ABOUT CUE MARKS


What are Cue Marks?
‘Cue Marks’ are visual markers which appear in the top right corner of the cinema screen during a movie, providing an indicator to the projectionist that’s time to do the changeover to the next film reel. Also known as ‘cue dots’, the ‘changeover cue’, or just ‘cue’, they take the form of small black or white circles punched or marked onto a motion picture film cell. In the film Fight Club the cue marks were famously referred to as 'cigarette burns', in a scene where Tyler Durden (working as a projectionist) splices a highly inappropriate image at the changeover of an animated kids movie.

At least until the age of digital, most movies came on several reels of film each lasting around 20 minutes. The projectionist had to watch the film closely for the appearance of two cue marks on screen to signal the end of a reel, the first coming eight seconds prior to the switchover (also called the 'motor cue’) and the second mark one second prior. Cinemas would traditionally have two projectors set up side-by-side, so when the cue marks appear the projectionist simply switched over to the second reel, and the film would carry on with the audience none the wiser. Nowadays the systems used in most cinemas are largely automated, making these changeovers unnecessary and the job of a projectionist a far less skilled trade, however cue marks remain in place for use in private industry screenings and older cinema systems.

So next time you’re in the cinema, keep an eye on the top right corner of the screen…
FIGHT CLUB Narrator: Let me tell you a little bit about Tyler Durden. Tyler was a night person. While the rest of us were sleeping, he worked. He had one part time job as a projectionist. See, a movie doesn’t come all on one big reel. It comes on a few. So someone has to be there to switch the projectors at the exact moment that one reel ends and the next one begins. If you look for it, you can see these little dots come into the upper right-hand corner of the screen. [In the background, Tyler points to the corner of the screen as one such mark briefly appears.] Tyler Durden: In the industry, we call them cigarette burns. Narrator: That’s the cue for a changeover. He flips the projectors, the movie keeps right on going, and nobody in the audience has any idea…

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