How to Slate for the Camera like a Boss

Movie slate

Few people know what all those things on a movie slate are for. Even fewer know the proper way to slate for camera properly. It's the job of the 2nd AC (Second Assistant Camera, or sometimes referred to as Clapper Loader) to write out the slate and be the person who holds it in front of the camera before each take. It's an iconic job on a movie set, being the person who makes the loud SNAP right before the director calls action. However there are actually some important tips to know about slating in order to do it properly. Often you can impress the rest of the crew when you show you already know how to slate like a pro.

Keep in mind that there isn't necessarily one "right" way to call slate, but this is the way I've gotten used to seeing slate happen on sets. Sometimes the order changes, and some terms may be called out differently.

Step 1: Filling out the slate

The slate holds all of the information that the editor will need to identify which take was which part of the script and also to sync up video with audio later to the sound of the CLAP. It is unbelievably integral for many reasons, which you can see in an earlier post. Use chalk or dry erase marker (whichever's applicable) and write in the following:

- Production Name obviously!

- Director and DoP Names (do not misspell these! Go off of the call sheet, or even better, ask how they would prefer it spelled. Sometimes they want a nickname there instead)

- Current Date

- Scene number

- Take number

- Roll number/letter

Name of the production, director and DoP are self-explanatory and don't really change. The date obviously needs to be kept current. The scene, take and roll numbers are what you need to stay on top of.

Check with the script supervisor if you need to know which scene you're on, often it'll be called out so pay attention. If it's Scene 42 in the script, then you first write in 42A (the first shot "A" of Scene "42"). Then whenever it is a new camera setup, you advance it by one letter. A new camera setup means a new camera angle, framing, position, etc. So if the wide shot is slated as Scene 42A, then the medium shot will be slated Scene 42B, and the close-up as Scene 42C, and so on. If the camera setup doesn't change at all, then you're just doing another take and so just advance the Take number.

The Roll number used to denote what film roll each camera was on. Nowadays with most productions being digital, it means which memory card you are on. Whenever a new card is loaded into the camera, you advance the Roll number. Each camera gets assigned a letter at the start of production (for multi-camera productions, Camera A, Camera B, etc.) and so you should include the camera letter before each roll number. So if you're using two cameras, you might write for Roll "A023, B016". This would indicate that Camera A is recording to its 23rd memory card and Camera B is on its 16th card. This way the editor knows which card folder each take is in on the hard drive.

Step 2: Getting the slate in position for camera

When the AD calls "Slate!", that means you. Better have that slate filled in and ready to go because you're up. The camera operator will not roll camera until the slate is in position, so you need to jump in there. This is to ensure that the first frame of each take has the slate clearly visible. That way the editor can browse through the thumbnails of each take and know right away which shot it is without having to play through each one. It makes their job a million times easier, therefore earning you a friend for life.

Where specifically should the slate be? Pay attention to the lens being used. If it's a wide angle lens, you can stand closer to camera. If it's zoomed in for a close-up, you should be near whatever the subject is. If this is Brad Pitt's close-up for an emotional scene, the slate should be near his pretty face. Ideally the slate should fill the screen as much as possible and be in focus enough to read it easily.

By the way, is there audio recording for this take? Then the sticks should already be open so that the editor knows there is an audio track to go with it. If there isn't? Then keep the sticks closed and don't clap them at all. Oh, and write MOS on the slate, if you can. (Tip: MOS is said to stand for "mit out sound" as a 1920's German director may have said once, but it most likely stands for "motor only sync". Really, it just means there is no sound being recorded. That's all you need to know.)

Step 3: Reading off the slate

When the actors and crew are ready and the AD wants to get shooting, a bunch of crew members call out some words to indicate they're ready to go. Pay attention to the order so that you know when to do what. This is what varies from set-to-set but usually it goes something like this:

- The AD calls for everybody to settle and shouts "Roll Camera!"

- The 1st AC or Camera Operator rolls camera and calls "Camera Rolling!" and the Boom Operator or Production Sound calls "Speed!" meaning he/she is now recording. Once you hear both of these get shouted, you can then finally...

- Slate for Camera! Read off the Scene number, Take number, say "Mark!" and then CLAP the slate. Want to really sound like a pro? Use the NATO phonetic alphabet for the Scene letter (alpha, beta, charlie, delta...). If the slate is close to Brad Pitt's face or the boom is close to it, then audio department may call "Soft sticks" meaning you can close it gently. No need to be loud. Otherwise, snap the hell out of it. If audio doesn't pick it up, they may call "Second sticks" meaning you need to re-slate. Just quickly say "Second sticks", and snap the slate properly. Then what do you do?...

- Get the hell out of the way! Quickly and quietly. You've done your job, now you're all that's standing in the Director's way of calling "Action!". *sigh* Great, you can now relax and watch the actors perform, enjoying their performances...

- But wait! There's more! Rather than get caught up in what the actors are doing, you should opt to wait to see it on the DVD and instead be filling in the slate for the next shot. Wipe out the Take number, write in a new one.

 

And that's pretty much it! It's not rocket science but few people know how to slate properly for the camera. If it's not being done right, it might as well not be done at all. After all, this is to help the editor not have a meltdown while searching through dozens upon dozens (or more!) clips for each scene. Often an overlooked and undervalued job on set, knowing how to slate can be amazingly helpful and make you look good in front of other crew members.

A Gathering of Gamers in Guelph

The time is rolling over midnight on the eve before Day 1 of what will undoubtedly be a rigorous, sanity-testing production. Hmm, shall I call it a night, get some good rest and wake up bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to tackle the day? Or will I blog about it first? Evidently, I chose the latter. But I will keep it brief as each hour of sleep will be invaluable over the next few days.

This feels like the Avengers assembling: Zombie Orpheus has flown many of its cast and crew members (including Scott C. Brown, Christian Doyle and Trinn Miller of Gamers: Hands of Fate, not to mention Ben Dobyns, Matt Vancil, Andy Dopieralski and Tony Becerra) as well as some other familiar faces (Joanna Gaskell, Daniel Johnston, and Vanessa Driveness from Standard Action) into town to work alongside Synndicus Studios (Thomas Gofton, Tom Brown and Aaron Soch, with whom I worked on Mind's Eye: The Series) on two spinoffs in The Gamers universe: Natural One and Humans & Households.1

That was a long collection of names to list off. And I doubt there are many people who would recognize any of those names (unless you happen to be a fan of web series). But it was worth typing each of them out so that one could see the scope of this production. It unites many different groups of actors and crew members under one tent and is funded primarily (and generously) by a devoted fan-base through Kickstarter.

Some of these faces I haven't seen since shooting Gamers: Hands of Fate in Seattle last fall. Some I'm meeting for the first time (I creeped out Daniel Johnston with the line "I've watched you many times." He didn't know I was referring to both the vfx work I did on Standard Action Season 3 that put his face on my monitor for many hours at times as well as the reviews of the show I did for the Limited Release podcast...and it was more fun that I let him believe I was a creeper). But all are a super talented bunch in their own right, so to bear witness to this gathering gives me goosebumps.

Not since The Expendables have I been so excited.

My roles on set will be camera operator (occasional steadicam operator), visual effects supervisor (consulting on shots that I'll be doing visual effects work for later, ensuring that we shoot what I need to do the effect properly) and otherwise assisting with some lighting and cinematography wherever needed.2

Well, time to head off to bed and rest up for tomorrow. It's going to be equally fun as it will be energy draining.

1 To know who any of these people are, you should be listening to my podcast Limited Release. Go subscribe and catch up! I'll wait...

I'm sure at some point somebody will try to ask me to also get them a coffee...key word is try.