Strange DVD Edits Question

I have been working out on the treadmill lately, watching my DVD movies, and I have noticed strange edits at various parts of a movie. These are not edits you would normally expect, and not all DVDs have them.

I suspect they have something to do with the “reel change” marks you see in the upper right hand corner in a movie theater. There’s obviously no need for them on a DVD, so I assume someone just edits those frames out. That would explain the weird edits I have seen, but it’s just a guess.

Has anyone else noticed them or am I slowly going insane?

It might help if you describe what you mean by “strange edits.” My WAG is that what you’re noticing is when the DVD switches from one of its dual layers to the other.

hmmm… fair enough. I mean something that is really out of place. For example, it jumps abruptly from a close-up shot to a wide panoramic shot, and the two shots don’t appear to be related to each other… as if something is missing.

I will have to check one of my more popular DVDs and provide a real example that hopefully others can check-out for themselves…

Sometimes DVDs do skip. This problem can be exacerbated by vibrations, such as those caused by someone thumping away on a treadmill.

Could be a layer change. Often DVDs have written on the back that there may be a little jump when that happens.

I would guess that the reel change marks, I always knew them as ‘cue dots’ in my projectionist days, are only applied at the end of the reels that are shipped to theaters. DVDs are probably made from master elements that never had the cue dots applied. There may be cases, with older films, where the only existing prints are former theatrical prints and in those cases you’ll still see the cue dots on the DVD or they will have been digitally removed.

FYI information, on prints shown in theaters, the dots appear in the upper right hand corner on four frames, first 10 seconds before the end of the reel and then again when there are only 24 frames (one second) left. These signaled the projectionist when to make the change from one projector to the next. Since most theaters today splice the reels together into one big loop, cue dots are kind of an anachronism.

Prints that have been leased to television stations will often display a lot more cue dots. Sometimes ‘cue squares’, ‘cue X’s’ and ‘cue stars’ at various places around the frame. This is because different stations may have wanted to indicate places for commercials to be inserted. A widely circulated print of a very old movie may have the appearance of being bullet-ridden at the end of nearly every scene. Well, I’m waxing nostalgically. Movies that old are rarely telecast from 35 or 16mm film anymore.

Yes, but modern films use a single reel. I haven’t seen a reel change mark in years.

They were quite noticeable at the showing of Sherlock Holmes I went to a week ago. I wasn’t expecting to see them either.

I still see them at theaters using 35mm projection. Most audience members don’t notice them but old projectionists can’t miss 'em.

You didn’t accidentally hit the ‘Random’ button on your DVD by chance, eh?

I did that while watching Doubt. Got through 20 minutes of it and thought the abrupt scene changes were directorial quirks. When it jumped suddenly to the crucial Meryl Streep / Seymour Hoffman dialogue scene and I’m like, ‘What the hell are they talking about?’ I decided to investigate further.

Had me one of them ‘A-duuuhhh’ moments.

What is the name of one of the videos? Maybe someone here has it and can tell you if it’s your copy or what?

The theatrical prints of The Incredibles had cue dots in the form of the Incredibles i-in-a-swirl logo. They weren’t on the DVD, though.

Now that’s interesting. I’ve never heard of decorative cue dots in my life.

I think anyone who saw Fight Club notices them.

I’ve never seen these cue dots and Google image isn’t helping (admittedly I’m too lazy to go past the first page of results). Can someone link a picture?

Not exactly true. It’s much easier to ship 35 mm prints in multiple reels, and then have the theaters “build” the final print. You don’t have to switch reels during the film, but you do have to hope that prints coming in from other theaters aren’t missing a reel. So says my brother, who’s worked at a movie theater (in a large chain, with an IMAX screen, so not a small operation) for almost 5 years.

I don’t know if you are asking about the “Fight Club”, “The Incredibles”, or cue dots in general. I found an artist who somehow uses cue dots as his art form. His page has several examples of cue dots taken from films:

I’ll mention two other cue dot factoids. There is a small device onto which a projectionist can lay the 35mm film. It has 4 holes precisely positioned above the film surface where the cue dots should be. You insert a small tool, which has a tiny round, sharp edge on the end into each hole and press and twist to scrape the film emulsion and create a more noticeable (white) cue dots on ‘top’ of the ones that are printed on the film by the film lab. In my projectionist experience, it was sometimes helpful to enhance the original cue dots in this way to help me see a black cue dot on a very dark scene.

And second, the cue dots on theatrical prints are usually circular. Since wide screen films are projected through a lens that stretches the image horizontally, the cue dots are seen as elliptical on the screen.

This was the case when I worked in a movie theater 20 years ago. The reels arrived in cans, and were assembled onto a platter. It probably is done the same way today, as it wouldn’t be practical to ship an assembled film - it would have to be close to a 4’ reel - imagine trying to ship a wagon wheel in a metal canister.

Normally the reel changes tend to happen where there are significant changes in scenes - not on a cut between two people having a conversation, for example, but on a cut between two scenes. The reason for this is that you don’t need to be concerned about getting the edit exact; you can miss a few frames and no one will notice. This begins to matter if the film is going to be shipped off to a second theater - over time, the exact frame the edit is made on may become damaged, or you might need to trim it back one frame each time so you can make a clean edit (in my day the edits were joined by taping over the two adjoining frames, most of the time). So over time, you’d lose more and more frames on each end of the edit, meaning you’d want to have some room to spare.

That’s a very good point. Except that, these days, I don’t imagine that film prints are circulated among theaters as much as they were in the past. I would guess that once a print leaves its first run theater, it might go to a second run house and then that would be it. After all, it’s only a matter of weeks between the closing of the theatrical run and the release on DVD.

Not so in the old days. When I was a kid, I recall seeing a film in the local theater that was several years old. In fact, I had already seen it at home on a black and white television broadcast. So seeing it in color on the big screen was a treat, but not something that happens much today.

Randwill, it’s not just second run theaters that have to get their prints used every now and then. The reason I was sure about the reel situation at my brother’s place of employment is that they got their print of Boondocks Saints 2 from another theater, who somehow omitted an entire reel in the original shipment. It wasn’t second run situation there, but a limited opening that expanded to a wider release.