He seeks no recognition. He earns no prize. And contrary to what you might think, he doesn't get to watch films while you do. He is Brandon Delaney, the man in the little box in the back of the cinema, making sure you can enjoy The Rocky Horror Picture Show in peace and in focus.
Every night that the Plaza Theatre lights up its screens, Delaney arrives at 4:30 p.m. to help make sure the Art Deco cinema is up and running. He switches on all the main breakers, heats up the projector bulbs, and closes the curtain to give theatergoers the grand reveal at showtime. If the Poncey-Highland playhouse is featuring a 35mm film — which, unlike most theaters, the Plaza still does now and then — Delaney or the other projectionist splice the reels together to create a seamless cinematic experience. The stakes are high. If at any moment while watching a movie you didn't feel like you were in a different world, then Delaney has failed.
"It's like the CIA," he says. "If we do our job right nobody ever knew we existed. That could totally be applied to a projectionist. The moment you mess up, everyone's gonna hear about it. It's like the CIA messing up in the Middle East or something. You're gonna hear about it."
The 25-year-old Valdosta native — and a self-described "science fiction nerd to the nth degree" — moved to Atlanta roughly four years ago to "follow a girl." He started working in one of the bigger movie theater chains, where he learned most of his projection skills at the hands of Rodney Bryson, "the Yoda to my Luke Skywalker," he says. A few months ago, the Plaza Theatre job opened, and he liked the mom-and-pop feel of the independent cinema. During the morning and early afternoon and on days off, he works on multiple short-film projects, screenplays, and a graphic novel.
At the Plaza, Delaney's usually behind the scenes, tending to not just the films but also the lighting, electronics, and myriad back-end duties that have been created thanks to the advent of digital projection. When the head projectionist isn't at the theater, it's up to Delaney to be sure the movies start on time.
Nowadays, the vast majority of the movies shown are digital, which requires Delaney to load digital cinema packages, or DCPs, which look like long disk drives, into the projector. Trailers for upcoming films come on USB drives. After he presses play on the computer controlling the projector, he opens the curtains, lowers the lights, turns on the sound, and, voilà, your climate-controlled viewing of Evil Dead has begun. Delaney hopes you enjoy every second.
"When I see a movie, and it's a really good movie, everything else kind of just fades out," he says. "There aren't a lot of things like that in today's world; you kind of go into a movie and everything else fizzles away. And to see people's expressions on their faces — you see that upstairs, you see that light hitting their faces. If it's a scary moment you'll see them jump. If it's a funny moment you'll see them laugh. And those little moments are what make being a projectionist so fun ... You're kind of living through every moment with them."