Using clapperboard in filmmaking

A clapboard is that funny striped slate that has already become a symbol of filming. There is no need to explain what a slate is used for, as everybody knows it: it marks the beginning of the shooting process. This way, sound editors will easily match the soundtrack with the footage during post-production montage and synchronization.

Movie clapper

Why do they call it the clap? Quite obviously, because that's the sound that the hinged handler produces when the second AC (assistant camera) clicks it and shouts "Mark!".

Types of a clapper

There are two main slate types:

  • A traditional clapboard made of wood, slate, or plastic. The second AC writes all the needed information on it manually.
  • A digital clapboard with a timer.
Digital clapboard

How to use a clapper

In the very basic scenario, the second AC waits until the first AD (assistant director) calls out that the rolling starts, steps in the frame, makes sure the clapper is in focus, announces the scene, and take numbers loudly, claps, and leaves. This person should be fast, as the shooting time is precious.

Sounds easy, but there are more complicated scenarios as well.

  1. Second sticks. If something goes wrong or the second AC makes a mistake, they "re-clap" a slate. It's necessary to say "second sticks" before that to let the sound editors know that the first clap should be ignored.
  2. Tail slate. Sometimes the second AC claps the sticks after the take, not before it. In that case, the clapper should be turned upside down, and the assistant may call out "tail slate" before clicking the sticks.
  3. Soft sticks. While shooting close-ups, holding the clapboard close to the actor's face may be necessary, and the harsh sound may frighten them. It's highly recommended to clap the sticks softer then. Don't forget to announce "soft sticks" to make an editor listen to the clap closely.
  4. MOS. It means "motor only shot" or, as the legend says, "mitout sound". Anyway, it means that this take has no soundtrack at all. To indicate it clearly, a person with a clapper puts a hand between the sticks, so no clapping is possible.

How to mark a clapboard

Film slate

A movie slate should display all the information necessary for further footage editing and synchronization. Usually, it already has an empty grid, so an assistant should only write actual data in.

Essential information:

  • Film title ("production")
  • Scene
  • Roll
  • Take
  • Director
  • Camera
  • Time
  • DP (Director of photography)

On the bottom line, one can circle the corresponding mark depending on where the shooting occurs (interior or exterior) and whether it's day or night.

It's critically important to mark a movie slate correctly; that's the only way to make video editing smooth and clean.

Such a simple thing, and so many nuances!