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‘I’ve got celluloid running through my veins’

Robert Johnson has been running the Kavanagh cinema in the town centre for seven years. Here the 54-year old talks about staying ahead with the latest technology and his love for the film industry
Tell us about yourself

I’ve been working in cinema since I was a 16-year-old lad. I worked as a projectionist at a cinema in my home town near Alton Towers in Staffordshire. At Keele University I did the protection work at the Student Union and would put films on for the students there. I still live up there, and I run three cinemas in total, but the Kavanagh is the only one I own, so it’s mine and important to me. I’ve been running it for seven years. I always remember being the projectionist for Mary Poppins when I was younger, and hearing the people singing along. I like to know that I’m keeping people entertained, and I like to say that I’ve got celluloid running through my veins.

How did you corn, across the Kavanagh?

I was looking to set up my own cinema or take one on in this part of the world. People had told me “why don’t you go down to Kent?” I thought at first it was just too far so I would say “I can’t” but then eventually I did come down to take a look. People thought I would go for the Canton in Westgate, but when saw the Kavanagh, I just thought I’d rather go for Herne Bay. And ever since I’ve always enjoyed my trips down to Kent. I come every few weeks. It’s nice to come here and not see all the boarded-up shops like you get in Stoke-on-Trent. Then during the summer you’ve got the seaside.

What new technology have you got in place?

I’ve paid a bit more to get 3D in 48 frames per second, whereas the normal standard at cinemas is 24 frames per second. It means that the picture is clearer and feels more real when the audience is watching the film. It means it’s really in your face. We had to have a big test for it, and a crew from The Hobbit in Los Angeles came down to inspect it. Their engineers passed us and said we had met their required standards of precision to be able to show the movie. We are the only ones in this part of the world to have it. You’d have to go to London before you find another cinema which has it.

How important is it to keep up with technology?

We switched to all digital last year, which meant we stopped using the traditional reels. It’s very important in the digital age. We have to offer a lot more to audiences. We have got opera and theatre beamed in to Herne Bay so people don’t hive to go up to London. They don’t have to spend hundreds of pounds going up there and worrying about getting tickets. They can come here for £10 and enjoy the show.

What are your favourite films?

I was asked this by a local newspaper in Staffordshire. I said my favourite book is The Hobbit, which has the new film out very soon. In terms of a favourite film I liked Dances with Wolves. As a projectionist it was one of those films where you had to change reels every 20 minutes so you had to use two projectors. There were 10 reels in total, so putting that on without people noticing every time you swapped them was a marathon. When the audience didn’t notice a thing then you knew you had done a good job. Of course that was back in the good old days before you just had to press a button.

Herne Bay Gazette, December 11th 2014

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