Cinematography POSTS

Slate the Head of Your Shots

Organization is a key factor in successful filmmaking. Even a small project can produce a large amount of video and audio files and keeping track of them through post-production is a big deal. It is very beneficial to identify the beginning of each take, and a slate can help with this process (see Figure 7.1 ). These devices used to be made of actual slate way back when and a camera assistant would write important information on them with chalk. Today they are more like a “white board” and you can use dry erase markers to pen down the pertinent information. When you record the slate at the beginning of the shot it identifies what the title of the project is, the scene/shot/take being recorded, the director, the DP and the date of production. Being able to see this information on the screen at the head of each shot helps the editor organize the material during post.

Beyond the written information, the slate board also helps with the syncing process. Syncing or synchronization is required on emulsion film or video productions that employ dual-system recording. The film or video captures the picture information and a digital audio recorder captures the sound. Although the video camera could also capture sound data, the quality of the audio is often superior this way. The picture and sound files are synchronized (or married together) during post with the aid of the slate board’s clap sticks. When a clapper/loader voice slates the start of a take, s/he also physically closes the striped sticks on the slate board, which makes a loud “clack.” S/he has marked the take. The picture file for that take has only one frame where the sticks are shown at the moment of closing. The audio file for that take has only one “frame” where the sound of those sticks closing is heard. These two matching frames are paired together and the picture and sound files will then play in sync during the editing process. On high-end film productions, timecode syncing makes this process a bit easier.

When shooting video projects without a separate digital audio recorder, your camera captures both picture and sound information. The captured files on your editing system are already married together on the basis of their timecode ; there is no need to “sync” them. It is still a useful practice to “head slate” the shot on video because the visual and auditory shot identification will make shot organization that much easier for the post-production team. If you do not have the physical slate to write on and record, then you should at least voice slate the head of the shot so that everyone will still know what the shot is (stating project, scene, shot, take, and date).

There are occasions, especially found in documentary shooting, where you do not have time to head slate a shot because the real-world event begins so abruptly. You can perform what is called a tail slate, where you identify the shot after the event has transpired but before you cut the camera’s recording. The physical slate is held upside-down for the tail slate (Figure 7.1 ).

FIGURE 7.1 A slate is used primarily on film sets when two separate devices record picture and sound information. A – a traditional headslate; B – Tail slate; C – an MOS headslate (where audio is not recorded); D – audio waveform of slate sticks clapping.

Sometimes you will be shooting material that has no usable audio associated with it. When you are recording with emulsion film and you do not “roll” audio for a take it is called filming “MOS.” This anagram has several possible origins, but the meaning is the same – do not look for an audio file during post-production because one was never recorded. The slate is still used to add the visual information to the picture track, but the clapper/loader holds his/her fingers inside the clap sticks so they cannot possibly close – confirmation to the editor that no corresponding audio file should be looked for with this particular picture track.

However you handle the slate, your main goal is to help identify the shots for easier post-production workflows.

Excerpt from Grammar of the Shot, 3e by Christopher Bowen and Roy Thompson © 2013 Taylor and Francis. All Rights Reserved.

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