Hey all,

I'm about to start working on the dialog, and sound edit for my first feature length film. If the film is around 90 minutes I should ask for three different quicktime files (consisting of the beginning, middle, and end), and the corresponding OMF to go with them, correct? Anything else I should know?



Hi Mitchell,

This is an interesting question and one that is rooted in the history of cinema. Before the days of readily-available digital workstations and non-linear editing, film was cut on just that: Film. This magnetic medium had its limitations, one of which being how much film could actually fit on a reel. There were "A" reels (around 1000') and "AB" reels (around 2000'), and the picture editor would cut accordingly. For example, if the action scene in Reel 3 was going to go beyond 2400', the film editor would have to find a place to cut before the end of said scene since it physically wouldn't fit on the reel. Other factors figured in as well, such as music cues that couldn't transition smoothly from one reel to the next.

Well, now we're firmly planted in the world of digital non-linear editing, not just in sound but also in picture - and, very soon, also in the realm of theatre delivery, ie. "digital cinema", where the theatres no longer receive reels of film but rather computer files downloaded from secure FTP sites containing the entire movie, with high-definition picture and surround soundtracks.

Where does this leave the lowly A and AB reels? That is the subject of some debate. Since file sizes and download speeds are not much of an issue anymore, there may not be much need of reel breaks in film anymore. I've worked on entire projects that were delivered as one file, rather than "R1", "R2", etc. etc. The whole notion of reels in film seems to me a holdback to an earlier time, and not particularly necessary with today's technology.

In conclusion, I would encourage you to consider alternatives to the tried-and-true traditions. Maybe work with the entire film in one file, with no reel breaks? You may enjoy the continuity and flow. Ask the picture editor his/her opinion on the matter, and see where it goes.

PS. All of you film veterans out there, please chime in and correct me where I may be wrong. I entered the world of feature film editorial in 1997, an pivotal time when non-linear workstations were coming of age and mag film was on its way out. As a result, I have pretty limited experience working with mag and film, and some of my terminology may be kinda off.

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  • Very well stated Jay! This being the case reels tend to run between 15-18 min, sometimes and sometimes up to 20, but 15-18 seems to be the sweet spot. I've gotten a few 12 min reels before but that's been quite rare. What's funny is when I look to a film's length now, I find myself unconsciously asking someone "so how many reels is it?" instead of how many min/hrs ;) Sort of how when I leave a tip on my bill I sometimes write a colon (timecode) instead of a dot for dollars/cents decimal – Stavrosound Aug 10 '11 at 5:21
  • Interesting, hadn't thought about the new digital theater. That does make room to throw the "old rules" out. Curious though, do you have a preference working one way or another @Jay? I would imagine as one massive session you can feel the ebb and flow of a story a bit better, but broken down it's logistically more manageable. Thoughts? – Steve Urban Aug 10 '11 at 13:42
  • @Steve, one positive aspect of the "1 file" approach is the ease of cutting recurring sound effects (think backgrounds); much more efficient when constructing the ambiences from reel to reel when you can locate back to "reel 1" (or hour 1 in the "1 file" approach), copy what you need, and paste it to "reel 5" (hour 5). Fast. – Jay Jennings Aug 10 '11 at 17:30
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    @Jay exactly correct. In editorial I crash all reels into one session to do exactly that, especially with BGz. When it's time for stage delivery or assembly delivery I saveout each reel on it's own. That and region grouping everything for FX edits speeds me up a lot, especially for a recurring sound like somebody's cell phone ring or pistol/rifle shot. – Stavrosound Aug 14 '11 at 6:16

I would make sure that the Quicktimes have a timecode window burn-in. It's also important to make sure that the TC rate that you'll be cutting sound at matches the Quicktime burn-in. Time code for reel 1 should be start at 01:00:00:00, reel 2 at 02:00:00:00, etc.

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    +1 Exactly. Pop at 6 seconds, FFOA at 8 seconds, tail pop 2 seconds after LFOA – Stavrosound Aug 10 '11 at 9:39
  • Fantastic point @Paul, +1. Do you ask for feet/frame burn-in also, or is that becoming less relevant? @Stavrosound, much appreciated on the pop locations. What's the reasoning for putting the pop @ :06? Is that the minimum to allow the machines to come to speed? – Steve Urban Aug 10 '11 at 13:48
  • @Steve it's the academy leader standard to my knowledge, and that's what every feature I've worked on uses, union and non-union alike. I believe it's a conversion in min:sec of the feet+frames measurements. In my experience, it's the education environment and sometimes commercials/ads that condone the 59:58 2 pop standard - possibly for easier understanding of the concept of doing leaders. The only context of the pop being at 6 sec is that the countdown begins at 1 hour, so if you wanted you could print a reel to start before that but it would just be black. – Stavrosound Aug 14 '11 at 6:23

As I understand it, if this film is ever destined to be projected, you should ask for it to be broken into reels (1000 ft or as close to it as possible) by your picture editor. If you have the opportunity to recommend where the reel break happens, choose a location where if a projection hiccup occurs it is the least disruptive to your soundtrack.

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  • get the editor to add flash frames / 2pop at the start and end of each reel. even if it isn't going to be projected, having it in parts will save you processing power. Don't forget to get them to bump down the file to an adequate resolution and use intraframe compression, else you may get drifting sync points. other than that, it's the alternate takes and wild sound you will want. – user6513 Aug 10 '11 at 4:10
  • max reel length = 21 minutes, VERY important that there isn't music across a reel break and no dialogue within 2 seconds of reel start or end – user49 Aug 10 '11 at 19:25
  • Is there a reason for the max reel length other than the size of an AB platter @Tim? The lack of music across reels makes sense, but is the dialog rule a worst case senario safeguard? – Steve Urban Aug 11 '11 at 4:07

It's been mentioned in the comments under responses, but I'm going to beat the dead horse...make sure you get 2 pops. I've been working with more and more editors who tend to leave them out; either because they figure they aren't needed in the digital mediums we're working in, or they just don't even know what they are.

They're important (more for the editors than us) for preliminary "gross" sync check at the layback stage.

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  • +1 to that. i'd go further and be specific - tell them exactly where you want the pop and what it is. if they don't know to put it in, they may not even know what it is. – VCProd Aug 10 '11 at 13:28
  • @VCProd - yeah, it's definitely something worth educating them on if they don't know. – Shaun Farley Aug 10 '11 at 14:13
  • @Shaun, @VCProd, 2 pops always go 2 seconds before the first frame of picture and 2 seconds after the last frame of picture. So, the placement of the pops cannot be arbitrary. – Jay Jennings Aug 10 '11 at 16:13
  • @Jay Jennings - Given. I assumed @VCProd was merely suggesting to "define" the 2 pops if the editor seemed clueless. – Shaun Farley Aug 10 '11 at 16:33

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