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Slates.... Confusing.


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#1 Colin Worley

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Posted 29 October 2007 - 11:19 AM

Hey guys. I've always wondered how in the heck slates were set up.

Okay, so obviously you have the scene number and the take (as well as the other necessary information), but what are the letters for?

Do you put a letter after the scene number for every camera angle you do? And how about cut-aways?

Let me get this straight... the scene number is just every time there is a new slug-line in the script, correct? And then you add a letter after the scene number for the different shots (camera angles) within that scene?

Thanks guys... I've always been curious on how to correctly set up my slate.

-Colin Worley
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 October 2007 - 11:39 AM

Depends on what country you are slating in.

The system used in Hollywood is to use the Scene Number followed by a letter for each set-up, plus the Take Number.

The first set-up gets no letter, it just gets the Scene Number alone, so the second set-up would be "A", third "B", etc. You skip the letters "I" and "O" because they look like numbers. If you run out of letters, you start again with "AA" (then I guess, "AB", not "BB", but I'm not sure on that point.)

There are variations to this system even here.

Sometimes a pick-up shot (shooting a small part of the same set-up) will get a new Take Number but the letters "P/U" are added next to the same letter as before. Sometimes it gets confusing as to whether it's a new set-up or just a new take when you do a minor change (like zoom in 5mm or move the camera over one foot.) Sometimes it gets a new letter because the director has changed the blocking or dialogue enough that even though the camera set-up is the same, the script supervisor wants the editor to think of it as a new set-up, not another take.

So a slate may list, from Left to Right:

Camera Roll # / Scene # and Set-Up Letter / Take #

There may be added info like "P/U" or "MOS" or special frame rates. Instead of Take #, it say "SER" for "series", as in a run of takes with no stopping the camera between them.

Usually the script supervisor decides what the slate I.D. should be.

---

How to number a screenplay is more of a scriptwriting issue, not a slating issue. Generally each change in location gets a new scene number, (and a new room in a house is a new location) even if you are cutting back and forth between two locations (like on a phone call, though writers often don't write in every intercut and may just break the conversation into two scene numbers for the two locations and figure they'll shoot the entire conversation in both locations and intercut as needed in post.)

So if the scene moves from the LIVING ROOM to the KITCHEN, that would generally be a new scene number unless it has to be in a continuous shot, in which case you may write LIVING ROOM / KITCHEN. Sometimes you end up with a location that is different than the script description, so if the living room and kitchen are in the same room and played as one scene, but written as two scenes with separate numbers, then the slate may just have to list two scene numbers on it (like "44/45").

It helps to give each room its own scene number because of scheduling -- the "kitchen" may be in another house shot weeks later from the "living room". So it gets confusing when too many scenes are written under one number, because then the schedule is full of "parts", i.e. "Scene 4 - part" to describe shooting only a portion of that scene at that location. Sometimes it is inevitable though (a common "part" is when you have a scene in a front doorway and the angle looking outside is shot on location but the reverse angle looking in is shot elsewhere, like on a stage.)
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#3 Colin Worley

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Posted 29 October 2007 - 12:34 PM

Okay, thanks a lot for all your help. So when you were referring to a new "setup", are you saying every time the camera moves (each separate camera angle) ?

But anyways, thanks again for the time of putting all that helpful information.

Sincerely,
Colin Worley
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 October 2007 - 01:31 PM

Okay, thanks a lot for all your help. So when you were referring to a new "setup", are you saying every time the camera moves (each separate camera angle) ?


Yes, everytime the camera has been repositioned or there is a lens change (even if the camera is in the same position) or if the staging of the shot has been changed radically enough, or it's a different portion of the scene being covered, despite the camera and lens remaining the same.

It's entirely possible, for example, for the camera to be set-up for a close-up of a person and you then use exactly the same set-up for another person's close-up if it's in the same spot in the room, but much later in the scene -- so that's a new set-up even though nothing has changed in terms of the camera position or lens. Unless you don't cut the camera and one actor steps out of frame and the other actor steps in and does their lines from the later part of the scene. But if you cut the camera, you'd probably give the new person's shot a new set-up letter, because it covers a different part of the scene and may have its own run of takes just for that section.

Now there are grey areas where it gets confusing as to whether to give it a new set-up letter. Hence why it falls to the script supervisor to decide, since the whole point of slating is really to make editing process more efficient -- and track down problems with shots later... like "we had a scratch yesterday on Bob's close-up in Scene 10 -- what mag did we use?". You can look on the slate in the scene and see that it was Camera Roll #A15, and the AC's notes on the camera report will tell them which mag was used (the fact that it is an "A" roll tells them that it was the A-camera.)
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#5 Max Jacoby

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Posted 29 October 2007 - 02:07 PM

The English use a system that I don't find as good. They start with 1 for the first shot of the film and simply work their way up, indepentently of scene numbers. This means extra work for the editor though, because he/she has to match the shot number with the scene. On the other hand that forces them to actually READ the script supervisors report and all the important information that's in there.

In the rest of Europe we usually put the scene number and the shot number (of that scene) on the board. So the first shot of scene 23 is 23/1, etc... You announce it '23 over 1'

The general rule for changing the shot number is very easy if you are on a single camera shoot. It can get a bit more tricky on multi camera shoots, if say B camera swaps a lens after the first take, do you change the number or do you simply go with take 2? As a clapper/loader it's important to check with the script supervisor and also inform the sound recordist.
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#6 Matt Kelly

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 04:10 AM

To add very slightly to David's thorough answer:

I've always known A camera to dictate letter changes based on flipping lenses, suddenly going handheld, or whatever. B camera is usually kind of invisible...or unimportant :P.... so you should follow suit on A if you're 2nding for B. Also dramatic lighting or blocking changes can call for a scene letter upping, but you really only have to use YOUR instincts when a script supervisor is lacking good communication or is far away from set. In that case, I've occasionally questioned the boom guy first, since the mixer often sits near video village and hears the scripty's scene calls better than us.

Mainly tho, you want the whole thing to become a non-issue. After you pull your slate out of frame, you should be labelling it for the next take so you can set it down and forget about it. Often the pace gets quick, so when you're caught off guard, you can just pick it up and clap it, rather than causing a hold up for everyone to make new marks on it, or even worse, asking what the scene should be after sound has called rolling...

And yeah it's AA, AB, AC, etc. usually when you get to those letters, you're either shooting stunts, or you want to kill yourself because because the director won't stop covering the scene... :)

-Matt Kelly

Edited by mattykrab, 09 November 2007 - 04:15 AM.

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#7 Chris Keth

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 12:24 AM

And yeah it's AA, AB, AC, etc. usually when you get to those letters, you're either shooting stunts, or you want to kill yourself because because the director won't stop covering the scene... :)

-Matt Kelly


Cool, thanks for that. Last time it came up for me I did AA, BB, CC, et cetera. I've never got to where you would have to do a BA, BB, BC though, I assume that could potentially happen.

As for directors endlessly covering a scene, I've been to AG for that reason <_<

We live really close, by the way.
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#8 Ralph Keyser

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 06:38 PM

The English use a system that I don't find as good. They start with 1 for the first shot of the film and simply work their way up, indepentently of scene numbers.


A variant of that system is also used in the US on some commercial shoots. The take numbers start at 1 and always go up. There is a scene number as well, but only one "take 1". The argument is that it makes life easier for the editor, but since I never talk to the editors, I can't verify this fact. It can be amusing when someone unfamiliar with the system shows up on set to see you slating "Scene 202, Take 147" :)
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#9 Ben Rowsell

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 03:54 AM

slating......

something else to consider when using the hollywood system (letters):

When all the footage get digitised into a system such as Avid, usually all the clips that relate to a particular scene will end up in 1 "bin", sorted alphabetically. What happens is that the shots with letters attached will get sorted BEFORE any number only shots, eg for Scene 23, the list will sort as: 23A, 23B, 23C, 23D, 23

So, presumming your master is the first shot (23), it ends up at the bottom of the list of clips, and would be better at the top. For this reason, the last 4 or 5 features that I have been on we have gone straight to A as the first clip (ie 23A).

This is not standard, and is something that should be agreed on between camera, script & editorial before the shoot starts if you want to do it.

This approach was suggested by one of the assistant editors on a feature I worked on, and as far as I know so far been appreciated by the editors that we have worked with since.

Ben R
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