This article is from the rec.arts.movies.tech FAQ, by Scott E. Norwood firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
Nearly all 35mm prints are shipped on metal reels which hold 2000' of
film. Ideally, the films are shipped `tails out,' meaning that the
beginning of the film is at the middle core of the first reel, and the
end is at the outer edge of the last reel. These reels are shipped in
so-called `S-wind,' meaning that the emulsion (dull side) winds facing
`in' when the `tail' is `out,' and that, when rewound, the `head'
should face `out,' and the emulsion will wind `out.' This confusing
standard is designed to help prevent print damage, although there are
conflicting views on this. When the film runs through the projector,
the top reel spins counterclockwise, and the lower reel spins
At some undetermined time, new prints are likely to be shipped on the
so-called Extended Length Reel (ELR), which is capable of holding
6800' of standard triacetate film or 8000' of the thinner polyester
stock. Trials of this began in Summer 1997, with prints of Addicted to
Love and Batman and Robin. These prints were also available on 2000'
reels for theaters which requested them. This is expected to reduce
the amount of time needed to build up a print on platters, and
possibly reduce the damage done in the buildup/breakdown process. This
standard is supported primarily by the exhibitors (who will save in
labor costs) and film laboratories (although some will need to buy new
equipment to handle the larger reel sizes). Presumably, at least for a
certain amount of time, 2000' reel sizes will also be distributed for
these films, in order to accommodate theaters which do not have
platters or 6000' reel arms, and must instead run the films with 2000'
reels. Eventually, these houses may have to convert to 6000'
changeover or platters or cut up the ELR prints themselves.
It should be noted, also, that nitrate prints have sometimes been
shipped on 1000' reels, due to fire-hazard concerns. This
configuration presents less of a danger, should one reel catch fire,
as there is less film to burn. These nitrate films also are usually
stored on metal shelving, in asbestos-insulated fire-proof rooms.
Modern triacetate or polyester films, of course, do not require these
When the film arrives at a changeover house, the head projectionist
rewinds the film onto cast-iron house reels, inspecting the print for
damage and splices, as well as (hopefully) ensuring that the
changeover cue marks are properly positioned: 4 frames "motor" cue,
then 10 ft. 8 frames, then 4 frames "changeover cue" then 20 more