Use and proper execution of the slate, especially as an 1st Asst. Camera position, is a must when on more professional or feature sets.
If any of your students is interest in performing this role-and many should if they're looking to train for camera department on sets-it's important to enforce this practice as standard.
If they're running out of time on set, then they need to develop stronger pre-production skills and/or an Assistant Director with a greater sense of urgency. Another option, without the resources (and considering earlier-year students), is to simplify/consolidate shots and minimize the number of lighting setups.
This will lessen the number of setups for the grips on set and the amount of time spent between takes, keeping pace up. This way, composition, continuity, and
execution will take precedence on time and shine light on where they should be spending their planning and creative time.
More regarding the slate:
The 10 Commandments of Slating
Some time ago, long before our cameras were RED and cinema was digital, back in the days when film meant celluloid and the talkies were just beginning, the tradition of slating was in its infancy.
And as the tradition of the clapperboard grew, so did the cries for a singular method — one in which all camera assistants could gather behind and clap their clappers.
What came forth were laws and commandments written by the Lord himself for all camera assistants and clapper-loaders to learn and to follow. With their slates in hand, they waited patiently as, one-by-one, the rules of slating were laid upon them.
These are decrees of the clapperboard – the 10 Commandments of Slating.
Respect them in your mind and channel them on set…
1. Thou shall slate only one shot at a time
Thou shall slate only one shot at a time lest the editor become confused.
If thy shot hath many slates, it is a “series” and shall be marked so.
If thy shot hath zero slates, thou shall confuse thy editor, who shall react with disgust and anger. It may also bear no fruit as thy shot seems to be a mistake and thus shall be left unattended.
2. Thou shall write only what is needed on thy slate
Thou shall write only what is needed on thy slate and no more than what is relevant and informative.
Let not the temptations of doodles, jokes, and extra information appear except as and when they shall be — under thy Lord the Director’s permission — perceived as useful and meaningful.
Neither shall thy write less than what is needed on thy slate, for a slate without writings is but a useless slab of stone.
Neither shall thy write over the most meaningful information, for a slate with unreadable writings is as useless as one without writings at all.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of thy Director in vain
Thou shalt not take the name of thy Director in vain for the Director will hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
It is thy responsibility to spell thy Director’s name correctly and without error on thy slate and to keep it clean without vanity.
Further, thou shalt not take the name of thy Director’s apostle — the Director of Photography (DP) — in vain for thou shall bring vengeance and jealously upon thee.
4. Honor thy camera and keep its frame holy
Honor thy camera and keep its frame holy so that thy Director and his apostles may view through it without obstacle.
For thy Camera Operator doth not want to see you, nay, preferring to see the lights and the setups and the actors and all that is good about the film set.
Further, thou shall place the slate in front of the camera, as well as thyself, only when needed and taking great care not to cross the Holy plane in front of the camera unless unavoidable.
5. Honor thy 1st AC, Camera Operator, and DP
Honor thy 1st Assistant Camera (1st AC), Camera Operator, and Director of Photography, so that the time they spend waiting for you shalt not be excessive and the patience of those mentioned not be tested.
For thy AC, Camera Operator, and DP are busy and hath not time for thy shenanigans nor mistakes in front of thy camera.
Testing the patience of thy AC, Camera Operator, or DP can bring the wrath of the Director or his apostles and shall result in your banishment from thy slating responsibilities.
Respect the wishes of thy AC, Camera Operator, or DP and slate only when instructed to and as exactly as instructed to.
6. Thou shalt not kill thy slate
Thou shalt not kill thy slate by dropping it, burning it, losing it, or any other method in which thy slate shall be irrecoverably damaged.
Thou shall treat each slate as if it were thy own for thy slate is the property of thy neighbor — likely the “sound guy” — who doth need it when the production is over.
Thy treatment of thy slate shall be methodical, careful, and calculated. Thou shalt not beat it, batter it, nor even sneeze on it.
If thou cannot return thy slate at the end of the shoot, thou shalt owe many gold coins to thy “sound guy,” who must surely work harder to farm his land to afford a new slate.
If thy slate is thine own, thou shalt still treat thy slate as thy neighbor’s for thy production needs the services of thyself and thy slate.
7. Thou shalt not adulterate thy neighbor’s slate
Thou shalt not adulterate thy neighbor’s slate nor dabble with other slates, but shall remain faithful to thine own slate, unto the end of the production.
When thine mind is tempted to betray thy slate with another camera assistant’s slate, whether on a multi-camera shoot or when sharing a stage with another unit, thy shall be reminded that a slate is like a child, to be held and cared for only by the child’s mother.
Maketh thee no attempt on set to clap that slate doth not meant to be clapped by thy hands.
8. Thou shalt not steal time in front of the camera
Thou shalt not steal time in front of the camera for thy neighbors, the Director, and his apostles are busy and hath not time for thy to waste.
Instead, thou shall quickly slate, clap, and remove thyself from in front of the camera with haste.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against the set
Thou shalt not bear false witness against the set, but shall always tell the truth.
Thou shall always accurately record, in written fashion on the slate, the roll, scene, shot, production, names, date, and other necessary information without mistakes or lies that shall result in confusion.
Thou shall always speak the truth into the great Boom Microphone prior to slating and stating, without mistakes or lies, that which hath been written on thy slate.
If thine initial recordings or spoken words hath been wrong, thou shall immediately inform thy Script Supervisor and atone for thy sin.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy slate
Thou shalt not covet thy slate, nor parts of thy slate.
Thou shall recognize thy slate as a tool, not as a part of thyself, and appropriately leave that tool in a safe area while administering other tasks. To idolize thy slate and to covet thy slate is to prioritize thy slate above all else that is good and necessary and needed on a film set.
It is OK to walk away from thy slate — provided thy keep a watchful eye on it — to perform duties as needed by thy Director, 1st AC, Camera Operator, or Director of Photography.
Love Thy Slate
Thou shall love thy slate as thy child and protect thy slate with the same care as a mother would.
Go ye forth now and take heed of these commandments!
Honor them behind thy camera, in front of thy camera, and elsewhere on thy film set. Disregard them at thy own peril for thy ignorance can be reason to bring the wrath of thy 1st AC upon thee.
Ryan Aivalis is an independent filmmaker and producer based out of Houston, Texas. With a background in robotics and artificial intelligence and IT, Ryan went on to pursue a bachelors in Psychology to eventually enter the film and digital video world because of its shared emphasis on technology and art. He currently works in the Marketing Department of ikan Corporation.