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Make And Tear (about Jeffskla)

300px-Projector_and_platter.jpgAbout 2 years after graduating high school in Vestal, NY, I dropped out of college, moved to North Hollywood, and got a job as an usher in a United Artists movie theater.

United Artists had converted most of their movie projectors to use automated systems and felt they no longer needed union labor to operate those systems, so they forced the union out. One or more of the theaters got vandalized, so they asked young, stupid me if I'd be willing to sleep in the theater with a baseball bat. Lucky for me, I never was tested with it, but I was introduced to the fascinating process of "make and tear", which happened the night before new movies opened.

A full-length film came in about 6 separate reels. A non-automated theater required 2 projectors to show the movie, and a projectionist was needed to smoothly switch from one reel to the next. In an automated system, however, all of the reels were spliced onto a platter (a spinning round table)--this was the "make". The movie was shown by running the film from the center of one platter (the source), through a single projector, onto the center of another platter (spinning above or below the source). When the movie was replaced, it needed to be unspliced back onto the original 6 or so reels--this was the "tear". After making a new movie onto a platter, it was a good idea to test it out to make sure no mistakes were made, the end result being a sneak preview before the first public showing.

I was soon taught how to run the projectors during the day, but the manager kept the make-and-tear process for himself. It paid well, and was a heck of a lot of fun if you didn't mind the lack of sleep. It was rumored that the manager wanted the extra money for his serious cocaine habit, which was probably true as he was shot not long after, drug-assassination style, at the Italian restaurant next to the movie theater. The assistant managers tried taking over make-and-tear, but it was too hectic for them, so I finally got the gig. I quickly turned make-and-tear into a weekly party--with beer, friends, and our pick of sneak previews in the wee hours of the morning.

I worked as a non-union projectionist for a couple of years until United Artists decided that they didn't need projectionists at all. Instead, they trained assistant managers, ushers, and candy girls to quickly run upstairs between movie showings. They still needed someone to do make-and-tear at their flagship theater in Westwood, however, so I hung onto that. As fate would have it, the local union elected a new president that decided to take in many of the non-union projectionists. The Los Angeles projectionist union was huge, and there were still plenty of union movie theaters in the metropolitan area that they represented. I had also come to greatly sympathize with the plight of projectionists and the lower quality movie experience that companies like United Artists was trending to, so I gladly joined. I still loved doing make-and-tear in Westwood, though, and selfish me would not give that up, despite that being clearly against union rules. I guess you might call this Mistake #1.

These were very good times for me. The union jobs paid very well, and they seemed to send me on the creamiest assignments. The best of these was a very classy art theater near Century City. I was given a long-term gig there, and I formed close relationships with all of the employees, many of whom I invited to my make-and-tear sneak previews (Mistake #2). Amongst these were 2 beautiful sisters from Canada, whom I both dated. The older one was more my style, so we became serious for a short while. Unfortunately, the assistant manager considered this woman to be his girl, and he was also good friends with the other union projectionist that worked there (yep, Mistake #3).

One day I was called to the union headquarters and faced by a board of old, fat, scary, bearded men. Not surprisingly, the other union projectionist at the art theater had reported my non-union gig. Rather than kill me, or oust me, they made me swear to quit make-and-tear and promise never to do it again, which I immediately cowered and complied to. After that, I received the shittiest assignments one can imagine, until I slowly came back into their graces. I must say, on one hand, that I owe several years of my life to the relatively kind union president--he was an extremely powerful man who flew in the face of the American mafia image. I highly respect his strategy of openess and forgiveness. On the other hand, I regret the loss of the single best 6-hour-a-week job I ever had.

What lessons did I learn from this? Honestly, none. I probably would not give up make-and-tear if I had a do-over. I would probably be more discrete about it, but only slightly so, because part of the joy was sharing it. Would I pursue somebody else's hot girl? You bet, and I did, and I married her. I found out later that she was a non-union, candy girl projectionist at United Artists--go figure.