Filmmaking Lesson #3: The Slate Piece is Gold
Slate’s are a lifesaver. OK, not the slate itself.
In fact, with the advancements in digital filmmaking a lot of small crews aren’t even using a slate, opting to clap their hands to sync the sound instead. Whether you use or don’t use a slate is up to you, but in case you’re interested I added this nice little video below from No Film School on how to use a slate like a pro.
In this post however, I want to talk about the precious few moments of time that happens when the camera rolls before the slate and after the director yells ‘Action!’ This few moments is called the ‘Slate Piece.’
On a typical set the camera rolls along with the sound for a few moments before everything is ready and the slate person then goes up to do their job. Often times the cameras are already pointed where they need to be with the actors or subjects in focus, and usually, in my experience, it is a perfect candid relaxed moment; the director hasn’t yelled ‘Action!’ so everybody is chill waiting for the clapboard to come and go. These are gold moments.
During the editing phase of one of my first films I came to this intense scene between two actors and I realized I needed a cutaway shot from one guy to the other, but in looking through the takes I couldn’t find a sufficient cut. I was completely stuck. I needed a moment where the actor looked at his hands, adjusted his shirt, looked around the room, or scratched his nose; something, anything. But in every take the actor was flat and I couldn’t find anything to cut to.
So what to do? Go back and shoot the scene again? Not an option. (Most of the time this isn’t an option.)
So I went back to the raw footage of the shots before the slate entered and started scrolling through the takes and suddenly, there it was.
The actor, waiting on the crew to finish, looked over to the corner of the room and rubbed his forehead. A perfect unscripted, unplanned moment. I snatched it up, placed it in the film, and the scene played out well.
Since then, I have made it a habit to roll the cameras early. Of course if you are shooting on actual film, then this might not be an option for you (film is expensive!). However, if you are shooting digitally you can do this all day. Roll early while the actors are settling in to their first positions. You never know when they might do something interesting that later on will be a huge blessing in the editing room.