June 2, 2015

How to Slate Like a Pro (Plus How You Definitely Shouldn't Slate, Like Ever)

Slating is really damn important, particularly when working with dual sound and massive amounts of footage.

Here's Tomm from RocketJump Film School to show you the basics of how to do it right, plus some very tangible examples of how not to slate.

There are a few things that I would add to the practices in the video. First, if the information is available, always include the clip name/number from your audio recording device on the slate. This little step can make the editor's life so much easier when it comes to matching video clips with the proper external audio. Secondly, it's important to make sure the slate stays roughly the same size in the frame regardless of shot type or focal length. If you're shooting a wide shot on, say, an 18mm lens, but you slate near the actor's face (with soft sticks hopefully), chances are that the editor or assistant editor is going to have a very difficult time reading the information on the slate. Conversely, if you're shooting an extreme closeup on a 135mm, but you hold the slate 5 feet away from the lens, chances are that the slate will take up the entire frame and only some of the information will be visible. Hopefully the camera operator would prevent both of those instances from happening, but it doesn't always happen that way.

The trick that I've always used for keeping the slate the same size in the frame regardless of focal length is really simple, and it works like a charm. Essentially, for every 10mm in focal length, you hold the slate one additional foot from the lens. Here are a few examples:

For an 24mm lens, holding the slate roughly 2.5 feet away will make it the perfect distance for the editor to see all of the information and the clap. For a 50mm, you'd hold it roughly 5 feet away. For an 85mm, roughly 8.5 feet away. For 135mm, closer to 13 feet way. And so on.

This little formula may change depending on the sensor size you're working with, but for super35, it works like a charm. I'd imagine that if you're shooting with a M4/3 or super16 sized sensor, you'd want to effectively double it -- so it becomes 2 feet for every 10mm, give or take.

Do you guys have any slating tips or best practices that we're shared here? Let us know down in the comments!     

Your Comment

39 Comments

"Slating is really damn important, particularly when working with dual sound and massive amounts of footage." No it's not. I never slate, ever. Dual sound or no. Massive amounts of footage or not. Just make sure the internal clocks in your devices are synced and you are recording scratch audio on your camera and you're golden. Modern NLE's makes slating an arcane practice (FCPX FTW!). I produce hundreds of videos a year with both dual system sound, multi camera etc and never slate ever--never even think about it.

June 2, 2015 at 10:02AM

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William Streeter
Filmmaker
178

Cool story, bro.

June 2, 2015 at 10:33AM, Edited June 2, 10:33AM

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While I don't technically slate, I *have* gotten into the habit of having talent give me a clap once I start rolling. On the off chance Premiere has trouble syncing sound (noisy room, camera isn't getting decent scratch audio), it's incredibly useful to have that spike in the waveform. It takes 5 seconds and can save a ton of time in post.

June 2, 2015 at 10:53AM, Edited June 2, 10:53AM

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Other than syncing sound, slating can be really valuable for giving each clip a label for post. A script supervisor ("scripty") will write notes for post based on the slate. Just makes the transition to post a lot easier.

June 2, 2015 at 11:02AM

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Exactly! Sure, timecode will help sync audio, but using a slate for labeling is incredibly useful. I can't imagine a script supervisor having to write down that 00:18:38 was a good take.

June 2, 2015 at 1:04PM, Edited June 2, 1:04PM

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If you're doing your own shooting and editing, you can use whatever system works best for you. But to say that slating isn't important because you don't do it is kind of like saying that nobody should wear shoes because you're a barefoot runner.

June 2, 2015 at 12:11PM

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Rob Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker Freedom
4838

If you are editing you own material it's almost not necessary to slate, and with software like pluraleyes its really easy to sync. But In big production , with a lot of footage and one or more editors, not making slate can make a chaos of post production and will be a very irresponsible and unprofessional not to do it. so your affirmation saying "it is not important" is wrong my friend. Not trying to be rude, just clarifying the case.

June 2, 2015 at 12:19PM

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Matias Rispau
Director
164

I agree, the syncing and organizational tools in FCP X are stellar, but unless you are coming up with the concept, script, shooting, etc, then slates are very useful. This is especially important when you don't have directors or producers at the same location you are editing. When people have shot/scene specific feedback you need to have your organization with Keyword and Smart collections setup in relation to the slate info so you can access it quickly and line up with the information they have.

June 2, 2015 at 1:30PM, Edited June 2, 1:31PM

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Braden Storrs
Post Production Manager, Photographer
289

Conversation between editor and director on unslated footage
"Use the shot with the dog"
"Which one?"
"The close up"
"Oh the one where he runs behind the tree"
"No the one where he is sitting still"
"There is no shot where he is sitting still"
"I'm sure we shot one after the tree shot"
"Which tree shot..."
Conversation between editor and director on slated footage:
"Use shot 1C"
"OK"

June 2, 2015 at 9:14PM

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Josh Stafield
Director of Photography, Editor
231

This is golden!

June 3, 2015 at 8:35AM, Edited June 3, 8:35AM

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Danny T
Photographer
482

Haha! We slated our shots but the director still yelled out "That CU of the dog biting the leg! I don't remember, it was a year ago when we shot it!"

June 3, 2015 at 2:08PM

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bobunitone
Editor/Director/Writer/All Round Great Dude
81

I've had almost that exact conversation about unslated footage

June 4, 2015 at 10:25AM

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Steven Falconer
Maker of Stuff
84

This dude trolled hard haha

June 3, 2015 at 3:33AM, Edited June 3, 3:33AM

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Max Ciesynski
Gaffer
634

Don't include letters I,O,Y and Z.

https://youtu.be/Ul04AA3R4d0

June 2, 2015 at 10:57AM, Edited June 2, 10:57AM

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matt
873

I've also heard to skip Z (as it looks like a 2) and Y (apparently it can look like and X? I don't really get this one, but skip it to be safe...). Also, you shouldn't write 1 like they have here as it could be confused with a 2. Without the base, it can also be confused with a 7. I tend to use just a vertical line, as it can't really be confused with anything if you always skip I.

Of course, you could just use the much superior European Slate-Take system, but that's an argument for another day.

I also call the slate as soon as they roll sound, so that the beginning of the audio clip has the call, then wait for "rolling" or "mark it", say "marker" or "A mark" or "A-B Common Mark" or whatever it is and clap the sticks. There's no reason to call the slate and clap the sticks at the same time.

June 2, 2015 at 11:07AM, Edited June 2, 11:13AM

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Tim Green
Director
86

I don't know if it's an Australian thing but I like to use all numbers. Scene number, shot number, take number. Way easier and faster for data entry/logging because you can just use number pad on keyboard. Also don't have to wait for the crew to finish laughing after the clapper decides he/she's a comedian and calls one-dildo-three.

June 2, 2015 at 9:34PM

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Josh Stafield
Director of Photography, Editor
231

It is an Australian/European thing, Americans call letters for slate designation within scenes, Australia/Europe mostly calls numbers for slates regardless of scenes.

June 3, 2015 at 7:32AM

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Tim Fay
First AC
74

One key point on slating was missed, never bring sticks into frame closed (unless they stay closed, i.e. MOS takes) and never open sticks again after slating, unless for second sticks of course. It helps the editors to know if they scrubbed past or before the actual clap of the sticks if they can visually see the sticks open or closed

June 2, 2015 at 11:14AM, Edited June 2, 11:14AM

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Patrick Hanover
Cinematographer
88

Also they missed tail slating, not that it is much different, just at the end of the take and the slate is upside down or rotated after the clap.

June 2, 2015 at 11:23AM

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Patrick Hanover
Cinematographer
88

Quick question ref tail slate.. I understand why you need to turn it upside if shooting on film, since on film there's no indication of where the take ends, thus inverted slate helps with that visually. But with digital, the tail slate will appear at end of the take. Is there still any good reason to turn the slate upside-down for digital tail slates?

June 2, 2015 at 1:43PM

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Zhibo Lai
Filmmaker/VFX
74

I'm also curious about this. Good point.

June 2, 2015 at 6:38PM

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Matthew Miller
Director of Photography
140

Bottom line, it's just about maintaining a consistent "language" and making everything super clear to understand. Upside down slate will always mean tail slate. Everyone who's worked on set or in post knows that. It's not hard to misinterpret (unless you have no experience). Anything different might be unclear.

June 3, 2015 at 7:13PM, Edited June 3, 7:14PM

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And slating for multiple camera, common sticks or na.

June 3, 2015 at 2:23PM

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bobunitone
Editor/Director/Writer/All Round Great Dude
81

it hurts my soul when someone cant slate

June 2, 2015 at 3:04PM, Edited June 2, 3:04PM

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Max Ciesynski
Gaffer
634

It hurts my soul when people like you are happy to sit back and judge rather than give some basic tips. Slating ain't hard it only takes being shown once to get the basics. Grow up!

June 2, 2015 at 8:09PM

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matt
873

- triple post

June 2, 2015 at 8:09PM, Edited June 2, 8:09PM

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matt
873

Oh zigger you got me! clearly you haven't heard someone read the entire slate before marking, for 40 takes haha. It gets frustrating and time consuming and truly takes most actors out of there mindset. Oh and for some great tips see the video above:)

June 3, 2015 at 3:33AM

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Max Ciesynski
Gaffer
634

I absolutely hate dual sound. I know that it's a part of making movies but I often try everything in my power to capture good audio straight to camera.

June 2, 2015 at 4:27PM

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Dantly Wyatt
Musical Comedy & Content Creator.
694

That's kinda like saying you never change the aperture of your lens during a take? If you're after quality sound you need to be riding your levels and have a dedicated audio recordist.

June 2, 2015 at 8:03PM, Edited June 2, 8:03PM

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matt
873

-

June 2, 2015 at 8:03PM, Edited June 2, 8:04PM

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matt
873

You can have both of those and still run a hard line into the camera essentially using the unsynced audio as backup if needed. Since most mid to high end field recorders and mixer setups have multi line out options, it's fairly easy to do assuming you're not doing lots of moving around during the take.

June 3, 2015 at 2:54AM, Edited June 3, 2:57AM

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Dantly Wyatt
Musical Comedy & Content Creator.
694

Sure especially if your shot is static, why not I guess!

June 3, 2015 at 11:33AM, Edited June 3, 11:33AM

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matt
873

for macro shots I use SLATE on my mobile phone, it will actually fit perfectly in macro detail shot :)

like this one:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.loghound.digitalslate&...

June 2, 2015 at 4:51PM

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Poly
168

Great info! I have a slate... I should probably use it. :-/

June 3, 2015 at 12:54AM

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Donovan Vim Crony
Director, DP, Editor, VFX, Sci-Fi Lover
345

For the advanced slater:
https://vimeo.com/5516736

June 3, 2015 at 1:08AM

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Stu Mannion
writer/dir/dp
697

That was so fucking funny im crying

June 3, 2015 at 3:38AM

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Max Ciesynski
Gaffer
634

Another good thing to do is not roll camera until slate is in frame, so all the footage thumbnails in the NLE display the slate.

June 4, 2015 at 4:40PM

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Derek Mindler
Cinematographer
253

I've been lately working tablets a lot. There's a german freeware app (Android) called Filmklappe, which has all the feature you need for the slating. And the reason why I prefer this is because it has a function, where you can use a 1khz tone instead of the claptone. I can always track the sound in post production.

July 26, 2015 at 5:23AM

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Sandeep Abraham
Director, DoP, Editor
175

Is there any definitive protocol for shots in which the slate can't be both in focus and close enough to the camera to fill the frame? Do you just have to focus on the slate, then re-focus on the actors on the fly?

July 21, 2016 at 10:57PM

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