How [And Why] To Slate

I’ve been working as an editor for a quasi-tv-show-training-series lately, which is a little out of the norm for me. However, while I don’t consider myself a professional editor, I try to do the things I know how to do as professionally as possible. I ran into a small issue today that I could’ve just accepted, and spent the extra time fixing. But the change required would be so small and easy to implement, and would save me so much time in future edits, that I felt it important to point out.

The problem was that there were large discrepancies between how they slated each take. Sometimes the take would be slated correctly, for example, “Scene 1A take 1”, recorded at the beginning of the audio file and the fist frame of action on the video file. Other times the audio would start recording too late, and the slate would be missing. The opposite was true as well – some takes were recorded so early that I had to wait 20 or 30 seconds for the scene and take number to be called out, or scrub through the video footage to find the slate.

Another issue is the inconsistency between what they would call a scene, like “Scene 1, master, stationary, no kids”. While that’s very descriptive, it’s long and makes it more difficult to put things together when you’re logging them in your editing software. In Final Cut Pro X, the NLE (Non Linear Editor) that I use, there are fields for Reel, Scene, and Take in the logging window, that you can then sort ascending or descending to synchronize the audio and video files together. It’s much easier to call the previous example Scene 1b, or 1c.

The point of all this isn’t to complain, but rather to offer one possible way to have some consistency between the way each take is slated.

Here’s a common workflow I’ve often encountered on set that has great results through all steps of the process:


A film crew is on a film set. The ACTORS are in their places, the DP, SOUND MIXER, and BOOM OPERATOR are in their places, ready to record. The 1ST AC is holding a slate, ready to perform his important task.

The DIRECTOR signals to the 1ST AD that he is ready for the next take.


Quiet on the set!

Everyone in the room quickly quiets to a hush.


Roll sound!

The Sound Mixer presses record on his recorder.


(into the slate mic on his mixer)

Scene 1A, take 1.

The Boom Operator has heard the slate in his headphones.


Sound Speed.

The 1st AC raises the slate so that it in frame.


Roll Camera!


Camera Speed.


Scene 1A, take 1. Mark!

He closes the clapper on the slate, then quickly makes his way out of frame, erases the take number on the slate, and increments the take by one.



So there you go. A fairly standard way of slating every single shot on a film set. Doing this not only gives some standardization for the crew to know what happens when, and what’s going on, but it is extremely helpful to the editor or assistant editor who logs the footage in post.

Here’s what happens after the footage and audio is captured on set:

It goes through a transfer process, so, using CF cards as the example, the assistant editor or camera crew member on set, often called the DIT, takes the CF cards from the camera and the sound mixer and imports the files into a computer and backs them up on multiple hard drives. The footage is often named based on the take number, but often will have no reference to what was filmed or recorded during that take.

The editor/DIT then goes through each take of camera footage and audio and assigns them a scene number and take number, and adds any additional metadata that is required for that shoot. It’s extremely easy to do when the first frame of every video file is an image of the slate, perfectly in frame. They don’t have to hit play, they don’t have to listen to the audio, and they don’t have to spend time scrolling through the footage to find the slate. it’s just right there, the first and only thing they see.

The same with audio. If the sound mixer records too early, and their files don’t carry the name of the scene and take number, then the editor/DIT has to hit play on every audio file and wait until someone slates. Even worse, if the mixer records to late, then they run the risk of missing the slate all together, and the person logging the footage won’t have any idea what scene and take it is or where it needs to go in relation to all the other files. Not great.

So get used to slating every single take. It takes very little time, but will save a lot of time later on in the transfer, logging, and post production processes, and will make your editing team very happy to have that consistency from shot to shot.

Now if you really want to see some amazing slate work, watch this:

Subtleties of the Slate from Inspiration Studios on Vimeo.

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