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Thread: Reel-markers

  1. #1
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    Do you ever see the squiggles in the top corner? Does it bother you? Do they still use this method to signal the approaching end of a cinema reel?

    As I understand it, the projectionist would have to change film reels several times during a performance in the cinema. Swapping between two (or more?) projectors at the precise moment when one roll of film reached the end, switching to the next roll that was ready-to-go on the adjacent projector. His job would be crucial for the audience, but essentially invisible and unknown except when something went wrong.

    To help with the timing of the changeover, films distributed to cinemas would have tiny markers on several frames near the end of the reel, which could be used by the projectionist. The audience would be unaware, or oblivious, of the little circles that flashed up in the top right hand corner of the image briefly near the end of a scene. You still see them sometimes on films being broadcast on TV.

    I learned this years ago but I was never able to get any further information. What are the timings? Did all studios use the same system? How do they do it now, has it changed? How many reel-changes does it take for a 90 minute movie? How do the multiplex cinemas do it, is there one projection room and a load of mirrors?

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by StoneAgeMan View Post
    Do you ever see the squiggles in the top corner? Does it bother you? Do they still use this method to signal the approaching end of a cinema reel?

    As I understand it, the projectionist would have to change film reels several times during a performance in the cinema. Swapping between two (or more?) projectors at the precise moment when one roll of film reached the end, switching to the next roll that was ready-to-go on the adjacent projector. His job would be crucial for the audience, but essentially invisible and unknown except when something went wrong.

    To help with the timing of the changeover, films distributed to cinemas would have tiny markers on several frames near the end of the reel, which could be used by the projectionist. The audience would be unaware, or oblivious, of the little circles that flashed up in the top right hand corner of the image briefly near the end of a scene. You still see them sometimes on films being broadcast on TV.

    I learned this years ago but I was never able to get any further information. What are the timings? Did all studios use the same system? How do they do it now, has it changed? How many reel-changes does it take for a 90 minute movie? How do the multiplex cinemas do it, is there one projection room and a load of mirrors?
    Well, StoneAgeMan, what an appropriate user name! If we start with today and work backwards it might be easier. Cinemas today do not project film at all, they have digital projectors served by a central server on which all the "films" are loaded. There are no projectionists, the cinema management simply programme the computer to send the "film" to the appropriate projector.
    Prior to the advent of digital projection, 35mm film was used. The film would be delivered to the cinema in a box containing the 2,000ft reels of film which the projectionists would make up into a continuous strip loaded on a non rewind device, the most common of which was the platter system, commonly called a cakestand. There was only one projector per screen and the entire programme would be run off of the cakestand to be returned to the platter below (or above depending on where it had started, the cakestand had three platters) ready to be laced up in the projector again for the next show. All the projectionist had to do was lace up the print at the beginning of each show, after that it would be left alone apart from opening tabs and masking unless a problem was reported. Most cinemas, following the introduction of non rewind devices, went to single manning most of the time, even those that had multiple boxes on different levels like the 1970s triple conversions. These conversions were only viable with single head projection with non rewind, a box with two machines and the staff needed to run them would have made it uneconomic.
    Before non rewind, most cinemas had adopted 6,000ft spools which usually required only one changeover per screening for most features. The cue marks at the end of the reel were ten seconds apart, the first signalling that the second machine should be started and the second the actual changeover. Prior to the big reels, there would indeed be a changeover every twenty minutes throughout the film.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by odeonman View Post
    The film would be delivered to the cinema in a box containing the 2,000ft reels of film which the projectionists would make up into a continuous strip loaded on a non rewind device, the most common of which was the platter system, commonly called a cakestand.
    How many minutes is a 2,000 ft roll of film? How would the reels be joined? Would the other parts of a show be added to this continuous strip (the Pearl & Dean adverts, the trailers of future screenings, the grotty local minicab firm and the two competing Indian TakeAway restaurants)? In what way is it "non-rewind"?

    Quote Originally Posted by odeonman View Post
    All the projectionist had to do was lace up the print at the beginning of each show, after that it would be left alone apart from opening tabs and masking unless a problem was reported.
    "Opening tabs" would be opening the curtains, right? but what is "masking"?

    Quote Originally Posted by odeonman View Post
    Most cinemas, following the introduction of non rewind devices, went to single manning most of the time, even those that had multiple boxes on different levels like the 1970s triple conversions. These conversions were only viable with single head projection with non rewind
    So in cinemas after the multi-screens were installed, there would be one projectionist going from one "box" to another to kick off the show? Going up and down stairs all night, sometimes responding to an "urgent" call? Sounds like a job for someone in good shape.


    I'm thinking of all sorts of questions now. Re-discovering curiosity that has lain dormant for a very long time. Thank you for answering, stop me if I get boring.

  4. #4
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    A 2000 reel of 35 minute film is approximately 18 minutes.
    Masking is the black material around the screen to alter it to the aspect ratio in which the film is being shown.Nowdays this is not too common.
    There would be a couple of projectionists on shift at many multiplexes.In fact one blockbuster film,could with an attachment of pulleys be used to screen the film in a number of auditoria,utilising the cakestands where films were put on this device which looked like a large cakestand.
    I used to like the dots.After cinemas did away with clocks in the cinema,you could work out how far you were into the film by the number of reel changes.
    I often used to sit in the rows of the upper circle in the ABC Golders Green so that I could see the projectionist making the reel change.
    My ambition at school was to be a projectionist but I ended up as a lawyer,sad isn't it!

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    Quote Originally Posted by StoneAgeMan View Post
    How many minutes is a 2,000 ft roll of film? How would the reels be joined? Would the other parts of a show be added to this continuous strip (the Pearl & Dean adverts, the trailers of future screenings, the grotty local minicab firm and the two competing Indian TakeAway restaurants)? In what way is it "non-rewind"?


    "Opening tabs" would be opening the curtains, right? but what is "masking"?


    So in cinemas after the multi-screens were installed, there would be one projectionist going from one "box" to another to kick off the show? Going up and down stairs all night, sometimes responding to an "urgent" call? Sounds like a job for someone in good shape.


    I'm thinking of all sorts of questions now. Re-discovering curiosity that has lain dormant for a very long time. Thank you for answering, stop me if I get boring.
    A 2000ft reel runs roughly twenty minutes. When arriving at the cinema, each reel would be wound onto an actual metal reel and loaded onto the projector. In the 6000ft spool days, each twenty minute reel would be shorn of it's leader (black spacing at the beginning and end of the reel) and joined with the other reels to be wound onto the spool. In cakestand days, each reel would be joined up in sequence (minus the spacing) to form a continuous slab of film laying on the platter. The supporting programme would also have been incorporated into this continuous slab. In 1970s triple conversions, the original box serving the original screen retained two projectors and cakestands were not installed until some years later to enable single manning to be implemented. In most cases the two projectors were retained (the cakestand could serve either of them) and often the ads and trailers were run on a separate reel on one machine while the other was laced up with the feature. If a double bill was being shown both films would be on the cakestand which could hold about four hours of film. Reels were joined together with clear tape.
    Screen masking adjusts the visible screen to the aspect ratio of the film. After the introduction of CinemaScope in 1953 it was necessary to have variable masking to go from 'Scope (which eventually standardised on 2.35:1) to widescreen (in the UK 1.75:1). In most circuit cinemas, the screen was of fixed height and the side masking moved out for 'Scope. 2.35:1 films were anamorphc prints which required a different projection lens, aperture plate and the anamorphic lens which "unsqueezed" the image. Widescreen films were shot flat and usually open matte, so the full 4x3 frame was used, but the top and bottom of the image contained no essential action and were chopped off by the 1.75:1 aperture plate in the projector.
    As for the poor old projectionists, yes they did have to leg it up and down stairs all day, but in a typical triple, the programmes would all start within a period of half an hour or so and obviously timesheets were worked out to avoid clashes, particularly between the upstairs box and the downstairs one (which usually ran along the back of the stalls serving both minis). The projectionist could usually count on at least an hour without action being needed.

  6. #6
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    Yes but in the days of nitrate they used to have to have a projectionist by the machine at all times in case of fire,so boxes had far more staff including a rewind boy.

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    Senior Member Country: Scotland narabdela's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by orpheum2 View Post
    My ambition at school was to be a projectionist but I ended up as a lawyer,sad isn't it!

    You went over to The Dark Side.

  8. #8
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    Oh I never thought of it that way.Mind you when I was 15 I applied for a part time job at the Classic Baker |Street but sadly never received a response.Just think if I had my life could have been quite different.I would have been made redundant!

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    Quote Originally Posted by odeonman View Post
    Widescreen films were shot flat and usually open matte, so the full 4x3 frame was used, but the top and bottom of the image contained no essential action and were chopped off by the 1.75:1 aperture plate in the projector.
    Now that answers another question. So the film delivered to the cinema, would still include the full frame, as exposed in the camera, but would be masked off to the appropriate ratio at the time of projection? I wondered about that! So this may also account for some "boom in shot" situations where the error is included in the print, but could be mitigated by a sharp-eyed projectionist who was able to fine-tune the masking as appropriate (but not once the show was running).

    Orpheum, I also know the Golders Green ABC. It was there that I was sitting in a quiet scene of one movie ("Hooper" with Burt Reynolds) but could overhear the plaintive cries of John Travolta singing "Oh Sandy" from "Grease" coming from the larger screen. Which would make it around 1978.

    A projectionist, it strikes me, is like a Foley Artist, or a Make-Up Artist, or indeed so many of the other crew required to make a movie work. You will probably only ever notice their work if something has gone wrong. For the most part, they are invisible and people will give no thought to their presence whatsoever, but there would be hell to pay if anything ruins the show!

    My only experience of a projection problem was at the Harrogate Odeon, during a showing of "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger"(1977)*, when the sound disappeared for several minutes at the start of the "final reel". Big action scenes, lots of crucial dialogue and probably all sorts of plot points lost while somebody somewhere was tearing their hair out trying to fix something. I think most of the audience assumed they would re-show the last fifteen minutes, but we were all just ushered out when it finished and they apologised a bit and tidied up for the next show.

    *or it might have been "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad"(1973), I can't remember if I was 9 or 13 when it happened.

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    I can remember:
    1seeing the academy leader accidentally shown
    2the picture dimming to brown and white as the projectionist was not attending to the lamp
    3Reels being shown in the wrong order
    4The film catching fire at the NFT.
    Ah happy days

  11. #11
    Senior Member Country: UK agutterfan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StoneAgeMan View Post
    Do you ever see the squiggles in the top corner? Does it bother you? Do they still use this method to signal the approaching end of a cinema reel?
    I never noticed them until I saw the Columbo film Make Me a Perfect Murder where the projectionist character pointed this out. Have you noticed that TV adopted this trick too? Look inthe top right hand corner and when a little square appears it means a commercial breaking coming up.

  12. #12
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    that is more of a continuity marker for the telecine department.
    There were 2 projection dots ,they were so spaced that the appearance of the first one was the signal for the projector with the new reel to be started,the second was the signal for the dowser on the projector with the old reel to be brought down and the one on the new one to be brought up,thereby effecting a seamless transformation from one reel to another,hopefully.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    When I was a projectionist between 1961 and 1981, I worked on the two projector system, each running 18 to 20 minutes of film on each spool. The screen masking went in and out at the sides to accommodate CinemaScope and non-anamorphic wide screen. SuperScope anamorphic films had the masking set midway between CinemaScope width and wide screen width. There were two sets of cue marks on the end of each reel and each cue mark was printed over four frames of film. So they would go through the gate in a flash. The main problem with this was that if you were stood by the other projector looking at the screen and waiting to see the cues, if you blinked, you'd miss them. So it was common practice as a precaution for the second or third operator to stand by the projector that was running and, when he saw the cue, he would shout "MOTOR!" and then you would switch on the machine and open the dowser on the carbon arc and, a few seconds later, which gave the leader on the next reel time to run through to the picture, he would shout "OVER!" and you would switch over picture and sound.

    The most complicated part of the show to run was the trailers. Especially if the trailers were a mixture of CinemaScope and standard format films. In this case, the two separate types of trailer had each to be on a spool of their own. It was a complicated procedure that required a lot of experience and practice to get right. For instance, let us imagine the first trailer on is a ’Scope trailer for next Sunday’s feature. On the end of the adverts, there is a title saying “Presenting our Future Programme”, followed by another title saying “Next Sunday”. You immediately change over onto your ’Scope trailer, at the same time stopping the previous machine. A length of leader after the Next Sunday title enables the film to slow down and stop just before the next trailer, which would be a standard format trailer for Sunday’s second feature. At the end of the ’Scope trailer, there is a title saying “Also”. You change back over onto the first machine, immediately stopping the ’Scope reel which, also having a length of leader in between, will slow down and stop just before the next trailer. The standard reel carries on past the Sunday second feature trailer, and says “Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday” The trailer for the feature is standard format so you let it carry on. But get ready, because the trailer for the second feature is in ’Scope. At the end of the feature trailer, there is another title saying “Also”. Back over to ’Scope. And so on and so on, back and forth, back and forth. A procedure made even more difficult if you had some “Coming Shortly” attractions on the reels as well. Being a projectionist in those days was a complicated and involved job.

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    I would like to have had a go.
    Mind you some of the trailers were better than the films they advertised.

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    By the way were did the ads go ,on with the Trailers or a separate reel?

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    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    The adverts were first on the non-anamorphic reel, followed by the non-anamorphic trailers.

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    Nowdays they have those J>C Deco ads whose sole purpose in life seems to be blast you out of your seats instead of the great tunes of Pearl & Dean.Pah pah pa pa pa pah.....

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    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    Don't you still get the adverts for local shops & restaurants using a generic ad with the name slotted in (badly) ?

    Steve

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    I saw this recently on another site.
    Apparently Paramount used to put markers at the beginning of each reel of open-matte films to denote which part of the image needed to be shown to get the 1.66, 1.85 or 2.00 ratio.
    I was not aware of this. Presumably they did it as their VistaVision films were designed to be shown in any of those 3 ratios.
    paramount_frame_guide.jpg

  20. #20
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    I've no idea what they do now on the adverts, but in my day, the Lyons Maid ice cream and Kia-Ora orange drink filmlets were first on the reel, followed by the national adverts for products like Camay soap ("You'll be a little lovelier each day, with fabulous pink Camay"); Ultrabrite toothpaste ("for the white, white smile that gets you noticed") and Nimble bread, with a girl floating around in a hot air balloon, munching on a sandwich ("She flies like a bird in the sky-yie-yie. She flies like a bird and I wish that she was mine. She flies like a bird, oh me oh my, now I know, I can't let Maggie go!"...which became a big pop hit for The Honeybus around 1968), and other national adverts followed by the local ads, such as "Tea time! That means delicious bread and cakes, all fresh from our bakery. Bengry's of Bengry Road, only a hundred yards from this cinema!"

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