Glitches and mixups happen everywhere, including Down Under


The recent incident in which a screening of Inception was stopped at a Los Angeles cinema attended by the film’s director Christopher Nolan reminded me of several cinema disasters Down Under.

One of the most famous was the gala Australian premiere of Braveheart with Mel Gibson in attendance. The cinema had gone to great lengths to make the occasion special with the cinema looking spotless. Flowers lined the entrance and the distributors had a celebrity audience. Everything was ready for a memorable premiere and that is certainly what happened. Halfway through the screening, the print burned and audiences were left with a lovely white screen. Gibson, who had stayed in his seat for the screening, was not at all happy. It was 20 minutes before the screening resumed.

A different cinema had a similar experience a few years later, but, as often happens, the Hollywood star had not stayed for the screening, and there was a lot less publicity about the incident.

Many cinema operators and patrons remember the times when all films played with an interval. There was usually a selection of shorts followed by a break and then the main film. When the system changed to features only, one New Zealand cinema kept the intervals going for another ten years. They would stop the film at a spot chosen by the cinema for an interval to sell more concession items and provide for a toilet break. It was not until a traveling distributor discovered the practice that it was stopped.

The operators of a country cinema in Australia always wanted to finish films by 10:30 p.m. They planned to go home at the same time every night, and their patrons liked movies to end at that time. It also saved on electricity costs. No trouble. The cinema just cut out a few scenes from longer films and always finished on time. Because the cinema was at the end of the line for receiving prints, the operator did not always re-insert the scenes into the prints. This apparently went on for many years. It was not until some of the prints were sent on to a repertory cinema that the edited prints were discovered.

Another cinema had an alternative method to ensure an earlier finish. The film screening was the reissue of Lawrence of Arabia with an intermission. The correct intermission occurred and the lights came up. Patrons left the auditorium for the candy bar, but the film kept going. The second platter had been set up to start after the first finished. The poor young projectionist on duty did not know how to rewind the platter, so he eventually stopped the film and restarted it when patrons came back missing several minutes of part two.

There are a number of problems that have occurred at multiplexes around the world with screenings of children's and adult films at complexes. One Australian exhibitor received national coverage when patrons in the auditorium for a Disney G-rated film were presented with a very adults-only R-rated film. A radio station talk-back presenter was in the audience with his family and he was not at all happy. He made sure his audience knew about the disaster. This has happened at other cinemas, but many were lucky enough to have kept it quiet.

Problems can happen at any cinema. Usually nobody hears about them. I once wrote a story about a disastrous gala opening night for a film at a particular Australian cinema, but did not name the cinema. At the Australian Movie Conference, one exhibitor came up to me and asked how I found out about the screening problems at his cinema's premiere screening. I did not know, I replied—I was writing about a different cinema.

One projectionist did not seem to know the difference between bio box and box office. Asked to leave a print of Titanic outside the bio box for collection by a courier, he left it outside the box office (ticket box). The print has never been seen since.

One particular cinema is very popular for trade days, when a distributor invites key exhibitors in to show upcoming trailers plus a feature and offers a lunch. The distributor was not at all happy when the program started and trailers for a rival distribution company appeared onscreen. The projectionist had loaded all the material for a presentation that was to occur the day after. The cinema was very apologetic about the mix-up.

A story from about 20 years ago shows that it often pays to train members of the family. A ten-year-old boy, who was often in the projection box, happily began the matinee session of a film when his father was delayed due to attendance at a funeral. Because the boy was a bit short, he had to stand on a box to start the movie. All went well and the film was screening perfectly when dad arrived. The son is now running the cinema.

Filming of the new Mad Max film has been delayed. Recent rains Down Under turned the locations green, not at all suitable for the arid setting. Much secrecy surrounds this new film. Actors auditioning for roles are not even being told which part they are being considered for.

E-mail your Australia/New Zealand news items to David Pearce at