Make Your Own Slate

Make Your Own Slate

Using a small dry-erase board, you can keep track of your footage visually .

A slate is a record of information that is visually recorded onto video. In the physical sense, a slate is usually a plastic or wooden board with areas marked off for someone (usually a camera assistant) to write. When shooting on film, the slate will often have a small moving plank on top of it to make a clack sound and is sometimes referred to as a clapboard .

Clapboards are used so the audio and film images can be synchronized. Film captures only an image, so the audio is recorded separately. When you are watching the image, you can visually see the plank hit the slate, which indicates where the clack sound should be heard. When you synchronize the sound of the clack and the image of the plank hitting, the audio and film images are "in sync."

The reason to use a slate is simple. When you are watching footage, it is helpful to know what you are watching. For example, if you were to pick up a videotape, place it in a deck, and press the Play button, it would be helpful if something were to appear on screen to inform you what you were about to watch. This is why movies and television shows have opening title sequences and why your raw footage should have a slate as well.

Gathering Materials

There are a couple of ways to make your own slate.

Using household supplies

If you're looking to be crafty and save as much money as you can (maybe to feed your crew?), you can use a few common household items:

  • One small piece of cardboard (around 8" x 11")

  • One black marker

  • One roll of wax paper

  • One roll of tape

You will use the pen to draw sections onto the cardboard, almost like creating a grid. These sections will need to be labeled appropriately (as noted later). After creating and labeling your sections, cover the cardboard with the wax paper and then tape it so that it is taut. The wax paper should be tight enough against the cardboard so you can see the sections through it.

When using wax paper, you might discover that both dry-erase and permanent-ink markers can be used, and wiped off. However, the longer the ink sits on the paper, the harder it is to wipe off.

Using purchased supplies

If you're willing to spend a little money to make your slate, you will need these items:

  • One small whiteboard (office supply store; $5–$10)

  • One roll of 1/4-inch black electrical tape (home improvement store; $1–$3)

  • One pair of scissors

You will need to cut the black tape into a few strips of the length and width of your whiteboard. For example, if you have an 8" x 11" whiteboard, you should cut piece of tape in 8-inch and 11-inch lengths. You will be using the strips to section off areas on the whiteboard. Figure shows the items required to make your own slate.

A small whiteboard, soon to be a slate

Using Your Slate

The amount of information you want to keep on your slate will determine how you section it off. At the very least, you will want sections to write the project's title, the date, the scene, and the take number. You might to keep track of the camera (if you are shooting with more than one), the director's name, and the audio configuration (for example, Bob's microphone is on audio channel 1 and Sally's microphone is on audio channel 2). Figure shows the slate, as completed and filled out for a shoot.

Providing a visual means of communicating

To use your slate, simply write the appropriate information on it and hold it in front of your camera before you begin to shoot. You should do this for every take . The nice feature about using either of these techniques is that you can wipe it clean when necessary. So, when shooting a lot of takes, or even a lot of scenes, it's easy to simply wipe the previous writing off and write something new. Because it's so easy to do, you won't become reluctant to slate your shots, which will pay dividends when you go to watch and log your footage[Hack #5].

If you are in dire need of a slate—if you're on set and forgot a slate, for example—use a piece of paper and a pen. Some information is better than none at all.

If you forget to use the slate before your take, you can still use it afterward. By holding the slate in front of the camera at the end of the take, you can capture the information. Even though it won't appear where you expect it, the information is still valuable. If you want to indicate that a slate is being used at the end of a take, you can hold it upside down.

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