As I develop training classes for TDS Telecom, I always make sure I knew as much detail as possible about the topic that will be trained. The old adage is true – it’s all about the details. I try to ask the right people the right questions so I can get a good understanding of why we are doing things the way we are doing them. Sometimes, though, I don’t get a clear reason. In that case, I try to exhaust all resources, determine any historical reason why we do a process a certain way – is there a legal reason, perhaps a regulation? In the end, I find solid knowledge of the why is important when explaining to someone the processes and tools they use on the job.
When I started making movies, I found myself asking similar questions–why are we doing things this way? What does that role do? And why the heck are we using that tool? So, here is one tool I asked questions about – the slate!
The slate is a classic tool used for movies. I’m sure you’ve seen them before – someone will yell out the name of the movie, scene, date, maybe some other details, and then slap down the sticks on top to make a loud CLAP! sound. Only then can the director yell “Action!” The slate has been used throughout the history of movie making.
So, now with digital cameras, technology updates, and all that, why is the Slate still used?
Why the slate is Used
Maybe the most important use of the slate (also called the clapperboard or sticks) is to help match up the audio and video tracks of the film. For many movies, the audio and video tracks are recorded separately. By recording them separately, the editor can grab the best quality audio and match it up with the best video recording she has available to her. Many cameras can record audio, but they don’t have the same quality as you would get from a direct microphone much closer to the actors. When the slate sticks are slammed together, it gives the editor a clear marker of when both the audio and video matched – all he has to do is synch up the two recordings and BAM!, you have a movie (well, the editor has to do a little more than that).
Another purpose of the slate is to help track the scene and take (as well other details). Most movies are not filmed chronologically, so it would be easy to mix up the order of the film. By capturing the scene, take, and date, the editor has a better chance of making sense of the order. Given that an editor may have 20+ hours of recordings for just a 1 hour movie, all help is appreciated. The slate will also keep track of who the director is (in case there are multiple in a film), and camera information (can indicate angles, close ups, or who the director of photography was during this filming).
As a director, I know which take I liked more. I note down that I liked take 3 more than any other take, though take 5 might be good as well – oh, take 2 was terrible. I share that with the editor, who can remove the less favorable parts just to make the editing more manageable.