What to Write on a Film Slate Clapperboard

Deciphering the Film Slate (Part 1): What to Write on a Clapperboard

All of the advantages of the slate in post-production start in the camera department with the camera assistants who step in front of the lens with the clapperboard. And it's crucial you fill it out properly to prevent bottlenecks in post-production. Once you grasp what each section means, it makes it easier to leverage the slate into the useful cinematic tool that it is.

Slating: it’s a staple of filmmaking, it’s an art, and it requires a certain amount of subtlety.

It’s also one of the most recognizable duties a 2nd Assistant Camera (AC) is expected to fulfill. There’s a reason why a 2nd AC is also known as the “clapper/loader.”

When we think about slating, we tend to focus on the clapping aspect of it or the protocol that leads up to the slamming of the sticks. But just as important as hitting the sticks is getting the correct information on the front of the slateboard — things like scene, take, roll, and the production’s name.

If the information on the slate is incorrect, it could anger an editor (which you don’t want) or it could be mistaken as correct and cause confusion in post-production (which you definitely don’t want).

So before you ever step in front of the camera to slate, you need know how to fill it out properly.

The Sections of the Slate and What They Mean

Blank Film Production Slate Clapperboard

In a sense, the slate is like the form they hand you when you visit the doctor’s office. There are areas for your name, for your insurance, and checklists for you to provide additional information. All of the information you supply serves to help people (usually an editor) have a better understanding of what the scene is about — just like you help the doctor understand your level of health.

The most common pieces of information conveyed on the slate are:

  • Production: The name or title of the movie
  • Timecode: Digital timecode synced to the audio
  • Roll: The roll that you’re currently shooting on
  • Scene: The scene number/shot you’re shooting
  • Take: The current take of the shot
  • Director: Name of the director of the production
  • Camera: Name of the director of photography/cinematographer of the production
  • Date: The month, day, and year that you’re shooting

All of these sections of the slate can be further categorized into two main types of info:

1. Production Specific: This includes the name of the movie, the name of the director, cinematographer, and producer, as well as the date or shooting day.

2. Shot Specific: The roll, scene, and take are the most obvious shot-specific pieces of information, but this also encompasses further details like MOS, Day/Nite, and Int/Ext which we’ll talk about later.

When you fill out a slate for the first time, you’ll have to fill out both production-specific and shot-specific information. But as you continue on a production, you’ll be making changes almost exclusively to shot-specific areas on the clapperboard.

So you have a full comprehension of what each of these sections mean, let’s explore them further.

Note: Because I work in the United States, the slating system I will be referencing is the American system. There are several alternatives from other countries that I am not an expert on. If you are, please share their differences in the comments!

Production

Production Section of a Film Slate Clapperboard

In this area you want to write the name or the title of the production you’re working on. Most of the time this is obvious, especially in narrative work.

But it doesn’t have to be a real title — it can be a working title, a nickname title, a shortened title, or a descriptive title – as long as there is some name for the production. There are times where you will work on projects that don’t have a name, such as commercials or industrial shoots. In these instances, simply use a descriptive title.

For instance, I was working as part of a behind-the-scenes crew for a commercial shoot (odd, I know) and had to put something on the slate. The commercial was for the Virginia Lottery so I wrote “BTS VA Lottery” and that was that.

If you aren’t sure what to write, it’s always a safe bet to ask the director of photography (DP) or a producer what their preference is.

Don’t stress too much over this, but do take it seriously. It’s ill-advised to change the name of the production on the slate after shooting has begun or you’ll lose the consistency of the name which can cause confusion later in post-production.

Timecode

On some slates — called “Smart Slates” — there may be a digital screen that displays a shot’s timecode. The slate is synced to a timecode generator or the audio recorder via a cable and then is maintained by the slate itself via battery power.

Not all slates feature timecode and, in many cases, it isn’t necessary (it can be useful, though).

An example of a timecode slate

An example of a timecode slate

As a camera assistant, it will be your job to keep the timecode in sync, but it’s generally something you sync a few times a day and check periodically to make sure it hasn’t drifted.

Because you don’t have to change it as often as other things on the slate (and since you technically don’t “write” it on there), I don’t want to spend too much time getting into the details of syncing timecode — I just wanted to list it here for posterity.

Roll / Tape

Roll Tape Section of a Film Slate Clapperboard

The part of the slate that says “Roll” is a bit complicated within the context of film versus digital.

In the film world, the roll number is fairly literal. Everytime a new magazine is loaded into the camera — filled with a fresh roll of film — that is a new roll.

In the digital world, the roll number is a bit more abstract and is usually determined by the preference of the camera assistant. I always treat each new memory card on a digital shoot as a new magazine and thus a new roll. So each time a new memory card is reformatted, it’s considered a new roll.

In the tape world, a new tape would be reason to increment a new roll number. In fact, some video slates have “Tape” engraved on them in place of “Roll.”

In all cases, the roll number is preceded by a letter which designates which camera the roll is for. On multi-camera shoots, cameras are assigned letters starting with “A” for the main camera, “B” for the second, and so on and so forth. The reason you specify which roll corresponds to which camera is to help organize shots in post-production, but also because “B” or “C” cameras aren’t used on every shot and so the roll numbers between the cameras can be wildly different.

Even if you’re shooting with one camera, it’s good practice to include the letter as it eliminates any potential confusion. (Though it’s implied that a roll number without a letter is for the “A” camera).

As an example, if you were shooting on Roll 23 on the “A” camera, you would write this: A023 or A23. If you were on a multi-camera shoot, but using one slate for all cameras, you would list each camera with its letter and roll number (i.e. A23, B15, C05). If you were on a multi-cam shoot, but have one slate for each camera, you list only your camera’s letter and roll number.

Scene / Slate

Scene Slate Section of a Film Slate Clapperboard

In the American style of slating, scene designation is actually a combination of a number and a letter. The number correlates to the scene you are shooting while the letter correlates to the shot you’re on.

So, when starting a brand new scene, you simply write just the scene number and it stands on it’s own (i.e. 24). Whenever a new shot is setup — usually when the camera changes position or changes lenses — you add a letter (i.e. 24A).

You continuously add letters for as many shots as there are in a scene. So if you shoot a master, two closeups, and a medium shot, by the end of the scene you will have reached the letter “C”

The slating would go like this:

  1. Master – 24
  2. Closeup One – 24A
  3. Closeup Two – 24B
  4. Medium – 24C

What happens if you go all the way through the alphabet? You double-up on the letters (i.e. 24 AD).

As a quick warning: I see a lot of 2nd AC’s make the mistake of assuming that just because the camera hasn’t changed positions, that they shouldn’t change the slate. But the slate changes whenever you move onto a new shot regardless if the camera itself moves. Sometimes the changes are subtle: the camera pushes into a subject instead of from them; or a lens change punches in for a tighter closeup; or the camera pans a bit to focus on a different subject in a scene.

Remember that whenever the shot itself changes, you increment a letter.

There will undoubtedly be grey areas with this. At any point you are unsure, it is best to defer to the script supervisor. As 2nd AC, you must work closely with the script supervisor to make sure their notes line-up with what is being slated. Between you and them, you figure out a solution.

Take

Take Section of a Film Slate Clapperboard

Each time a shot is repeated and the camera cuts, it is considered a “Take.”

Do not re-slate another take if the camera doesn’t cut because, technically, it is still on the same take. The exception would be if you’re told to re-slate it while keeping the camera rolling.

But more often than not, I guarantee the director will just shout, “Don’t cut, just do it again!”

Do not re-slate in these instances because you will only waste time and film (if you’re shooting on it) by doing so. If the director wants to make the editor’s job harder by having multiple tries on one take, that’s their prerogative.

(Though you could lightly suggest shooting a “series” or “pickups” — which we’ll discuss later — when appropriate.)

Takes always start at 1, count upwards, and are tied only to a particular shot.

Let me reiterate that: Takes are tied to particular shots, not to scenes. So whenever there is a new shot — like when 24A becomes 24B — you should start with Take 1 again.

As a final note, even blown takes that are cut early because of mistakes count. So if an actor comes into frame and messes up their first line, that counts as a take. Don’t ever re-slate the same take for any reason! It’s much easier to just move on up to the next number.

Names, Dates, and Miscellaneous Information

Name Date and Other Sections of Film Slate Clapperboard

The names on the slate are, to be honest, somewhat out of vanity. It isn’t really necessary to list the director and the cinematographer, but out of tradition, respect, and a small amount of useful reference, it is done that way.

The only piece of advice about this is absolutely do not misspell either of those names.

If you misspell those names, the minute you throw the slate into frame and the director sees their name butchered on the monitor, they aren’t going to be very happy.

And neither will your department for making them look bad.

It is not out of poor taste to ask a director or cinematographer how they prefer their name on the slate if they go by a nickname or shortened version. Some will want a professional name on there, while others will have no preference.

To make sure you spell the name correctly, use a call sheet when writing it and double check with somebody who has worked with the director or knows them that the name is correct.

For the love of God, if you misspell those names, you aren’t going to have a fun shoot.

In terms of the date, my only advice is to use permanent marker on the slate, or use a piece of tape so you aren’t constantly having to rewrite it throughout the whole day. Just make sure you remember to update it every morning. People are sticklers about detail on the slate – trust me.

The rest of the information you see listed on the slate (things like MOS, NITE, DAY, etc.) are specific designations that help to further categorize a scene, but aren’t always necessary.

You can use this section of the slate, if you wish, but it is not required or mandatory.

The only important piece of the info is MOS of which there are better and more prudent ways of notifying an editor of. This is something we’ll talk about in much further detail in the next post of this three-part series.

Next Up: 5 Unique Slating Scenarios

This post is the first in a three-part series I’m writing about deciphering the film slate. The next two dive even further into what goes on the slate and what it all means.

To outsiders looking in, slating may seem like a film-set stereotype, but there’s good reasons it takes place: it helps streamline the editorial workflow and sync audio in post.

But all of the advantages of the slate in post-production start in the camera department with the camera assistants who step in front of the lens with the clapperboard. And it’s crucial you fill it out properly to prevent bottlenecks in post-production.

Being able to successfully fill out a film slate means understanding what’s on it in the first place. Once you grasp what each section means, it makes it easier to leverage the slate into the useful cinematic tool that it is.

So continue reading this series to further explore what to write on a clapperboard:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on filling out the slate. Specifically, it’d be useful to hear from readers who use a different system than the American system I described here. Share in the comments please!

  • http://twitter.com/mknlsn Mike

    I was working on the feature White House Down in DC two weeks ago as a camera trainee. We were shooting plate shots and were split into a couple crews so I was actually working as a 2nd AC. The AC gave me the tip to skip over the letter “I” when labeling takes on the slate since it can look like the number “1″ (obviously if the scene has the letter “I” in it, you need to use it). I don’t know if that was the AC’s personal preference, or if that’s industry standard

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

      Hey Mike! That’s pretty industry standard. You skip the letters “I” “O” “Y” and “Z” for their tendency to look like numbers themselves. I talk about it more in this post: http://www.theblackandblue.com/2011/03/03/slating-the-alphabet-from-apple-to-x-ray/

      Pretty cool you were shooting in DC — right in my backyard!

      • Norman

        I get that I = 1, O = 0, and Z = 2, but what does Y end up looking like?

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

          I misspoke sort of — Y isn’t included because it can end up looking like “X” too easily if you write it hastily. You can include it if you want though — it’s mostly preference

      • http://twitter.com/mknlsn Mike

        Yeah man…I’ve seen you posting that you’re in the DC area. I am too….live in Vienna

      • http://twitter.com/mknlsn Mike

        I’m surprised I’ve never run into you on a production before haha

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

          Haha it’s pretty weird isn’t it? Although I end up doing a lot of my work in Richmond or out of state.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rolandjacobs87 Roland Jacobs

    I recently had a 13 day shoot with a skeleton crew. It was only the director, a producer, myself and 3 actresses. We each had multiple roles to fulfill. The director also operated the camera, the producer did the sound recording and I was clapper, script supervisor, animal handler and PA.
    In those 13 days I slated almost every shot except when I needed to do some PA work like holding an actress off screen so she wouldn’t fall etc and we used a different method to number the scene’s. We don’t use the letters for each new shot. We do it like: “Scene 23.1″ and go up in numbers for each new shot. We use a letter to distinct between different shot framings on the same camera position.

    Example:

    Scene 23.1 = wide shot of scene (position 1)

    Scene 23.2 = medium close of actor #1 (position 2)

    Scene 23.2A = Close up of actor #1 (position 2)

    Scene 23.2B = Close up of hands actor #1 (position 2)

    Scene 23.3 = medium close of actor #2 (position 3)

    etc etc etc

    This was in The Netherlands btw.

    Fun fact: we use the “roll” part of the slate to draw a little image of the shot that’s being shot ^^

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

      Interesting method. So if you change a lens, but dont move the camera, that increments a letter?

  • Vince

    Quick question regarding the date,

    If you you end up shooting into the next day Ex: Call is on Saturday, and wrap is on Sunday, do you change the date once it’s Sunday or leave it on Saturday given that was the day you started shooting on?

    • AR

      Leave it on the date you started shooting on. Its more so that the editor knows which shooting day he’s looking at when he’s referencing the camera log and looking up specific footage.

      • Vince

        Thanks!

        • Brian

          You should really check with the scripty or AD though to make sure you are doing the same thing that the scripty is doing.

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

      As AR said above, I would leave it on the date you started shooting on. It would get confusing, for instance, if you shot until 1 AM. For the last hour, do you change the date?

      But, to echo what Brian says below, you might want to check with the script supervisor just in case.

  • Stuart

    I’m not a big expert myself, but from what I’ve seen (in the UK and Finland) the European system tends to use separate scene, ‘slate’ and take numbers. This isn’t set in stone, though; I’ve seen people in Finland also use the American system. Clapperboards made in the UK have an extra field which the Clapper Loader must fill in: Slate. See an example here: http://clapperboard.net/colour/Dsc07832a.jpg So four different angles for the same scene may be written up like this:

    Scene: 24
    Slate: 76
    Take: 1

    Scene: 24
    Slate: 77
    Take: 1

    Scene: 24
    Slate: 78
    Take: 1

    Scene: 24
    Slate: 79
    Take: 1

    Whereas the American system would use:

    Scene: 24/A/B/C
    Take: 1

    It doesn’t seem to be set in stone, but most continuity secretaries/2nd ACs seem to increment the ‘Slate’ field each time a new shot/angle is made – and this increments throughout the whole film. So in other words, the ‘Slate’ field doesn’t reset to 1 with each new scene, it just goes up and up until you’ve finished your film.

    Of course, Continuity Secretaries and 2nd ACs who’ve worked together a number of times may use their own custom system. As you can see above, Roland mentions that he used a slightly customised system.

    There’s also a brief explanation between the two systems here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clapperboard

    • http://www.facebook.com/ralph.85 Ralph Lindsen

      Yeah, we do the same in the Netherlands. It also enables the opportunity to have a slate 111 or 222 etc celebrations :D

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

        In the US, we have a celebration on Roll 100. It’s called the “Champagne Roll.” Once you hit it, everyone stops on set, gets a glass of champagne, and there’s a toast to the production.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ralph.85 Ralph Lindsen

          hehe that’s what i ment with celebrations. Doesn’t matter if is 8 in the morning.. champagne!

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

      You’re awesome Stuart! Thanks for sharing such detailed info on this. It’s a great, clear overview of the UK style of slating.

  • Darryl

    I’ve only really used what I believe to be the UK slating which is scene, slate and take so
    scene: 5
    slate:1
    take: 1

    though the oddest way I’ve ever had to slate was when a production had each shot numbed on the shot list and had to link up the slate with the shot list so it would be
    scene: 10
    shot: 40
    take: 1

    though the shots would go up in order though out the scenes and wouldn’t start back at 1 with each new scene. that was the oddest way I’ve ever had to slate with

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

      Thanks for sharing Darryl. I’ve done something similar to what you described. Often on commercial shoots, you’re working with agencies that may not have a lot of production experience, so they want their shots slated like they numbered them on the storyboard — which is cool if everyone is on the same page.

      It’s really all about making sure whoever has to deal with the mountain of footage in post-production is able to wade through it without getting confused.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joel-Phillips/1725300210 Joel Phillips

    Ptouch labelers are a nice touch, that way all the permanent info is standard and not subject to sloppy hand writing..also I prefer chisel tip dry erase markers. You can get more artistic with your handwriting that way.

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

      I held out for so long on getting a P-Touch, but am so happy I finally did. In terms of the markers, I like to use the Chisel tip to get even fatter letters, but I know others who add serifs and other fanciness to their writing. Sometimes a 2nd AC just has a bit of extra time and one slate will look particularly awesome!

  • http://twitter.com/jdwiden Jeremy Widen

    Great post Evan. As someone who does a lot of scripty work, I can’t emphasize how important communication between the 2nd and Script Sup is; both for the camera logs and the script logs. Thanks.

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

      Thanks Jeremy! I agreed. The 2nd and the Script Supervisor have to be best buds at times. If there’s no communication there, the paperwork can end up being useless.

  • Jordan

    I’ve seen many camera teams load up tape tags with the roll number and stick them to the side of the camera so they can rip off the tag with the current roll number, stick it on the card when it comes out of the camera, and bring it to the DIT, who will know exactly what roll it is and that it hasn’t been downloaded.

    We just moved that stack of tape tags to the slate’s Roll section, made the tags a little bigger, and now, it’s impossible to ever forget to change that roll number when you do a dump, which seems to be an easy thing to forget when you’re rushing back to set after delivering a card.

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

      Yeah this is a great practice to partake in. It’s something I briefly talk about in this post: http://www.theblackandblue.com/2010/07/14/digital-media-management-best-practices/

      Generally, I make mag/roll tags and put them on the back of the slate. The current roll tag goes on the camera body itself so when the 1st AC reloads, they rip it off, wrap it around the card, and then asks me for a new one.

  • http://twitter.com/Ty_R_Stone Ty Stone

    Great post. You had me at film slate. I love what you do for people and keep up the hard work.

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

      Thanks Ty! “You had me at film slate” — that’s what the ladies tell me all the time ;)

  • MiguelFranco

    Our clapping method (Portugal) is something like:

    Scene: 1 2/4

    in which 1stands for the scene number, 2 for the shot (distinguish between framings, lens changes, etc) and 4 is the take. Any other indication is written by a person taking notes (that come in very handy, when editing, or even on set if you forget about somethin) that is usually the continuist. I think this comes from the french cinema school, because a lot of terms are derived from there as well (ex: amorsee).

    We’ve also used the ipad as a slate and its very good. Makes the job real simple.

    I’m also looking forward to see the BlackMagic CinemaCamera’s capability of recording the metadata into the files and how it will work with the slating.

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

      That’s really interesting, Miguel. I’ve never heard of that style of slating so thanks for sharing. It’s different, but makes total sense.

      I too am excited to see what effect BMCC will have on people using metadata. At some point, there needs to be a slate that communicates with the camera and shares the same data.

  • http://www.facebook.com/edward.smith.353 Edward Smith

    As 1stAD on smaller productions, I find myself slating quite a bit.
    I tend to write 12.2A, which represents SCENE:12, SHOT 2, and the ‘A’ would represent the version of that specific take.

    Find that pretty useful.

    I got laughed at on a shoot once, because the director and DOP kept throwing new shots at me and the slate ended up reading something like ’23.11AA’. But at the end of the day I was the one doing my job properly, and the editor thanked me afterward.

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

      Hey as long as the system works! But does that mean you ditched take numbers? Instead replacing them with the letters?

  • Mike

    Actually the slate should be synced to the timecode of the audio recorder, not the camera. Timecode slate is most useful when the camera doesn’t have any timecode features (DSLR’s, film cameras etc…)

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

      Good point, Mike. I changed the post to reflect that. Thanks!

  • slateboy83

    Hey Evan, great post as usual! I currently work in Spain and Italy and this is our method:

    if you’re shooting the first take of the shot number 4 of the scene 24 you would write in the “scene” section 24.4 and 1 in the “take” section. Whenever the director or the DoP or whoever can do it introduces a change in the shot without changing the camera position nor the lens we ad a letter (i.e. 24.4A).

    In Spain, after shooting the 1.1 take 1 the director shall buy a beer for the whole crew, but they are doing it less and less lately, it’s because of the economical crisis, they say ;-)

    Cheers

  • lucastukas

    thanks for your work!

  • Einar Karl Gunnarsson

    Hi there does anyone have any good tips on cleaning really dirty slates? I had some scots tape on it an then a mate of mine took it to the beach and now I´ve put in the dishwasher multiple times yet nothing works..

    • DaveRossAC

      I use Goo Gone or an equivalent product for tacky material like tape residue. Let soak in for a minute, then wipe off with a rag or paper towel.

      Evan’s mentioned the trick of using a dry erase marker to erase old writing or permanent marker. Just scribble a dry erase marker over old, “burnt-in’ writing, then wipe away cleaning. Works 60% of the time… every time.

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

        All good suggestions! Usually I use Pancro (lens cleaner) which has a lot of alcohol in it and with a good scrubbing will get most stuff off of a slate.

  • DaveRossAC

    I saw a behind the scenes video this week of a production in Spain. The 2nd AC was using a slate that was formatted upside-down, with the clapper at the bottom. Weirdest of all, when they clapped the slate, they didn’t just clap it and leave it closed…. they clapped the slicks AND opened them again quickly, probably to keep them closed only for a single frame.

    But why?? Wouldn’t the editor hate that?

    • Bill Hornbeck

      Yes, although they key is holding them steady. I have AC’s who drop their hands as the sticks claps which puts them out of foucus, you never get a good focus frame to set the mark on.

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

      Clapping the slate upside down generally is used when “tail-slating” or slating at the end of a shot. But, from your description, they either tail slated wrong or were doing something else. When you tail slate you hold the slate (sticks open) upside down, flip it right side up, then clap.

      In regards to editors hating sticks opening again — yes they would hate that because it makes finding the clap moment difficult when scrubbing.

  • Riggah

    As multi-camera shoots are becoming increasingly common, it has become
    more than apparent to me that many ACs do not understand how the
    clapperboard should be used in these circumstances. I recently had a 7
    camera setup and the AC spent a good 30 seconds after turnover walking
    across the set clapping each camera in turn! WRONG!!!!

    I have had 2 camera setups
    where the AC has clapped the A camera then walked 20 meters to clap the B
    camera WHILE STILL VISIBLE IN FRAME ON THE ‘A’ CAMERA! This not only
    wastes time on location and later wastes time ingesting this extra media
    but
    often makes it very difficult to synch the cameras together. THAT’S
    RIGHT! The clapper is not simply for synching video with sound but VIDEO
    WITH VIDEO from other cameras! Digital editing systems allow editors to
    synchronise multiple camera & audio sources for individual takes and
    consolidate them into a single, more manageable entity which speeds up the editing process …… but ONLY if
    there is a
    reliable method of doing so such as synched timecode or a SINGLE clap
    visible or audible on ALL media.

    Depending on the setup, wherever
    possible the rule should be “ONE TAKE, ONE CLAP”. So make sure that all
    cameras are pointing at the clapper (even if it’s only the back of the
    sticks!) clap ONCE and then simply SHOW the front of the slate to any
    cameras that didn’t get a clear view of the text. That way you avoid
    burning out your editing assistant with shifts finishing at 4am after
    spending all night trying to synch your rushes up using closing doors or actors’ blinks!

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

      In multi-cam shoots, the 2nd AC should always push to have a “common mark” – sometimes that means you ask B and C cam to pan to you and other times it means you have to position yourself more creatively than just in front of A cam.

      Clapping for each camera isn’t wrong if each camera can’t see the clap, though there should be a stronger sense of urgency in these situations. Additionally, it’s up to the 1st AC/operators of each camera to roll only right before the slate so as not to waste media/film.

  • DB Cely

    There is an old book by Verne & Sylvia Carlson called “The Assistant Cameraman’s Handbook” and dates back to at least the early seventies. One thing I remember and always liked, was they were very specific in how numerals should be written. For instance, a one was a vertical slash, no base, no upper left embellishment., ie., “i” not “1.” The two should have a flat base, not a little curl where the downward loop meets the base. If you do it the second way, a rushed “2″ can look like a “3.” Four is a closed angle at the top, the top two lines on a five are straight lines, both the six and the nine are underscored, the seven has a horizontal slash (European style), the eight is two circles, one atop the other, not a vertical infinity symbol.

    Whew! Seems like a lot of nit-picking until you realize it doesn’t take any time to get used to, and it really does make the slate easier to read in compromised conditions. Its a little thing, nobody is going to die if you don’t do it that way, but to me, its always been just a little mark of professionalism.

    I’m just sayin’

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

      Good suggestions and really they are only there for clarity. The only thing I was surprised is that a straight line is suggested for 1 instead of a nose/base. Though I guess in a hurry, a 1 written like that could be mistaken for a 2 or something. Thanks for the comment!

  • Alexis

    Hi Evan,

    I’m Alexis from France and I’m 15. I’m fond of cinema since I’m 10. I got my gear bit by bit and today, I make some films with my 7D with my family.

    When I first saw a film slate, I thought it was for decoration only. But I later discovered that it had and important role. I empirically designed my own slating system which I think was not very professional. I then started getting interested in the slate and watched a lot of b rolls but without understanding what was written on the slate.

    It wasn’t clear…until I discovered your article. It’s great ! It made my mind all clear.

    But there still are some points that I don’t understand.

    First, what’s the difference between SCENE, SLATE and SHOT. It’s just the word SLATE that I don’t understand. I don’t know what it technically refers to. Because you have some slates reading ‘SLATE’ only, some others reading ‘SCENE’ only and others reading ‘SCENE’ and ‘SLATE’ (2 different sections).

    In your ‘deciphering the film slate’ article (part 1), you wrote that each time the camera changes lens or angle or moves, the letter next to the scene number has to go up. But what if you film a whole scene under an angle and then film it again under another angle (for example, two people talking) ? What do you write on the clapperboard? How do you slate that ? Because you’re not gonna re-slate at each line, are you ?

    Here’s another example:

    Here’s a video from ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ of which I put the link here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJhXq3ywb_g

    At the moment at time 2:00 in the video: Mary and Watson (the bride and groom) get out of the church (this is therefore a new scene with a new number, let’s say 53).

    Well, the scene goes like this:

    A shot of M and W getting out of the church and being welcomed by all the people (angle 1, so 53).

    A shot of Holmes, standing in distance (angle 2, so 53A).

    A different shot of M and W walking (angle 3, so 53B).

    A medium shot of Holmes (angle 4, so 53C).

    A shot of M and W walking (angle 5, so 53D).

    And then, A shot of Holmes walking away (back to angle 2, I think the camera was rolling and he first stood still and then walked away, so, how do you slate this ?)

    And then, the same shot of M and W walking (back to angle 5, so, again, how to slate ? What to write ?).

    Thanks a lot. Merci beaucoup. I went through several of your articles, they’re great !

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

      OK — this is a doozy of a comment and I’ll try to cover your questions. Next time you can just send me an email for longer questions :)

      The difference between SCENE, SLATE, and SHOT depends on which style of slating you’re using.

      The American/Hollywood style of slating is what I teach in this series of articles because it’s what I know, use, and learned living in America. In this system, the clapperboard has ROLL, SCENE, TAKE on it. In this case, ROLL is the roll of film you’re shooting on (or the memory card); SCENE is the designation for the scene/shot you’re shooting (as in 101A); and TAKE increments from 1 each time you do a variation of the same scene/shot.

      In the UK style of slating (often used in most of Europe though some countries vary slightly), you’ll have SCENE SHOT and TAKE. This comment here does a good job explaining how it’s used: http://www.theblackandblue.com/2012/11/05/deciphering-film-slate-1/#comment-701115968

      Moving on, I’m going to quote your question: “In your ‘deciphering the film slate’ article (part 1), you wrote that each time the camera changes lens or angle or moves, the letter next to the scene number has to go up. But what if you film a whole scene under an angle and then film it again under another angle (for example, two people talking) ? What do you write on the clapperboard? How do you slate that? Because you’re not gonna re-slate at each line, are you?”

      Well if you film a whole scene under one angle, then film it again under another angle, that’s the perfect time to increment the letter. So, as an example, we’ll call the wide shot of this scene 25. And we’ll assume you shoot closeups of each of the two people talking. You would end up slating:

      Wide shot – Scene 25
      Person One Talking – Scene 25A
      Person Two Talking – Scene 25B
      Insert shot of their hands – Scene 25C

      You don’t reslate every line individually, just like you wouldn’t film every line individually. You slate the one persons close up, shoot as many takes as you need, then move on to the next person’s close up.

      In your Sherlock Holmes example, you’re making the mistake of evaluating the shots after they’ve been edited together. Slating is used to assist within the editing process, not after-the-fact. Many of those shots you listed were probably the same shot/take on set (for instance angles 1 and 5; angles 2 and 6). You don’t slate them differently, you just slate 5A and then the camera rolls.

      It’s up to the script supervisor to note what this shot contains and how much of the script it covers and then the editor uses those notes to know where the shots compile into. It would be a massive waste of time to shoot only tiny parts of each shot and reslate each time – additionally, how do you know that that’s how the scene is already going to cut together? It could very well be that they had planned to show Watson walking the entire way down the grass before cutting to Holmes.

      Slating is meant to label the shots, nothing more, nothing less. It is not meant to precompile any sort of editing.

      I hope that makes sense!

  • Tom

    Hello Evan, one question:

    what do you do when you missed a slate (because it was a tail slate and the 1st AC stopped recording to early)?

    Best
    Tom

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

      You have a couple options:

      1. You can roll a new clip and do the tail slate (essentially bumping it). This isn’t ideal but at least the editor gets the slate info. When shooting film, this would work perfectly because the film roll doesn’t get split into clips.

      2. Just let the script supervisor know there was a misslate and they will make a note. Make sure to treat the shot as if it was slated anyway (so don’t use the same take number)

      • Tom

        1. But this would be a new clip, so what do you write in the Camerareport? “Missed Slate” for the take with no slate? And the tail slate is not a extra take on slate and report?
        What means “bumping it” (my english….)

        2. Okay, that’s what I’m doing every time and note it as missed slate in the report :) Thought that was not very professional to do this or that there is a better solution.

        One other question. I see it on a large production that the 2nd clap the sticks and pushed the clapperboard towards camera. Why?

        Thank you very much, Evan!