DOP Newsletter Issue #3
November 20, 2019

ON SLATING

A QUICK INTRO INTO USING THE CLAPPER BOARD

BY YOUR TRUSTY DOP, GYÖRGY LÁSZLÓ

WHY DO WE SLATE?

The slate has two functions. First, to help the editor identify the shot. Second, as film cameras did not use to record sound (and many of them still don’t) to allow the editor to synchronise the image with the separately recorded soundtrack.

Identification

So, what needs to go on the slate? As much information regarding the shot as possible.

Absolutely required:

  • Title / Production
  • Director
  • DP
  • Date
  • Camera / Roll
  • Slate / Scene / Take

In addition to that a host of other variables:

  • Day / Night
  • Int / Ext
  • Sync / MOS
  • Lens
  • Filter
  • Fps
  • Shutter angle

… and anything else that might ease identifying shot or trouble-shooting potential problems.

Clapper Board (Slate) used on Jaws in 1975

Syncing

This is the reason we clap with the clapper board. The instant when the top and the bottom stick meet and produce a sharp sound two independently recorded reference points are created.

On the visual side, the sticks meet. On the audio track you either hear a sharp “click” (analogue) or see a spike in the waveform (digital). This allows the editor to sync up the footage with the sound. That’s it!

HOW TO SLATE?

This is where most people fail in the beginning. And then they learn.

Sound is ‘cheap’, film / video is ‘expensive’

In the classical film era with sound was recorded on magnetic tape. Compared to the cost of film stock, recording sound is basically for ‘free’. But perhaps even more importantly, camera magazines could typically hold 400 to 1000 feet of film. 400 feet of 35mm film at 24 frames per second gives you about 4 and a half minutes of shooting time. You really didn’t want to waste any of that precious time on waiting for and fumbling with the slate!

This means one and one thing only:
Sound can start rolling long before the director calls ‘Action!’ All the announcements (“Scene 5, Take 2, AFS, soft sticks!”) must happen once sound is speeding but before the camera rolls!

There can (or at least should not) be no last minute checks, no instructions yelled once the camera is ready to roll. It is indeed like waiting for the starting gun at the beginning of a 100m sprint. All the preparation must take place before the pistol is raised in the air.

With digital recording people tend to lose discipline. They work under the impression that since you’re recording on memory cards or external disks, it doesn’t matter if the camera keeps rolling for minutes before a take.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Gigabytes become terabytes and someone will spend inordinate amounts of time copying, archiving, transcoding and syncing all that unnecessary footage onto an ever growing number of drives.

This is not just a matter of practicality.
It is also an indispensable display of discipline and an expression of respect for your craft and everyone’s work that has gone into a take.

1. Prepare the slate. (Consult it with the Script Supervisor or the 1st AD.) As you are preparing the slate also think about your exit strategy. Once the camera rolls where will you go? What is the fastest and safest way for you to get out of the shot?

2. Hold the slate so that it would fill up as much of the frame as possible. If you don’t know ask the 1st AC or the DP where to hold it. Follow the script. For a wide shot you will probably need to be very close to the camera. For a close-up you will be very close to the actor.

3. Hold the slate with the sticks in frame as long as necessary before camera starts rolling. Why? So that the first frame of the take would show all the information the editor needs for identifying the shot.

4. The correct way to slate is to have the clapper open. Once sound is speeding announce the scene and take number. Wait for the 1st AC responding to “Roll camera!” with a loud and clear “Rolling” or “Speed”. And then immediately slate, holding the bottom of the slate firm and swiftly closing and opening (!) the clapper. Why? Syncing is again made easier if the clappers meet only for a single frame.

5. Do not linger. Leave, duck, run. Get out of the shot.

6. Immediately prepare the slate for the next shot.