When you first start working in the film industry, you’re guilty of mistakes. We all are, really. It’s only human and there’s no other way to learn as fast.
Still, that’s no excuse to try and avoid them anyway.
I’ll never forget what the 1st Assistant Camera (AC) told me at the wrap party for my first feature as 2nd AC:
I was surprised. You didn’t just carry around the slate all the time. Most 2nd’s I train think that’s their only duty, so they never put it down.
I was happy to receive the compliment and, at the time, didn’t realize how true the statement was. In a circular fashion, I’ve experienced the same problem. Most 2nd AC’s I train from the ground up start out by carrying the slate around everywhere.
So I’m here to tell all you aspiring 2nd AC’s a few things…
You don’t have to carry the slate all the time.
Otherwise, place the slate somewhere safe that you know where it is and let it be until you need it. If you’re really desparate to hang onto it, use the shark fin method and slide it into your belt.
You need to do more than camera reports and slate.
And you can’t do many of these tasks if you’re walking around holding onto that clapperboard.
Lens exchanges, filter hand-offs, moving the tripod — these are all instances where you will have to put down the slate. It’s frustrating as a 1st AC to want something done immediately, but have to wait 10 seconds for the 2nd AC to find a place to put the slate, then come back. Just put it there before you’re asked to.
Having a ditty bag helps a lot with this because you can keep the slate tucked inside it.
You can prep the slate during downtime
Another hangup that gets frustrating as 1st AC is to ask for something from the 2nd AC only to have them wrap up prepping the slate for the next scene.
I urge all 2nd AC’s to do this during the downtime of a scene.
It takes less than 10 seconds to write the numbers on the front of the slate. You could even do it during the build up to the marker when the assistant director is going through the cadence of “roll camera!”
Or you could do it right after the camera rolls, silently, during the scene. Or you could do it when everyone is playing hurry up and wait.
The fact of the matter is, the priority of the slate is fairly low in the camera department until the moment before rolling camera. Always make sure the lenses, filters, and camera is setup before you concern yourself with the slate.
If the director of photography cannot get the camera configured as they wish, there won’t be shots to slate anyway.
So, even though the slate is an iconic piece of gear and one that plays a big role on a film set, it isn’t your third arm. Think about putting it down every once in awhile and quickly walking to go get whatever is needed from the camera cart — if you’re worried, the Camera PA is usually never busy and they make perfect slate holders!