Building Prints 101

Here is a typical 7 reel movie as it comes from the depot.

First things first.  To ensure there are no hidden surprises, pull each reel of film out of the cans and inspect to be sure that all paper reel bands are actually on the proper reels.  (Be forewarned that most reels from the Technicolor depot WILL fall apart on you.  Be careful to avoid a disaster!)  At this time you should check to be certain that all reels are "heads up", which is the most common orientation that prints are shipped.  We shall use the "heads up" configuration here for convenience.  Should you find a reel that is "tails up", rewind it before replacing it's paper band and placing it back into the cans.  When you are finished, you should have all reels back in the cans heads up and sequentially numbered from left to right.

The extra reel slot can be used for "reel 0" (a trailer pack, which is assumed for the purpose of this explanation, has already been assembled).

With an empty large house reel on the rewind bench, place reel 0 (the trailers) onto the supply shaft of the rewind table and wind them over to the house reel as shown in the next picture.  We do not recommend emulsion in winding, although some will disagree.  In our examples here we will be maintaining the emulsion out winding orientation.  The soundtrack should be "away" from you at this point and both reels should spin clockwise.  Turn on the motor and allow the trailers to transfer to the house reel.  (Note, the film should be "flange binded" to prevent sprocket damage as will be shown later.)

Next place reel 1 of the feature on the rewind bench and pull off the head leader.  As you will see here, the operator is NOT allowing the leader to touch the floor.  By keeping the leader in his hands, this keeps the ends of the reels clean when the leaders are spliced back onto the print for the next theater.  Now make your splice.  (See "splicing tips" elsewhere on this site for recommended tape splicing techniques.  We are using an ultrasonic splicer in this example.)

Next take the tail end of the leader (the point where you cut it moments ago) and wind it into your hand as shown above.  When you are finished, you will have a neatly labeled and wound roll of leader in which the "3" in the countdown is on the inside of the roll.

Now it is time to start winding the film over to the house reel.  There are two different PROPER ways of inspecting the film for damages.  Both are shown above.  In both examples, the operator's fingers NEVER touch the picture area of the film.  We find the example on the right to be the easiest method for inspecting without "burning" your fingers from the friction or losing control.

This is "flange binding".  What the operator is doing here is inspecting the edges of the film for damage while at the same time "binding" the film against the flange of the reel to ensure the wind of the roll is smooth and even.  If this practice is not followed, sprocket damage can occur when the reel is removed from the bench and the flanges are "pinched" together.

Continue winding the film until you reach the end of the reel.  Should you encounter a splice, flex it and pull on it firmly to make sure the splice will hold.  If the splice is found to be unacceptable for whatever reason, remake it.

Now cut the tail leader of the reel off.  We prefer to NOT leave an "ID" frame as it is unnecessary and in many instances loses two frames worth of audio which plays back as a jump, but many insist on leaving one.  Whether you leave one on the leaders or not, NEVER EVER leave more than one.  (Further discussion of ID frames will not be explained here.  You should follow whatever instructions your booth manager has setup.)  Next, wind the tail leader back onto the reel.  Since the film must be broken back down onto these reels for return shipment, it is senseless to remove the leader from the shipping reels as it will only create more work and waste time during breakdown.

Now take your head leader (with paper band wrapped around it, if applicable) and insert it as shown in between the reel's flanges and replace in the cans as shown.  (The pressure of the head leader's roll against the core of the reel will prevent the tail leader from unraveling during storage.)

Starting with reel 2 and with ALL further reels, take a piece of tape and a marker and mark the "fill line" on the flange of the reel against the soundtrack side of the reel.  This will greatly aid in finding the reel change splices during breakdown.  Please do NOT mark on the actual reel itself.  Marks on the reel will make this practice impossible very soon once theaters that follow this procedure become widespread.  ALWAYS place your mark on a removable piece of tape.

After removing the head leader of reel 2, splice the beginning of reel 2 to the end of reel 1, which is already on the house reel.  Now wind reel 2 over while inspecting (and flange binding).  Repeat this process for each reel until you have a house reel that is almost full.  In this example, we are stopping at the tail (or "foot") of reel 3.  It is very important that you leave this tail leader intact!  Removing the tail leader before the reel is loaded onto the platter will guarantee dirt and scratches will plague this reel change.  The leader should only be removed during the loading of the film onto the platter when the two large reels are spliced together.

After getting another empty house reel, start winding the next reel (reel 4 in this example).  Make sure to leave this first head leader intact just as you did the tail leader of reel 3 to protect the ends of the film.  Continue to build the film until you reach the last reel.

When you are winding/inspecting the final reel of the feature, make note to stop at the start of the end credits and place whatever type of cues your automation system uses.  In the example above is a cue for a modified Christie CA21 cue detector.  Each automation system will be different.  Remember there is a few feet of film between the aperture and the cue detector and many automations have a delay time from the point the system reads the cue until your lights will start to rise.  In all cases, the optimum position of this "lights up" cue should be at least 3 feet ahead of the actual first frame of the end credits, although we find typically 5 feet prior is ideal for "most" systems.

NOTE TO UNITED ARTISTS "LASER BARCODE" AUTOMATION USERSPLEASE lay a piece of clear splicing tape over the film before you apply those non-removable bar code stickers.  It is a professional courtesy to all others who will ultimately run the print you have in your hands.  Although we recommend that any automation cues placed on a print should be removed before it is shipped back, if your theater does not do this or is rushed for time, at least the next theater can peel the tape (with cue on top of it) off.  UA barcode stickers placed directly on the film do NOT come off otherwise.

Next, continue winding until you reach the end of the MPAA rating band and place your "shutdown cue" accordingly.  We prefer to take a piece of white artist's tape and lay on the back side of the title on the tail leader (as shown above) for identification.  It is very quick, easy, professional and will read more easily than hand writing the title on a piece of tape.  Print number and any other information can be written on the back side.

Finally, ADD SOME EXTRA TAIL LEADER.  Although you should leave the final reel's tail leader intact, there is never enough to fully protect the end of the credits.  We prefer to use clear "acetate" film, as acetate base film stocks will "tuck" better and in the event of the film catching on the final revolutions will simply snap, instead of destroying equipment.  25 feet should be considered minimum to ensure no damage occurs.  (Old trailers work well for this if you do not have access to clear leader.)

When you are finished, your cans should look like this.  Once you have loaded the print onto the platter, you can place the tail leader of reel 3 and the head leader of reel 4 into the cans.

If the print came from ETS, you will not have paper reel bands.  We recommend pieces of tape in this fashion.

Now rewind the reels so they are "heads up" and start loading them onto the platter.

Should the majority of the reels in the print come "tails up", it is easier to build backwards...starting with the final reel and working your way to the first reel.  However, it is rare prints arrive with the majority of the reels "tails up".

The reels should NEVER be assembled one by one at the actual platter make up table unless there is no alternative.  Lighting is virtually always dim as compared to a rewind/inspection bench and the quality of your splices will generally suffer.  It only takes a couple of minutes to rewind a full house reel and the time spent stopping and starting and inspecting "on the platter" will be more than saved by building the print onto two reels at the bench.  Also, half of a movie can be loading on one platter while you are inspecting another print on the rewind bench.  Finally, the first run of the print will have less static if it is loaded from large reels as opposed to stopping and starting every 2000 feet due to varying tension from the platter's make up table.

Should your theater be fortunate enough to have a Goldberg "platter reel", simply build the entire feature as shown above (without stopping between reels 3 and 4) and do not rewind.  The reel will then be ready to disassemble and the print will be ready to run without loading.  We HIGHLY recommend this item as it saves an incredible amount of time on buildup as well as significantly cuts down on static the first run.