That White Dot That Appears in Old Movies (cue marks)*

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by Barnabas Collins, Aug 31, 2008.

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  1. Barnabas Collins

    Barnabas Collins Senior Member Thread Starter

    I've always noticed in old films and TV shows, a white dot that shows up every so often usually in the upper right corner of the screen. It always comes up as a scene ends. The film gets a little splice-y looking and the dot-which actually looks more like a hole burned into the film-flickers a few times and then the next scene begins as usual. Anyone know what I'm talking about?
  2. filper

    filper Forum Resident

    That's how the projectionists know when to change the reels.
  3. mavisgold

    mavisgold Senior Member

    bellingham wa

    cinematography question

    What do you call the mark placed on a film near the end of a reel that flashes on the screen to tell the projectionist to switch reels? In Italian it is segnalatore di passaggio. SemperBlotto 14:31, 7 November 2007 (UTC)

    A cue mark. —RuakhTALK 20:21, 7 November 2007 (UTC)
    Thanks. SemperBlotto 22:32, 7 November 2007 (UTC)
    According to the movie "Fight Club it is know in the film industry as a "cigarette burn", which may have some currency if you wanted to look into it. - TheDaveRoss 22:02, 14 November 2007 (UTC)
    And according to en:wp's article on cue marks, the term "cigarette burn" was invented for said movie. \Mike 22:32, 14 November 2007 (UTC)

    ... the reel change markers ("cigarette burns"... watch "Fight Club", dammit!) are in the image (on the top-right corner) to signal the end of a reel (appears approx. 7 seconds as a signal to the projectionist, and the second time for the end of the reel so the projectionist can switch reels)) ...
  4. Another Side

    Another Side Forum Resident

    San Francisco
    AFAIK, this is still used in modern movies. At least it was the last time I noticed it.
  5. filper

    filper Forum Resident

    The only DVD release I ever noticed it on was 'Cool Hand Luke'.
  6. Chip TRG

    Chip TRG Senior Member

    Indeed it will show up on some older movies if they use a release print as the DVD source. This would be if the negative or any other original elements aren't available.

    It is, although since the majority of modern theatres run Platter now and not reel-2-reel, the cue mark is a moot point.
  7. Oatsdad

    Oatsdad Oat, Biscuits and Abbie: Best Dogs Ever

    Alexandria VA
    The old (circa 2000) "American In Paris" has 'em, too. I just re-watched it last night for comparison to the NEW DVD, and the old one showed the "burns"...
  8. Jamie Tate

    Jamie Tate New Member

    Noticed them in Tropic Thunder last night.
  9. Jim Pattison

    Jim Pattison Forum Resident

    Kitchener ON
    My father worked as a projectionist at the local movie theater at one point - back in the days when projectionists had to have a fair bit of technical knowledge and actually be licensed (at least in Ontario. I have no idea if that's still the case). One time, when we were watching a movie on TV, he pointed out the reel-change marks and explained their purpose. I'd never noticed them before, but from that day onward, I've never been able to watch a movie without noticing them.
  10. XMIAudioTech

    XMIAudioTech New Member

    Petaluma, CA
    The are called CUE MARKS. they have NEVER EVER been called 'cigarette burns' in the industry.

    The term 'cigarette burn' as referring to a changeover cue mark did not enter the vocabulary until the movie Fight Club. It is patently INCORRECT.

    Most if not all projectionists, especially those who have run changeover will quickly correct you if you use the words 'cigarette burn' to describe a cue mark.

    They also consider the term offensive in many cases, as it was made up for a book/movie and not a real projection term...


    LEONPROFF Forum Resident

    I'm almost positive I had heard of cigarette burns in reference to cue marks before FIGHT CLUB, but it wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't an industry term.
  12. BradOlson

    BradOlson Country/Christian Music Maven

    Public domain movies on low budget DVDs all have these cue marks for the reasons stated above.
  13. El Bacho

    El Bacho Forum Resident

    Paris, France
    The first time I heard about cue marks was in an old Columbo episode. It was apparently "Forgotten Lady", starring Janet Leigh.
  14. AH On Vibes

    AH On Vibes New Member

    So. Cal.

    I have too.:thumbsup:
  15. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    C'mon, all. I was four when I saw my first movie in a theater and noticed the changeover dots. The projector light moved as well.
  16. RandySchimka

    RandySchimka Forum Resident

    San Diego
    I can add a little bit to the discussion since I worked as a projectionist in two different theaters back in the late 70s while I was in high school. Here's how a changeover would work between reels and how the marks are used. This is in a theater with two projectors and not the current platter method that many of the multiplexes use.

    A typical film would arrive on several reels, with each reel lasting approximately 16-19 minutes or so. They used special metal shipping boxes to protect the film. They were very heavy to move around...

    Let's say Projector A was currently running a reel of film. While it was running, we would load up the next reel of film in Projector B.

    Every reel of film would have a leader on it that would run for several seconds and then the actual film picture and sound would start. You've probably seen these leaders over the years on various pieces of film or documentaries as they usually count down 8, 7, 6, 5, etc. down to the number 3 before starting. So Projector B would be loaded up with a new reel of film and it would be positioned about 7 or 8 seconds before the actual film started on the leader.

    By gauging how much film is left on Projector A, when it got down to a minute or so before the end of the reel, I would strike the arc light in projector B and get that adjusted. These lamps are really two opposing copper-covered carbon rods that you touch to light off and then back them off so an arc jumps between them continuously. There is a focused mirror behind the arc that aims the light through the projector. A light and heat shield protects the film from getting burned when the film is standing still (as in Projector B in my example above). So the shield would be open in A and closed in B in this example.

    As the film gets low in Projector A, you'll see the first circular mark in the upper right corner of the projected film on the screen. This first mark means you have about 7 or 8 seconds of film left. At that point when the first mark is projected, we would start up the motor on Projector B. So now both projectors are running, but the picture and sound are still coming from Projector A.

    After the last few seconds of film run through on Projector A, there will be another circular mark in the upper right corner of the screen. At that point, we flipped an electrical switch to change the sound pickup from A to B, and also pressed a button that controlled solenoids to change the light source from A to B by opening and closing the approprioate shields.

    A couple of seconds later, the film would run out in A, and that projector would need attention (rewind the reel on the bench behind the projectors, change out the lamp sticks if they had burned down too short), etc. Then the next reel of film would have to loaded up in Projector A and the whole process would start all over again. You get into a little rhythm with the whole process.

    We had a device on the bench that we could use to put the circular marks on the film if they were missing, if we had to splice out some damaged film at the marked point, etc. It was basically a little scribe that would scratch off the film emulsion on one side and leave a circular mark.

    By the way, if you ever saw the mark and it looked more oblong rather circular, that meant the mark started out circular on the film but was being stretched by a special anamorphic lens (CinemaScope or something similiar)....

    It was a great job for a teenager to have at the time, and I had a lot of fun doing it....

  17. XMIAudioTech

    XMIAudioTech New Member

    Petaluma, CA
    I know people who have been in the biz for over sixty years who have never heard the term before Fight Club.

    Wikipedia on Cue Marks

    That said, it is entirely possible that people who don't know any better just started calling them 'cigarette burns', and Chuck Palahniuk had heard the term from one of them and assumed it to be correct (which is ISN'T).

    ETA: Apparently the scene where Durden explains the cue marks is not in the book. David Fincher himself added the scene to the film.

    From Wikipedia:

  18. mr_mjb1960

    mr_mjb1960 I'm a Tarrytowner 'Til I die!

    The "Change the reel" mark is also on The Monkees' DVD of "Head"-it appears right when the tank appears in the desert,then appears again in the "Men's Room" Scene just before Victor Mature appears..the last time it appears is at the end when the film seems to appears just after that. Michael Boyce
  19. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    That is not necessarily true. In some cases, the lab etches the cue marks in the Interpositive (IP) or Interneg (IN) stage, before the release print. The release print itself doesn't have the marks etched into it; it's done with the pre-print materials.

    I have digitally mastered many IPs that already had cue marks in them. In some cases, we'll have the dust-busting crew go in and electronically remove the cue marks if they're really irritating (like going over a character's face). This is not that time-consuming as long as the shot is stationary. Each cue mark only lasts about 4 frames, the first one 8 seconds (12 feet) before the reel ends, and the second one a few frames before the reel ends.

    Original camera negative (OCN) reels generally don't have cue marks, but not that many old features are mastered from negative. Most are still done from IP. Newer features are now done from OCN, using the same scans that made the Digital Intermediate prints shown in theaters.

    Note that cue marks are very old school now, unnecessary because of a) giant-reel platter systems eliminating change-overs, b) digital projection from files, and c) the gradual elimination of film from production and distribution. The latter is a sad development, but I see it as inevitable.
  20. mavisgold

    mavisgold Senior Member

    bellingham wa
  21. XMIAudioTech

    XMIAudioTech New Member

    Petaluma, CA
  22. Downsampled

    Downsampled Forum Resident

    This is really a useful way to figure out if you're watching a movie in its intended aspect ratio or not. If you see an oval dot and you're not seeing the movie in a wide aspect ratio (say, on television or DVD), then you know you're missing out on some picture information.
  23. AudioGirl

    AudioGirl Forum Resident

    Los Angeles
    It is also useful to know if you are seeing the entire IMAGE or not. So many theaters will cut off the ends of a widescreen motion picture at revival shows. No cue marks mean we are not seeing the correct ratio (or whatever it is called).

    Oh, sorry, you just said the same thing..
  24. This is a bit off topic. Used to have an RCA 26 inch TV where I could see in the upper right corner of the screen when CBC television was 5 seconds or so away from commercial break. A little white square would blink a few times.
  25. AH On Vibes

    AH On Vibes New Member

    So. Cal.
    I'm surprised that they allowed teenagers in the projectionist's union back in the '70s...:confused:
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