Proper Slating Technique
courtesy B&H PhotoVideo
One of the more often overlooked production steps, especially in the digital age, is proper slating technique. It is easy to understand why: banging a slate seems to belong to a bygone era, something relevant only to productions shooting on film, and in today’s rapid-fire production environment with directors rolling endlessly on multiple takes or wanting to shoot without alerting the actors that they are being recorded, slating has become something seen as more of a hindrance than a help.
"The primary purpose of slating is to identify individual takes, so that every time the camera starts and stops, there is an identification for the editor."
The truth is that slating is a valuable production step that can save you time and frustration in editing, and the time and attention paid to proper slating technique can help bring order to the chaos of your production.
The primary purpose of slating is to identify individual takes, so that every time the camera starts and stops, the editor has an ID tag for the footage. Now, with virtually everyone having a non-linear editingsystem (NLE) at home, or on their laptop or tablet, this may seem unimportant. However, with the advent of digital video, the amount of footage recorded and then sent to post production for viewing and editing has grown to almost unmanageable proportions, limiting the amount of time an editor has to view and evaluate the footage. Providing your editors with at least a quick identification, so they can know which shots to ignore and which ones the director feels are worthy of using, makes a huge, positive impact on the editing process.
Proper slating encompasses collaboration among three people―the clapper (the person handling the slate), the continuity person, and the editor. The editor is the person who sets the numbering system that the clapper follows, so it is important to confirm the system they want to follow. The continuity person keeps notes on each shot, the number of takes of each shot, and what the action in the frame was during each take. The clapper usually writes camera notes on each take, and puts the slate into the frame.
Breaking it down
The face of the slate will normally contain the following information: Production name, Director name, and Cameraman name, all of which normally do not change during the production. There will also be larger spaces for scene, shot, take, and sound. Then there’s additional information such as date, Mos/Sync, Day/Night, Interior/Exterior, filters used.
Now, what the scene is should be obvious; the script has been broken down into a number of individual scenes, which have been numbered before shooting begins. The shot number represents the order in which you are shooting the scenes. The first shot is commonly labeled with the scene number, and then the next position from which the camera shoots―add an A to the end, and then a B, C, D, all the way to Z, usually skipping the letters I, O, and S, as they can be confusing when placed next to Scene numbers. It is important that every time one changes the camera position this includes the same position but, with a different lens, one should change the shot number, as well. Then there is the take―this is a number that rises incrementally until you move to a new shot, at which point the take number should be reset. For example: Scene 32, shot A, take 1, take 2, take 3; Scene 32, shot B (often condensed as 32A, 32B, 32C, etc) take 1, take 2, take 3, etc. Some slates have a space for sound numbers, as well. It should be noted that the convention is that sound numbers don’t reset, but continue, so the slate would look like
Scene 32A, Take 1, Sound 45, Take 2, sound 46, Take 3, Sound 47; Scene 32B, Take 1, Sound 48, etc.
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