Slate, clapperboard, clapboard, film clapper, marker… these terms all refer to the iconic clapping movie tool, but how do you use it on a film set?
What is a Slate?
First, you should know what a slate is: a filmmaking and video production tool that helps synchronize video and audio in post-production. The slate also identifies the director, scene number, take number and other important information in a film production. You may have heard this tool called many different names, but it is almost always referred to as a "slate" on a film set.
A standard film slate typically looks like this:
The two parts are the wooden hinged clapper sticks and the board. The clapper sticks have black and white diagonal stripes that stand out against any background. The sticks sit on top of a dry-erase whiteboard or chalkboard with the production information written on it.
What is a Slate’s Purpose?
The main purpose of a slate is to make the post-production process smoother. Hitting the clapper sticks together makes a loud "clap" noise that signals to the film editor when to synchronize the audio and the video. When the editor finds the "clap" in the audio track, they match it to when the sticks were clapped in the video.
The slate doesn't just make a "clap" noise, however. It also displays helpful organizational information to the editor about what the video is showing. Written on the slate is:
Production Specific Information:
Production: the name or title of the film/video
Director: the name of the director
Camera/DP: the name of the Director of Photography/Cinematographer
Date: the date of the shooting day
Shot Specific Information:
Scene: the number of the scene being shot
Take: the number of the take of that specific scene
Roll: the number of the roll of film (if using a film camera), or the number of the media file or reformatted memory card (if using a digital camera)
Certain slates may include more or less detail, but these are the basic pieces of information.
How to Use a Slate
Fill in the boxes on the slate by writing in all the necessary information. Each time the scene and take changes, make sure to adjust that information.
Don’t: Misspell any names. The director will not be happy to see their name misspelled on camera!
Wait Your Turn
There are a few steps that must occur before you show the slate on camera. First, the first assistant director calls the roll by saying "Picture's up," then "Roll sound" or "Roll camera" to signal to the camera operators to start recording. Then, the sound crew calls back "Speed" and the camera operator calls back "Rolling."
Do: Be quiet on the film set and make sure your phone is on silent when cameras are rolling.
Hold the Slate in Frame
Once the cameras and sound are rolling, it is your time to shine. Hold the slate in the frame of the camera so it is completely visible. Tilt the slate slightly forward so light is not reflected into the camera.
Don’t: Cover any words with your hand or fingers.
Read the Slate Aloud
Next, say the scene and take number out loud confidently, then yell "Mark!"
Do: According to Masterclass, if the scene number includes a letter, you should say a word that begins with that letter to ensure clarity. For example, if filming scene 4B, say "scene four boy."
Clap the Sticks
The next step is to clap the wooden sticks together—arguably the most fun part about being in charge of slating, but also the most important. Again, the "clap" is what the editors use to sync audio and video in post-production. After you clap the sticks, move the slate out of frame.
Don’t: Slam the sticks together extremely loudly, or let them fall too quietly.
Do: Use "second sticks" if you make a mistake when you slate the first time. Say "second sticks" out loud and re-do the slating process so the editors know which version of the shot to use.
The slate is a recognizable movie tool, but its full purpose may not be as well known. Hopefully this article provided insight into the important role it plays on a film set.
Interested in learning more about video production tools? Check out another BW Productions article featuring the language thrown around on set!
Utah Women in Production and Photography was founded by women for women. Their mission is to advocate for women in their respective industries. Women provide unique perspectives, skills and insight, making impactful decisions on set. BW Productions is proud to represent a dedicated group that advocates for and collaborates with women.