As I discussed in the post about film reel breaks in editing, “leader” is the bit of picture that gets attached to front (head) and end (tail) of a film reel to minimize scratching and help tell lab technicians where picture and sound are supposed to begin and end. I made a “universal” leader for a project I’m working on and am releasing it free for use.

NOTE: The audio on the 2-pop on the Tail Leader appears not to line up when re-imported into a 23.98 project. I’m working on a fix, but for now, be aware.

Right now these are available to download from the Vimeo account as .mp4 files. I also am trying to figure out the best way to distribute versions as uncompressed TIFF sequences and an Avid bin (.avb) for easy remixes. If you’d like to see that or just want to show appreciation, make a donation.

References Used

For help in designing the head leader, I am first of all much indebted to Job ter Berg, the Dutch film editor who has made an excellent Academy/SMPTE/Framecounting countdown as a free download. I also looked over the official SMPTE Universal Leader specs (PDF) and a couple of examples provided to me by AE (assistant editor) friends.

For the Tail Leader, I modeled after a version titled “SAA Universal Leader” that’s floating around the editing community. Near as I can Google, I’m guessing it is from the Society of American Archivists. It only runs 6 seconds, but I padded out my version to eight seconds for symmetry between the head and tail. For a 6-second tail, you can easily crop the last two seconds, and end on the frame labeled “6 END 6”. Some places like even more tail leader. Soundelux asks for 20 seconds of tail leader. You can always extend with black slug or one of the “END OF REEL” frames.

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to know the function of many aspects of these elements. For example: I know the C F C F in the last frames of the 4-count are Control Frames but what they control, I know not.

Are you a lab technician who knows what all that’s about? A filmmaker with requests for alternate versions? An expert who wants to tell me all the formatting mistakes I made? Leave a comment below.