Secrets Slate Clapperboard

Slating the Alphabet from Apple to X-Ray

On many productions, scenes are slated with numbers accompanied by a letter, such as 27A or 56D. When slating, the 2nd assistant camera must then shout out those scene numbers, but instead replacing a corresponding word with the letter, much like the military does. So, which words go with which letters?

Nobody in particular makes up the slate alphabet, but there are some usual suspects in the naming convention. For instance, most camera assistants will slate A as “apple” and B as “baker,” but after that things start to diverge and take on a life of their own.

A Few Rules

As I said, there is no definitive practice for the slating alphabet, but there are a few general rules that are important to follow.

1. Keep it short and simple

The first is to keep the word as short as possible — usually two syllables or less. Part of slating is to get in and get out as quickly as possible. On film shoots this translates into real money as every moment spent slating is more film stock running through the camera.

2. Choose words that are unique

Make sure none of the words are homonyms or share similar pronunciations. For instance, don’t slate scene 56C as “Fifty-Six-Cents” because phonetically “cents” could also mean “scents” and you don’t want to confuse whoever is syncing the shots.

3. Select neutral words

A third rule that many don’t mention is not to slate with words that might upset talent or distract them. A lot of times you will be slating directly in front of them and you don’t want to be calling out a word like “farts.” It would be unprofessional and inappropriate.

4. Don’t include letters “I, O, Y, Z”

These letters get left out because they have the tendency to look like other numbers when written on a slate in human handwriting.

The Alphabet

Keeping those rules in mind, there are a few standards for choosing what to say when slating. The military phonetic alphabet and first names are both methods that I pass on to new camera assistants.

The alphabet that you ultimately choose will really come down to personal preference. The alphabet that I use is a combination of what I’ve heard other camera assistants say along with the military phonetic alphabet and a few of my own words thrown in. Here it is compared to the military phonetic alphabet:

My Alphabet Military Alphabet
A – Apple
B – Baker
C – Charlie
D – Delta
E – Echo
F – Foxtrot
G – Golf
H – Harold
J – Joker
K – Kitchen
L – Leslie
M – Mary
N – Nancy
P – Penelope
Q – Queen
R – Roger
S – Sandy
T – Tango
U – Unicorn
V – Victor
W – Whiskey
X – X-ray
A – Alpha
B – Bravo
C – Charlie
D – Delta
E – Echo
F – Foxtrot
G – Golf
H – Hotel
J – Juliet
K – Kilo
L – Lima
M – Mike
N – November
P – Papa
Q – Quebec
R – Romeo
S – Sierra
T – Tango
U – Uniform
V – Victor
W – Whiskey
X – X-ray

There are times where I’ve strayed from this on occasion, whether I’ve gotten bored or just out of instinct. For instance, I once asked permission from a first A.D. to try and slate all fruits. I also occasionally slate “Dolphin” instead of “Delta.” As long as it stays in the rules, it’s OK.

Another good fallback to have in your bag of tricks is the Greek alphabet. While not useful for every letter, you can use words like “Gamma” or “Theta” without question. However, I suggest you lean towards the military alphabet and names since that is a more normal practice.

If you are ever unsure what word to use while slating, you should ask the script supervisor. When it comes to what’s on the slate, you and the script supervisor work as a team. Some sets they will want you to slate their word, while on other sets they may adapt to yours.

You should also know that this system is mainly used in American productions. Many other countries will use a variation of a numbering system to slate scenes and don’t deal with letters at all.

Slating isn’t a hard job and part of what makes it fun is getting to say this alphabet all day and clapping the sticks. It helps if you pick your word before you step in front of the camera to slate, but after a few times the alphabet will become second nature to you. Once you’ve mastered it, you can then move on to some of the more subtle arts of the slate (unless you’re using an iPad).

  • Alex

    So in others do exactly the opposite as that Italian chick from Inglorious :p

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  • Dylan

    I slated scene 14D as 14 Django, and everyone i asked, 1st AC, DP, Scripty and Director were okay with it.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Haha nice and timely!

    • Micah Minor

      love it!

  • Ben McPhee

    Sorry, just wondering what the letters are actually for and when they’re used? :)

  • DB Cely

    Gotta say, not using the REAL (so-called) Military phonetic alphabet is a pet peeve. Its OK… its just me.

    Did come in handy one night at about 03:00 hrs (of COURSE I only use 24 hour time!) when I was locked inside the gate of an industrial area where I was doing an all night edit. Took a break to walk outside, get rid of some trash, etc., when all Hell and Blue Lights broke loose.

    I had left my gate keys and wallet in the unlocked edit suite when every cop in the world suddenly wanted to know what the Hell I was doing. Let’s see, they wouldn’t let me get my keys, so bolt cutters, serious verbal abuse and a handcuffing later I found myself surrounded by a world of cops. One kept shouting at me, “What is your name?!” I’d reply and spell it, trying to be as polite as possible. They kept up the name calling and verbal abuse until the cop with the short attention span asked my name again.

    “Delta-Oscar-November,” etc., I shouted back at him using the phonetic alphabet for my whole name.

    As God is my witness, within moments I was uncuffed, released and apologized to (sort of).

    Not an on-set story (you can’t count editing), but memorable, nonetheless.

  • Tom

    Why not use O? Isn’t it the best way to write every 0 as a zero with streak? Like in the old computer days, when they can’t differentiate between O and 0.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Sure you could write a 0 with a streak, but why risk the potential mix-up? Not only could it be mixed up by a 2nd AC on set who forgets to write it that way, but it could also get mixed up by an editor in post not realizing that only circles with slashes through them are zeroes and not the letter “O.” It’s easier just to skip it all together.

      • Tom

        You’r right… :)