me there, although I won’t be afraid to ask for help if I do need it. I will not be a victim of broken promises and piss-taking moochers, those lessons have been learned, and I’m confident that I will be able to recognise those situations now. That being said, I forgive all of those transgressions. Being upset and angry because of those circumstances has not got me anywhere, and that’s okay.
Things are about to change my friends; things are about to change.
Until next time, adieu.