Put Down Your Slate and Quickly Walk Away

Put Down Your Slate and Quickly Walk Away

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.

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.

The times you should be carrying the slate are when you’re marking the scene, when you’re moving to a new shot or setup, or when you’re on standby getting ready to roll.

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!

  • http://twitter.com/bmaschino Bryce Maschino

    The other annoying thing is when the 2nd sets down the slate and forgets where it is. I normally slide it in the legs of the tripod or underneath the front box. Then it is always right in front of the lens and ready to go.

    • AR

      I have broken (and seen broken) dozens of slates from putting them through the tripod legs. Snap, crunch!

    • Justin Scheidt

      I make sure it’s always in the frontbox during setups if not close to the frontbox on the cart.

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

      I always find a home for it on the lens case or in a ditty bag nearby. If it’s a dumb slate and not too heavy, I’m a big fan of sliding it into the back of my jeans

  • Jamin

    camera PA? what’s that?   jk.   na I just was asked to BE a camera PA for a feature up here.   I didn’t end up getting the call.  I”m glad i didn’t.  I had never heard the term before last month.   I love your stuff Evan.  wish I had that reassuring voice saying this stuff when i made the jump from small shop to set work.

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

      Thanks Jamin! How come you didn’t want to be a Camera PA? It really isn’t as bad as it sounds. Sure you have to do some stupid stuff, but you don’t have to do the same crap the rest of the PA’s do and the AC’s are generally willing to teach you whatever you want to learn.

  • http://twitter.com/stingers_cam Neil Irwin

    I agree with everything you’ve said.

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

      Hah! Thanks Neil!

  • Danakupper

    I would be careful about putting the numbers on during the take. I always thought it best to stay quiet, and not move during the take. It can bring the wrath of many people down on the second if there is a distraction during the take. I mean, we have all been working very hard to get to this point, where the camera is rolling, and the actors are acting, so just sit still and let it happen. I was sometimes distracted as a first when the second was moving around or doing stuff out of the corner of my eye. Just my opinion…

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

      Yeah you’re right — it’s all circumstantial really. If it was a tense emotional scene in a tight place, I wouldn’t be whipping out the marker. But if it’s a huge set where I’m away from talent or behind the camera where they can’t see me, that’s a different story. And if it’s MOS, then there’s no sound to worry about either.

      It’s all about tact and consideration. Not every situation is the right situation to do certain things and you have to be acutely aware of that.

  • http://twitter.com/jax_rox Jaxson McLennan

    My first gig as a 2nd AC, I had an eager PA offer to grab some equipment when we were moving
    setups. I let him take a couple shotbags and c-stands and after we’d moved everything, I went to grab the slate, only to find it had gone. I panicked for a second before realising he’d obviously grabbed it. I asked him and he told me where he’d put it and I quickly rescued it. After that, I made sure the slate was either on me, or I knew exactly where it was.

    I started out updating the slate during the take, but soon realised that when you’re using a white slate, it can often catch the light and reflect it onto parts of the set so I took to holding it behind me during the take so that light wouldn’t reflect, and then updating as soon as ‘cut’ was called.

    I think it helps to read things like this, before my first time I spent ages researching everything I could on the net about what a 2nd AC does and on the day I was prepped and ready to go. I didn’t have a consistent 1st AC to be able to teach me, but because I’d done the research I almost surprised myself at how much that didn’t really matter, and the other guys on set were surprised it was my first time 2nd ACing. That’s why I love this blog – even after you’ve been on a few sets, there’s still more to learn and I love reading about the different ways (as well as the same ways) of doing things in the US, compared to here in Australia

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

      Great story and lessons to be learned here! You’re right — there’s still more to learn always. You, in fact, just taught me something right now so thank you.

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