The film slate. It's one of the big symbols of film-making. But... there's a point to it. And that point is understood to a greater or lesser degree throughout the industry.
But for an editor, it can be essential communication. We're usually not on set (we're editing the previous day's shots), and the less time we need to spend figuring information out, the more time we can spend being creative.
Here are some notes based on some past difficulties I've encountered when syncing video and audio. A lot of it isn't necessarily intuitive if you haven't spent any time ingesting dailies, so I thought I'd get some general thoughts written down. They essentially form my wishlist of what I'd like to see when I get a new set of dailies.
Other editors may disagree with some points or prefer other solutions, but this is what I am happiest with. Regional variations may apply; almost certainly in terminology.
Sync sound on your video files from the camera, where at all possible, is a big help. Obviously it's not possible to get when shooting on film, but most other cameras have on-board recording capability, or the ability to hook up a small cheap microphone. Programmes such as PluralEyes and Adobe Premiere can now sync and replace that audio with the audio from the sound recordist VERY quickly so long as there is some low quality audio in the video file; whereas manual syncing can take hours per day of filming. This is a great cost in time and money to the production, no matter what scale you're working on.
For notes on how to fill out a slate and examples, I have to direct you to Evan Luzi's blog, The Black and Blue. Evan has written a series of blog posts (parts 1, 2, 3- plus The 10 Commandments of Slating) directed at 2nd Assistant Camera personnel from his experiences in the role.
In the edit room, all we know is what we see and hear in the footage we get. Being able to read a slate is helpful - which means we need sufficient lighting and focus.
Having the right information on the slate helps too, and having it match up to what's being called (e.g. "Slate 3 shot 3 take 1") is more or less the point of the process, especially if there is no on-board audio being recorded by the camera. Even if it's discovered while reading it out that the wrong information is written on the board - say what's on the board so that we can match it up, then say what it should be.
There are differences between the American system (based on scene number, with shot and setup numbers) and the British system (working up the slate numbers chronologically), and I've seen some odd hybrids in the past too. But consistency is key. Once you've chosen your system, please please please stick with it.
If syncing manually (e.g. when no audio sync has been recorded on the video track, or the audio recorded is of very low quality), getting the clap right is crucial. We match the frame where the sticks close to the frame where the corresponding audio starts. Without either of these, we end up trying to find something within the take to sync to, quite often using speech - which is considerably less clean and open to second-guessing.
- There should be a clean, decisive snap.
- In order for the clap to be useful, the point at which the sticks close needs to be in frame on the camera! It may seem obvious, but certain types of shot (e.g. close-ups, difficult angles) are incompatible with snazzy hand-gestures and one-handed wrist-flick claps. DoPs - if you see you didn't get it, please ask again. The audio cue "second sticks", or "second clap" is given, and everyone goes again.
- The sticks of the slate should start OPEN. If they're closed in shot, that means that either the shot is MOS (mute) and should be marked as such on the slate, or we've missed the clap and we move backwards to find it.
- If you're shooting in low light, please shine a torch onto the board during the clap so that we can actually see when the sticks touch - unless you're risking blinding the actor behind the board.
- Focus is another thing that helps us to read the board. It sounds obvious, but when shots are setup and the board is then moved in, it often gets neglected. An end-board is fine in these circumstances.
- A second clap/ "second sticks" is usually called when something means the first clap wasn't usable - if either sound or camera weren't running, if a loud noise may have obscured the clap, or similar reasons.
- Uness it's a second clap, the next time the board is put in front of the camera it should have a different number. If there were technical issues which forced a stop a few second in, or even before "action" was called; that's still a take. Especially if the camera has stopped rolling/ a new file has been created inbetween. When takes are being synced, we aren't necessarily watching the take - we're only looking at what happens up to the clap (or skipping to the end to look for an end board if it goes straight into action).
An audio cue at the start for "end board" helps reassure us that you haven't forgotten. Please don't forget at the end.
The clap for the board should be upside down, then turn it the right way up to help us read it. Seeing a board the right way up at the end of the take is often an indication that there wasn't an end board, and we're on to the next take.
When a shot is filmed MOS (Mit Out Sound/ without sound), on-board audio is nice to have even if the sound recordist isn't rolling. Sometimes some indication of what the director's trying to achieve in the shot (and where they think they've succeeded) can supplement additional notes, even if the sound recordist isn't rolling. Being able to hear the director's thoughts and directions can be very useful when assembling the first cut during the shoot, that's where their head is; communication with the edit is usually minimal.
Please don't delete files from the card/ disk drive before delivering it to edit. Even if the shot was only a few frames long from a mistakenly pressed button. If there's a gap in the numbering, we'll worry about what should be there - if it's a one take wonder that brings EVERYTHING together. Especially if we don't get a note about it. And then there'll be emails, and follow-ups, and checking of camera cards..... you can just leave it there. It's fine.