Film slates, or clapboards, are one of the most iconic symbols used for movies and filmmaking, but their purpose is far greater than just being a prop to signify a creative video production. They play an integral role in the organization of film data, assist the editors, and help with syncing sound as well. Film slates may be one of the most widely recognized tools for filmmaking, however, not many people outside of the film world know precisely what they are used for. In addition to going over the basics, we will also cover how you can accurately write on and use a film slate, so you can be confident going into your next big video production. Let’s dive into the details!
What are Film Slates Used for?
Film slates, also sometimes referred to as clapperboards or slateboards, are used to help the post-production team organize and sync the separate video and audio recordings recorded on a film set into a cohesive file during the post-production process. These slates were originally small chalkboards with specific sections on them, hence the term “slate",” but are now much more common to be small whiteboards made of acrylic.
There is a lot of information written on the slate, but all of it is to help inform the editors which scenes they are editing, and where they belong in the overall cut. Editors are informed by the slate of which scene they are working on if there was audio recorded, which take they are looking at, which roll they are using, which camera angle they are using, the frame rate used, and many more things as well. Slates contain all of the valuable information editors need in order to create a smooth workflow from production to post-production.
What Goes on the Slate?
First, let's begin with the responsibility of filling out the slate, which usually falls on the 2nd AC, or assistant camera, which is a member of the camera department that falls beneath the authority of the cinematographer. If you are in charge of writing the information on the slate, but unsure of any specific detail, it is important to check with the script supervisor that the information is correct and complete. The script supervisor will be working with the editors as well as the assistant director, so it is important that they have all of the information they need on the slate and approve of your slate-writing methods.
Slates may vary in terms of the information displayed on them, but they will all require the name of the production, the take number, the scene number, and the roll number. The roll number tells your editor which digital media file, or traditionally which roll of film, your camera is saving the data to as you shoot. When marking the roll on your slate, it is important to note which camera the media file is associated with as well. You can do this by using the letter “A” for A-cam followed by 001 for the first roll. For example, if you are slating for A-cam, and you are using your first media card of the day, the roll will read “A001.” Once you fill up that media card and insert a new one, the second roll will read “A002” and so on. B-cam would read “B001” on its first roll, and progress in the same manner as A-cam.
Marking the scene number is fairly simple, as you are essentially matching it to the script and adjusting one letter every time the camera angle changes. To fill the “scene” space out on the slate, locate which scene number you are filming in the script. That will be followed by a letter, which will change every time the scene or camera angle changes. For example, if you are shooting scene 7 on the script, and it is the first camera angle of that scene, you will just fill out “7” in that space. When moving to the second camera angle you will fill out “7A” and then “7C” for the third and continue down the alphabet as the scenes progress.
Filling out the take number is the simplest, as you just begin at 1 for the first take and count up for every take there is. For example 1 for the first take, 2 for the second take, 3 for the third take, etc…
You will also want to include the Director’s name, the title of the production, and the DP’s name as well as the date.
The “FPS” section should indicate the frame rate that you are recording at. This is helpful if you are shooting something in slow motion. Where you see “INT.” “EXT.” you should circle whether you are shooting an interior (inside) shot or an exterior (outside) shot.
“SYNC” indicates you are recording audio as well that will need to be synced with the video in post-production. Note: the reason the slate has clapped at the beginning of each take is so that the editors can match the spike in the audio wave that the clap causes with the exact frame that the slate is closed to sync the audio and video. “MOS” states that there is no audio recording, just video.
When you are slating on set, you will state the scene, take number and say “mark” right before you clap the sticks. This will clarify any info that may be unclear to the editors.
Though often found on slates throughout the film industry now, timecode indicators are a relatively new element found on movie slates. Film productions use timecode slates to help with the synchronization of the audio and video elements. Smart slates are even more advanced versions of such tools.
If you are planning a production and would like assistance or a team of video professionals to execute the project for you, then you came to the right place. At 7 Wonders, we have years of professional experience in video production, and many awards to show for it. If you are interested in hearing more, feel free to reach out on our website or give us a call!