In March 2012, the future caught up with Dave Hilsgen and Justin Christopher Ayd, projectionists at the Willow Creek Cinema in Plymouth. The clatter of old reel canisters and the flickering of twenty-four frames per second were replaced with the crisp and quiet perfection of stored data, as the longtime 35mm celluloid projectors were swept aside for Digital Cinema. It wasn’t a shock for either the elder Hilsgen or his avid film-buff protégé Ayd. This was the inexorable final destination for analog exhibition. Tens of thousands of digital projectors had already been installed, about 50% of movie screens globally. By 2015, the turnover was projected to be nearly total.
Hilsgen, a St. Cloud native who’d been in the business for 40 years at theaters and drive-ins throughout greater Minnesota and the metro area, had enough versatile technical expertise to guarantee him a permanent place at Willow Creek. But Ayd, employed there since his teen years, was in a more worrisome position. Aside from his own work as a budding filmmaker, he wanted to be a projectionist, the final human instrument in the filmmaking process, casting light on what the directors, producers, cinematographers, editors, sound men, actors etc. had wrought in Hollywood, for a live audience. Fortunately, his job was secured when Willow Creek made him Assistant Theatre Manager and Social Media Manager. But the booth, the tabernacle where the projectionists once pulled the switches and kept watch amidst the noisy rattle of film in motion, was quiet, a den kept together on the convenient, clockwork efficiency of moviedom’s brave new world. The Future was locked and loaded. The lively rattle was now a monotone hum.