There are a few things to have on or near you as a 2nd Assistant Camera that are essential: paper tape for marking, camera reports, and of course, the slate. Sometimes it can get cumbersome lugging these three things around even if you have a ditty bag to carry them. A giant tape roll can be useful, but also get in the way and you don’t always need every roll of tape. Camera reports should be easily accessible so they can be modified quickly before the information is lost in the on set hustle. A common mistake new 2nd’s usually make is to never put the slate down, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t always be close by. Many AC’s solve these problems by making what is called a tag board or a slate board or a mark board. Whatever name you want to apply, the principles are the same: it’s a book-like piece of Plexiglas you slap on the back of the slate that holds camera reports, can have pre-made marks and even hold other essentials like filter, MOS and various Velcro tags. So where do you get one? You don’t. You make it and here’s how.
In the end what you get is this:
- Small sheet of Plexiglas (something about as big as two of your slates i.e. 2 ft x 2 ft)
- Velcro (the real stuff not the cheap stuff)
- Gaffers tape or duct tape
- Two office supply style sandwich clips
As you can see, the supply list is very minimal. This is part of the reason I highly suggest every AC should make one. With a little bit of time and love you can make a tool that is invaluable to your job and relatively cheap to make.
Step 1 – Measure out the size
The first step is to decide how big you want your board to be. It should be small enough to fit on the back of your slate, but take up a sizable portion of it. As you can see in the picture above, mine takes up a large chunk of real estate on the back of my slate, but I didn’t want it to be exactly the same size otherwise it’d take more time to line it up when I attach it to the back instead of being able to slap it on quickly.
It’s important to note in this step that whatever size you decide to make your board, you have to measure out TWO pieces of Plexiglas approximately the same size.
Step 2 – Cut the Plexiglas
At Home Depot or Lowe’s I believe you can ask or pay an associate to do this for you with a laser cutter. I didn’t have this luxury. I do NOT condone unsafe practices when cutting the Plexiglas. Do it carefully, with precaution and make sure you know what you’re doing. With that said, I ended up resorting to hacking away with an exacto knife against the Plexiglas. It took awhile, but I didn’t have any more serious knives around me at the time.
Step 3- Tape it together
Using gaffers or duct tape, line the edges of the Plexiglas with the tape and fold the strips over on each side evenly. The purpose of this is so that the rough edges of the Plexiglas are protected by the tape. In this case, I think duct tape is better since it is smoother, but multiple layers of gaff tape would work well also. Do this individually for each piece of Plexiglas you have.
Once each piece of Plexiglas has been lined sufficiently enough that it won’t cut you from handling it, lay them next to each other like an open book. Tape the inside of the “fold” and the outside as well, connecting the two pieces so that they can open and close like a book and remain together.
Step 4 – Add the Velcro
There are really only two important pieces of Velcro that are needed. Place a small square on the edges of the inside of each side of the Plexiglas to allow them to stick together. This way when you’re carrying it around on the slate it isn’t flopping about. An alternative to Velcro-ing it on the inside is to create a kind of string (as I did with tape in mine, you can see it with the orange tape) as a kind of latch to keep it shut when you don’t have it open.
Aside from the mechanism to keep it closed, this is where the true customization comes into play. Place Velcro, soft or hard side, wherever it’ll be the most useful for you. I took one of the inside pieces of the Plexiglas to use as a place to store filter tags and other tags. For this I used soft side Velcro (since that is the side most commonly found on matte boxes), but I also put some hard side Velcro there too just in case.
Step 5 – Add the clips
The (almost) last step is to add the two clips to the board to hold down camera reports. They shouldn’t be too large and you only need about two. These are useful to hold not only camera reports but shot lists, notes, and any other type of paper that you might need on you.
Step 6 – Velcro the Slate
Attach Velcro to the back of the slate and then also to the back of the tag board so that you can easily attach/detach it from the slate. I used four squares in the corners but it’s up to you how you best see fit to achieve this.
Step 7 – Add the usefulness!
The last step is to add the tape for marking, fill the board with camera reports and place your tags in there. Make sure that you add your tape to the FRONT of the board and not the backside that attaches to the slate.
The Finished Product
Once all this is done you now have a convenient way to carry tape for marking, filter tags, camera reports and various other items in one compact place on the back of the slate, which is going wherever the camera goes anyway. I find the most useful aspect of having a tag board is that during marking rehearsals you can carry it around instead of fumbling through your tape roll, especially if it’s a scene involving multiple actors and thus multiple tape colors. You can have the board, grab off a piece of tape and move on. It’s also useful for filling out camera reports because it gives you a hard surface to right on and a convenient place to keep them for easy access. The best part is that you can keep this on the back of the slate so when you don’t need it, it’s not something extra to carry around. Also, if you end up using somebody else’s slate like the sound guy’s time code slate, all that is needed is a few strips of Velcro on the back. If they don’t want you to do that, well, it’s still a useful tool separate of the slate.
If you have any suggestions, comments or questions about this tutorial let me know in the comments, I’ll be happy to address them.