The Avengers Was Deleted Before a Press Screening. How Did That Happen?

Slate's Culture Blog
April 26 2012 5:07 PM

How The Avengers Got “Deleted”

1335473667770
A still from The Avengers.

Wednesday morning, Indiewire film critic Eric Kohn set off a flurry of retweeting and favoriting on Twitter when he reported an accident at a movie screening:

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

file

Three hours later, Entertainment Weekly critic Lisa Schwartzbaum corroborated Kohn’s report, joking:

file
Advertisement

How easy is it for a digital projectionist to delete an entire film? Slate asked Steve Kraus, whom Roger Ebert has called one of “the best projectionists in the nation.” Kraus told us that it’s as easy as deleting any important file from your computer. “It’s click to delete from the server and an ‘Are you sure?’ confirmation,” he explained over email. “Of course, as with most computers it's not really gone … but probably only a real computer geek could get into the system to ‘undelete.’”

The lack of real computer geeks—or serious techies of any kind—behind digital projectors was one of Ebert’s plaints when he wrote about the visual pitfalls of digital projection last year. His main concern: Many people employed as digital projectionists lack the skill and training to switch out 3D lenses when projecting 2D films, an oversight that results in dim projections. Whereas film projectionists are skilled workers—and used to be compensated accordingly—digital projection requires the bare minimum of menial tasks, and movie theaters may be tempted to hire (and pay) their new projectionists with that in mind.

According to a fascinating story about the death of 35mm film published in L.A. Weekly earlier this month, “Playing a movie on a DCP [Digital Cinema Package] projector involves plugging the hard drive into the projector, creating a playlist, as you would on an iPod, and pressing a button to play.” Though digital projection equipment is costly—up to $150,000 per screen—theaters are increasingly happy to shell out the upfront cost in the hopes of long-term savings (which may include not employing projectionists at all). Studios, meanwhile, save money on printing and shipping when they use DCPs instead of 35mm film. It’s win-win for everyone—except the projectionists who have lost their jobs and the audiences who occasionally endure mishaps like dark screens and deleted movies.

And deleting digital movie files is not solely the province of unskilled projectionists—as the makers of Toy Story 2 discovered during production. As the rather delightful video below explains, someone accidentally hit the delete command on the Linux machines used to store the movie files. (“Have you ever accidentally dropped something out of your pocket while the toilet was flushing?” asks Galyn Susman, the supervising technical director of the film, by way of explaining how this blunder felt.)

Luckily, this story—like that of the Avengers screening—had a happy ending. In this case, Susman, who’d been working from home while taking care of her newborn, had backup files at home.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 22 2014 8:07 AM Why Haven’t the Philadelphia Eagles Ever Won a Super Bowl?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.