“Streamers” are visual markers overlaid on to the motion picture that is projected or displayed during the recording of a music cue on the scoring stage.
More descriptively, they are colored vertical bands which come on over the picture from screen left, slide rightward for a specified duration (2sec, 3sec or 4sec depending on the preference of the conductor), then exit off-screen right immediately followed by a circular flash (a “punch“). See animated video screen below.
Ordinarily, streamers are intended to cue, signal, or remind the conductor of an upcoming visual event in the picture (usually a “cut”, action point or ‘hit’) which the conductor has an obligation to strike musically according to the score. The simplest example: When recording a film music cue, the engineering booth usually allows about 20 seconds of picture pre-roll to the downbeat of the first bar of music. A green streamer (green for “Go!”) is thus used to alert the conductor to the termination of this pre-roll and to signal the start of the orchestra at the correct picture position..
When scoring to film (“celluloid”), a streamer is created by manually scribing or etching (yes, scraping) the 35mm film itself (a ‘work print’) in the right place diagonally terminating the scribe with a physical, pencil sized hole in the film (thus the word “punch”). When scoring to video (now the most common practice, even for big features), streamers (and punches and flutters) are generated by a “black box” which composites and transits the streamers digitally and electronically “over” the video signal when instructed to do so by a controlling computer system, viz., The Auricle. There are some directors who can’t stand watching their movies scored to ‘television’, however convenient that may be. So, at these scoring sessions both video display and film projection are employed simultaneously, with the streamers and punches appearing on a video monitor for the conductor.Many experienced composer-conductors prefer to avoid an actual metronome ( “a click track“) when recording film music, feeling that clicks, while guaranteeing a synchronous performance to picture, often produce an aesthetically “mechanical” result. Hence “flutters“: A group or cluster of visual “punches” (3,5, or 7 of them) with each punch separated by an unpunched frame thus producing a flicker effect over the picture. Typically, clicks are muted and a flutter is placed on the downbeats of specified bars of music to provide a “visual metronome” for the conductor so that he or she can, in conjunction with streamers, correctly pace the performance of the music to be sure that the length of the music and the events in the music end up matching the picture as compositionally intended. The use of flutters in this way is called, after its inventor, the Newman System [from multi-Oscar winning film composer, Alfred Newman, father to David (Flintstones, Galaxy Quest, etc.), Thom (Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, etc.) and Maria (classical composer and professional violinist); and, uncle to Randy (Toy Story, I Love L.A., etc.)!].
However, even some experienced conductors can’t control the pace and placement of the music with streamers and flutters alone. Most also rely on a large sweep hand clock with a stop-watch face which sits in front of them at the podium. Written over each bar on the conductor’s score is the real or clock time (e.g., “0:20.10”) of the planned occurrence of its downbeat. In this way, with the flutters providing a visual metronome, the streamers providing targets to strike for hits, and the clock acting as a ‘speedometer’ and a placement reference, the conductor has the best chance of matching the orchestral performance to the intended filmic points without clicks. When you add in the need to be vigilant about the quality and character of the performance, you might not then be surprised to learn that there are so few qualified film conductors and why they deserve the big bucks!