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Mastering The Film Slate

Jonny Elwyn

In this post we explore how to make sense of a film slate.  This universal icon of filmmaking – 100 years strong – is still a vital tool in the filmmaking process.

The humble film slate (or clapper board) has withstood the test of time in filmmaking and today still plays a vital role in keeping track of every set up, take and most importantly, syncing separate sound to picture.

If you’re a camera assistant you need to know what should be written on it.  If you’re an assistant video editor or an editor, you need to understand how to make sense of what is written on it.  Otherwise using the clapper board becomes a waste of everyone’s time.

Top Tips for Slate Happiness

how to use a clapper board film slate

  1. Get everyone’s names spelt correctly.  This is the most important thing to get right on day one, especially seeing as both the names on it are usually your bosses.
  2. Write in capitals so its easy to see.
  3. Speak up when you’re reading out the slate info as you might be quite far from the mic.
  4. Give the clapper board a decent whack so that the click is solid and also heard.
  5. Add a corrective note if you some how fall behind or are shooting ‘pick-ups’.  The slate is useless if it provides inaccurate info.

A Slate Masterclass in 3 Parts

The excellent filmmaking website The Black and Blue has a three part masterclass on ‘Deciphering the Slate’ which is a brilliant and exhaustive primer on how to write up a film/videoslate, as well as how to make the most of the info once you’ve got it. Each part is chock full of useful links to other posts and resources so its well worth taking the time to explore the posts in full.

what to write in a film slate

Part 1 of Deciphering the Slate describes each section of the film slate and what to write in it. It also provides details of what to write in several different common filmmaking scenarios.

Part 2 of Deciphering the Slate walks through some of the more detailed intricacies of a film slate including what to do for shots without sound, vfx plates, reshoots, pickups and more.

Part 3 of Deciphering the Slate provides 12 examples of completed slates in which camera assistant Evan Luzi provides some insightful analysis of what’s going in each one.

how to fill in a film slate

Having Fun with the Slate

The film slate has proven to a creative part of filmmaking in its own right as these two short behind-the-scenes featurettes reveal. The first is from the set of Australian indie feature Van Dieman’s Land and is a humorous look at the subtitles of the slate. The second is from an Argentinian 2nd Assistant Camera on Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Bastards which features some of the usual Tarantino colourful language.  Enjoy!