Right now I'm working on a low budget ad (mostly done in animation, and bit of real footage) project that requires a realistic film leader effect at the beginning. I will be doing it manually using frame by frame hand painting, carefully trying to copy every artefact typical of film reel starts, like increased damage, stains, fingerprints etc. The intro cuts into some HD footage lighted and processed to look (as much as possible) like old 16mm film.
I know there are many ways a reel can start, like for example a countdown leader, but what I really want to simulate is this kind of leader with letters on it.
Since I have no experience with actual motion picture film at all, can someone explain to me what the letters are? I don't just want to copy the letters from an existing reel. I want to understand what they mean so I can make my own. So in which cases would one write letters down on the beginning of a reel, and is this done on rushes or what? And what do the letters usually say? I see numbers and letters.