Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Slate Basics

Many people get into the movie making business by volunteering to work on the set. It's tricky as to where a newbie can fit, but every department has needs that can be filled with an unskilled worker (unskilled only because you haven't yet learned it).

For the camera department, this position is usually a 2nd AC (assistant camera). This is the person who, on low budget movies, will also be the "clapper." The person who holds the slate up in front of the camera and claps it.

The purpose of the slate is to label each shot and to give a reference for syncing sound. Even in this digital age, a clap is still used. We recently shot a movie on the Red, but we still recorded our sound "discreetly"-- separate than the video recording. So later, the video and sound will need to be married up.

Today, most people use a "smart slate". This is a slate with timecode spinning in LCD numbers. You can sync the camera up to generate the same numbers. It starts with the sound mixer (who usually provides the smart slate). Numbers are synced to his recording. For most movies, a time of day code is used for the numbers.

So you land on the set and volunteer for the camera department. They hand you the slate and a dry erase marker and something to wipe it off. The Script Supervisor ("scripty") will usually call out the scene and take number for you. You write this down on the slate.

When the 1st AD (assistant director) yells for a lockdown and to roll sound, the sound mixer will yell "sound speed." This is your cue to get in front of the camera lens with your slate. You raise the clapper and get ready (unless it's MOS which we'll talk about below). You can't be too far away that the numbers can't be read, and you can't be too close. Usually the 1st AC will tell you where you can go. On 35mm lenses, you can general divide by ten the lens on the camera in feet. So a 50mm lens means 5 feet in front is okay.

But you're not ready to clap yet. The 1st AC will yell for camera to roll. When the 1st AC yells "Camera Speed" that's your cue! Immediately, you say the info on the slate (scene and take, and any key info) out loud (so that an audible slate exists). Key info might include calling out both A and B cameras if you've got a two camera shoot. Then you say mark and then clap. Don't say mark over the clap. One then the other. That gives a good audible mark to go with the visual of the frame the sticks come together.

If the camera wasn't framed correctly when you "marked," the 1st AC might call for a "second sticks." This means you do it again, calling second sticks.

For shots that don't have sound (MOS), you write MOS on the slate and you just hold it up in front of camera. no need to clap or say anything-- there isn't any sound being recorded. All you technically need is a half second in front of lens, so don't hang there forever.

After you've marked the shot, you get out of the way quickly and settle. Congrats, you just clapped the scene!

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