By: Andrew Seltz
Slating refers to the process of shooting a short segment at the beginning of a take where the camera is focussed on a board (the slate) that has information written on it that uniquely identifies the take.
Slates used to be small chalkboards, but can be plastic boards with washable markers or even a small whiteboard and marker purchased at the local office supply store. Any surface that allows you to write and erase will do.
A Typical Shooting Routine
Many indie filmmakers make their first films by grabbing the camera and shooting a few things. A short while later they sit down at the computer and digitize all those cool clips they just shot and edit away. They watch the results, get excited, and decide they can make a movie – no problem!
Using the same techniques, they shoot hours of footage over the course of days and months with little or no thought to how they will find the shots they need later in the editing room.
Later, when it comes time to edit, they spend countless hours hunting through this pile of footage trying to find a take they need to make a scene work. They can’t speed through the footage either. They must watch it in realtime to listen for the breaks between different takes and hoping to find what they were looking for.
A Better Way To Work
It is easy to avoid this scenario – slate every take. Make sure you have the scene number, shot number, and take number recorded for every one. It is also helpful to record the name of the production, the director’s name and the cinematographer’s name along with the date. You never know when you’ll be asking others to help you edit your masterpiece.
Create a shooting rythm that includes slating. Use it every time and it will become a habit.
Taking good notes during the shoot will also speed your editing work. When you have a good take (or a bad take with portions you think might be good) write down the information from the slate and include notes to help you remember why you liked the shot. This will help you identify the shots to look for later and save you lots of time.
Sometimes you will need to roll quickly to catch a shot that is happening now. Working with animals and kids is often like this. If you don’t have a chance to slate the beginning of the shot, slate the end and hold the slate upside down to indicate that the take is ‘tail slated.’
If you are recording audio, be sure to speak the scene, shot, and take number into the microphone as well. This will create an ‘audio slate’ that can be used to identify your audio should it get seperated from the video during post production.