The clapboard is also known as a clapstick, sound stick or slate board. I’ve been on two television shoots recently for national, professional productions where the crew did not use the clapboard properly.
There are many types of clapboards. Some are made of blackboard material, some are wipe boards and some are digital. The iPad has a clapboard app that I don’t like very much. Most of them have a place where you can write in information about the production or takes. It is common to see spaces that allow the user to add the name of the project, the take number, the scene name and some crew names. I particularly like the digital ones that allow you to jam sync time code to each camera.
By far, the most important role of the clapboard is to allow the footage from each camera on a multi-camera shoot to be easily synced up in the edit room. The loud “clap” sound that is made when the stick slams against the board creates a visual waveform on the audio line of the editing system. This allows the editor to easily line up all of the footage saving both time and money. In order for this to really work, ALL CAMERAS must simultaneously shoot the clapboard when it makes the “clap.” If you find yourself without a clapboard, you can just clap your hands together or slap a clipboard loudly. As long as it makes a loud, sharp noise and all of the cameras are rolling on it at the same time, it will work. If you need to “slate” the shot, in other words, share the written information on the clip board, you can verbally say whatever information needs to go with the take.
One common mistake are just showing one camera the clapboard. Although each camera can hear the “clap” sound, seeing the visual of the stick hit the board on each piece of footage can really speed things up in edit. Another mistake is clapping the board to each camera individually. I’m not sure what that is supposed to accomplish. I supposed if the clapboard has digital time code, it could help line up the footage but you will still miss that synchronized “clap.” Either way, you end up frustrating your editor more than anything. A frustrated editor is not creative nor very fun.
A word about the iPad clapboard app. It doesn’t work very well for two reasons. One, to make the clap sound, you have to push a little button. By doing so, you cover up the iPad screen which takes away your visual. Two, the clap just isn’t that loud. Sometime there can be too much technology. An old-fashioned hand clap works better.
In some instances when the cameras are in shooting position, they are unable to see the clapboard at the same time. For instance, one camera may be shooting an arrival from outside a house and one from inside the house. In that case, bring the cameras together, start rolling and “clap” the clapboard. Then move back into position while the cameras are still rolling. When all else fails, do the best you can.
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