How To Use A Clapperboard

How To Use A Clapperboard [Easy Guide]

As a filmmaker, it’s important to learn how to use a clapperboard. Everyone knows what a clapperboard looks like (whether it’s a digital board or a traditional film slate), but do you know why you need one?

Clapperboards have several uses during post-production. In particular, you need one on productions recording sound separately from the image.

Before you shout action, every shot should be ‘boarded’ or ‘slated’ with a clapperboard. Even if you are making a student film, try to get used to using a board.

This small guide will teach you the basics of how to use a clapperboard and what does slate mean on a professional film set.

What is a Clapperboard?

A clapperboard is literally a board with shot information that is shown to the camera before every take. The board has a hinged arm that makes a clapping noise when pushed down onto the board. It is used on all film and TV productions worldwide. 

There are two functions of a clapperboard, firstly it lets the editor know specific details about a shot. Including the roll, shot number, and take. Secondly, it synchronizes the sound to the image. During post-production, the film editor can use a spike on the audio track to line up the image and sound. 

It’s the 2nd assistant camera (also known as the clapper loader) whose job is to board each shot. In the UK, we mainly call it a clapperboard or digital clapperboard. However, in the US, it is more often called a slate.

What Does Slate Mean?

Person holding a film slate

Originally a clapperboard was made of slate, and you draw the shot numbers with chalk. Although these days, clapperboards are made from acrylic and drawn with whiteboard markers. When learning how to use a clapperboard, you will likely start with an acrylic whiteboard.

There is also the digital clapperboard (digislates), which have on them inbuilt electronic boxes. The digital clapperboard shows the camera timecode; this makes it even easier for the editor to synchronize video files and sound clips. Still, it is more common even on major film sets to see a whiteboard clapperboard used. 

What’s On a Clapperboard

  • The Clapper Sticks – The sticks make a sound for the editor to synch, but they also have another purpose. The colors on the sticks are for white balance and color checks. 
  • Roll – This is a number reference for the film roll or digital media card.
  • Scene – The script scene number being shot
  • Take – The number of takes of each individual shot.
  • Production Title – The film title or TV episode number 
  • Director – The director’s full name
  • DOP – The director of photography’s full name
  • Camera – The camera operator’s initials or camera name (e.g. camera A)
  • Date – The day the footage is being shot

Some clapperboards have space for additional information, such as frames per second (FPS) or Mute On Sound (MOS). Others include room for further scene details, for example, INT or EXT (Interior or exterior) and Day/Night. A digital clapperboard is the same but will include a timecode box. The camera assistant will need to make sure that the timecode on the board is the same as the camera. 

How To Use a Clapperboard

digital clapperboard used on tv set

When filming begins, the 2nd assistant director will stand in front of the camera with the clapperboard. They will have written the scene and take number, which will also be the same as the script supervisor’s notes. On a digital clapperboard, the 2nd AD will make sure the timecode reads the same as the camera.

Then the 1st Assistant Director will call for ‘quiet on set’, followed by ‘roll sound’, ‘roll camera’ or some variation of calling the roll. When sound replies’ speed’ indicating that they are recording and the camera replies ‘rolling’, the 2nd AD will board/slate the shot. Typically you only call the scene and take number. For example, ‘scene five take one’. After the board has been called, the 2nd AD will clap the sticks together.

Sometimes due to a particular setup or lens choice, you can not board the shot

at the start of filming. In this case, you board the shot at the very end, called the end board or tail slate. Here the 2nd AD will turn the board upside down and read the board before the camera stops recording.

How To Call The Roll

When learning how to use a clapperboard, you will also need to know how to call the roll. This is a protocol for recording on set, and the same sequence happens on film sets worldwide. The actual wording might alter, but the order is the same.

  • 1st AD shouts quiet on set or pictures up
  • 1st AD then calls roll sound, roll camera
  • Sound mixer replies by saying speed
  • The camera operator replies by saying rolling
  • 2nd AC boards the shot, saying the scene and take number
  • 2nd AC loudly claps the board’s sticks together
  • The camera operator responds by saying camera set
  • The 1st AC typically shouts action

Clapperboard – Wrapping Up

A clapperboard or slate is an essential device in filmmaking. If you don’t board a shot, the editor will have a stressful time piecing together the sound and footage. Additionally, boarding a shot helps post-production find footage and match them with the script supervisor’s notes.

Do you have any more clapperboard questions? Let us know in the comments below!

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