Film Projection Service, 1967
The regular screening of feature films for entertainment and artistic purposes on campus had begun in October 1929, when the then-new Lydia Mendelssohn Theater began showing rented 35mm feature films. The Art Cinema League, the first film society on the U-M campus was formed in 1932 by a group of interested students and faculty to offer a subscription-based series of weekly art film screenings at Mendelssohn, and later the Rackham Auditorium. In the late 1940s a second group was founded, the Gothic Film Society, and then in 1950 the Art Cinema League was taken over by the Student Legislature, which reconstituted it as Cinema Guild.
While projectionists of these films generally were supplied by units in the U-M plant department, the amount of work was sufficient to inspire the creation of a separate organization called Film Projection Service (FPS), which would bill for its work through U-M Student Organization Account Services. Its founder was a Cinema Guild member, Peter Wilde, who had a great interest in the technical aspects of projection and was an inveterate tinkerer.
With audiovisual content increasingly finding a place in the modern classroom, due to their technical skills and reliability FPS staff had also begun working for the University showing slides for the Art History Department, running 16mm films for classes like ones in the new Program in Film and Video Studies, including some taught by Peter Wilde, and setting up microphones in auditoriums on Central Campus. They were negotiated for in contract talks by the IATSE union, which also represented stagehands who worked events at Hill Auditorium, Lydia Mendelssohn, and other large U-M venues. Like those workers, they were not guaranteed 40 hours of work and received no health or retirement benefits, though their wages were typically about double the minimum wage of the time.
Because most classroom work dried up and the film groups cut their schedules back dramatically during the spring-summer academic terms from May through August, much of FPS’s small staff took on other jobs. In Peter Wilde’s case this included touring as the lighting and projection system operator for touring rock bands like Grand Funk Railroad, Kiss and Supertramp, while others worked at restaurants or staffed the booths of local drive-ins like the University on Carpenter Road, whose summer-only schedule dovetailed nicely with the decline in U-M work. In 1986 FPS also began projecting films at the new Ann Arbor Summer Festival, using a pair of 16mm projectors carried over from Angell Hall Auditorium A.
Meanwhile, a separate unit that provided small classrooms with equipment like slide and overhead transparency projectors had grown out of the AVEC. It relied on part-time student workers to deliver the equipment while also maintaining a small repair shop to keep the gear working.