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25 Tips to help you Slate like a pro

Clapper Loader

One of the important things at Palma Pictures is the art of slating shots correctly. With this in mind we thought we would share with you an article that we recently read on Pro Video Coalition and their 25 tips to help you slate like a pro (and become the editor’s best friend).

  1. Make the slate big in the frame. The rule of thumb is to place the slate one foot from the lens for every 10mm of focal length.
  2. Make sure your writing is big and clear.
  3. Make sure the slate is in the frame as the camera rolls. The thumbnail in the editing software is generated from the first frame, so if the slate is in the frame when the camera starts the thumbnail will contain all the relevant shot info – which makes finding circle takes easy.
  4. Editors sync sound by finding the first visible frame where the clapper stops moving and lining that up with the first audio frame that contains the sound of the clapper hitting the slate. The easiest way to discern when the clapper stops is to watch for the first frame where it doesn’t show any motion blur. This means that the slate must not move while the clapper is in motion! Do not let the clapper bounce. Once it hits the slate it must remain in contact with the slate until the slate has left the frame.
  5. Proper slating technique dictates holding the slate with one hand and closing the clapper with the other.
  6. Hit the clapper louder for wide shots and softer for close-ups.
  7. Finding the proper slate position for close-ups can be tricky. One technique is to imagine a string running from the lens to the actor’s eye, and then hang the open part of the slate on that string.
  8. When using a long lens occasionally hold the slate directly in front of the matte box to get it square to the lens and then move it quickly straight out to the proper distance.
  9. The slate goes into the frame when the AD calls “Roll sound” or “Rolling”. If sound rolls and you put the slate in, and there’s a delay of some sort before the camera rolls, you can turn the slate horizontally to keep it in its position while allowing the operator to see the frame.
  10. The first camera assistant will give you a cue as to when the camera is up to speed, unless the camera gives off some sort of audible cue that it is rolling.
  11. Just before you hit the slate, call out “Mark” or “Marker”. This tells whoever is syncing dailies that the next loud noise they hear is the slate closing.
  12. Typically the sound mixer will pre-slate the audio, so you only need to call out “Mark” and not the scene and take. If you screw up when hitting the slate call out “Second Sticks” and hit the slate again. That helps whoever is syncing dailies to line up the audio to the right mark.
  13. The slate only needs to be visible for about a second after hitting it. The editor can stop the footage to read it, so it doesn’t have to sit for a long time. Hit it, count to one, and pull it out.
  14. Update the take number immediately.
  15. You’ll get scene and take info from the script supervisor but you should learn how the system works (note it is normally different for commercials).
  16. If you’re simply ID-ing a take, which happens when it is being recorded without sound or if the sound is being recorded single-system with the picture on to tape or a hard drive, put the slate into the shot with the clapper closed. If the clapper is open then the editor will assume that it’s going to close and they’ll look for audio to sync up to it, but if it’s closed then they know not to bother.
  17. Sometimes slating has to happen at the end of the shot. Hold the slate upside down to indicate that the slate is happening at the end of the take. After the director calls “Cut” it’s a good idea to yell “Tail Slate” or “Tail Sticks” to remind the operator and first assistant not to stop the camera yet.
  18. Make sure the slate is well lit. Shooting in the dark is no excuse for a dark slate.
  19. When the shot is very tight there are a couple of things you can do. If there’s room, simply hold the slate so scene and take fill the frame. When the camera rolls, wait a second and then move the clapper down into the frame, say “Mark” and hit it. If the shot is so tight that you can’t get both the scene and take in the frame, hold the scene box on the slate in the frame and wait for the camera to roll. Count to one and move horizontally so the take number fills the frame and count to one again. Then lower the clapper into frame, say “Mark” and hit it.
  20. Slating for multiple cameras on film was pretty simple: you’d “bump” a slate on each camera meaning you’d roll a second of film on each camera’s slate, and then at the beginning of the take you’d take one set of clapper sticks out in front of the cameras and say “A and B common mark” before hitting them. That doesn’t work in digital because bumping a slate means creating a separate files, which defeats the purpose of ID-ing a take. The solution is to hit each camera’s slate separately. Bang the slates in sequence: “A camera mark, B camera mark, etc”. Hopefully there are enough people around to help if there aren’t enough assistants to do the job. Often the A-camera first assistant can slate their own camera as they usually have a wide shot. When slating multiple cameras keep your slate in the frame from the beginning of the shot. This not only creates a thumbnail of the slate for editor but it blocks the camera’s view of other slates, preventing the editor or assistant editor from trying to sync the audio to the wrong camera’s slate. Each camera will have its own slate with a large “A” or “B” or “C” letter on it somewhere.
  21. Occasionally you’ll have odd slate numbers: R17A means you’re re-shooting 17A, 17A-TV means you’re shooting a “clean” version of the scene for TV, etc.
  22. Roll (or card) numbers  are often ignored by union crews.
  23. Make sure you spell the director  and DP’s names properly.
  24. Don’t take the slate away from the camera. Always leave the slate in the first camera’s assistants front box, on the dolly, or some other consistent place near the camera so that the first assistant can easily find the slate and mark the shot if you’re not around. The slate should always be within easy reach of the first camera assistant.
  25. Never rehearse slating. Film students often think they have to hit the slate during rehearsals, when the camera isn’t rolling. You don’t rehearse the slate as it isn’t part of the performance, it’s just an identification tool for editors who have to round up the good takes quickly and cut them together.

To read these tips in full go to Pro Video Coalition.

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