Why use a slate?

A slate (AKA a clapboard, clapper, sticks, sound marker, and probably a dozen other names) is the tool that most people think of the most when you mention film production. But what is it for?

A clapboard is a tool that has two uses. The first use is to provide scene information. There are spots on the front to mark the day, location, scene, take and several other bits of information. In postproduction, the editor can group them according to these elements and keep their workflow organized.

The second use is to assist in syncing sound. On professional sets, the sound is recorded separately, and is matched up later. When the person in charge of the slate claps it, there is a peak that shows up on the audio track. The editor will be able to line up this peak with the closed clapboard so sync sound more effectively.

Do you need to clap it when you’re not recording independent sound? No, but it’s fun and you’re probably going to do it anyway.

Adobe’s Video Tutorials

People keep asking me why I use the Adobe creative suite. In addition to working on a PC, Adobe is intuitive to use, and has numerous resources available for users to learn their products. Adobe has video tutorials that take you through each of their products step by step.




After Effects



And if you have a previous version of Adobe, they have tutorials for CS5 and 5.5.

Use these, and become a pro!

Film Tip #4

Label your stuff.

This is especially important when you’re not the only one using your stuff, or when you’re not the only one with stingers and gaff tape. (Except BLUE gaff tape. Nobody wants that.)

I have a really bad habit of leaving stuff around. I bring somewhere around 20-30 bits of gear, and somehow one small thing that I wasn’t paying attention to was left at the scene of the shoot. Luckily, I’ve been able to recover it without any repercussions.

Best Practice: get some cheap address labels and put all your info on them. Then, stick them everywhere. If you’re being cheap, white gaff tape will work. Just don’t forget to label the tape.

Film Tip #3

Get the right colored tape.

Here’s a fun story. So, I was going to the local film supply store the day before a shoot. I had a few items to pick up, but among them was black gaffer’s tape.

I go in the store, in a rush as usual, and grab some tape. Later that night on set I realize I accidentally grabbed this:

Stupid Dark Blue Tape.

When I should have got this:

Good All-Purpose Awesome black gaffer's tape.


When you’re working with a completely black background, things like that stand out. And because I have always needed black tape, and never dark blue, I am still stuck with the same roll. I guess the best lesson is don’t be in a hurry when buying color-specific tape.

How to get extras

So, you’re making a movie, and you need a crowd of people in a scene. Unless you know a good flashmob troupe, you should follow these guidelines to make sure you are able to get enough actors for your scene.

  • First, make sure you start asking people early enough. Six weeks is a good place to start. You want to have enough time for people to check their schedules, get time off work, and clear their calendar of any other obligations.
  • Second, ask everyone! Post on Craigslist, ask everyone in your email contacts, call up friends that owe you favors. Best of all, talk to some local acting agencies or acting troupes that are in the area and ask if they would like to attend. If possible, put it up on the news, or an ad in the paper.
  • Next, make sure you have a good bribe. Sure, you may want to stand around for a few hours on a Saturday, but not everyone shares your enthusiasm. If you offer something extra for showing up, it sweetens the deal. Having some food is a must. (Craft services tables are awesome) Offer everyone some gas money, and you might have to turn people away. If you’re making someone drive to a remote location, gas money shows how caring you are of everyone’s time.
  • Make sure you tell everyone what the details are. This should be simple: Date, Time, Location, Address, Directions, Costume, Film Title, Available Amenities, and What Weather to expect. Make sure you include this with all correspondence. And speaking of correspondence…
  • Contact often! Make sure that the people that have committed to helping you don’t forget and bail at the last minute. Especially if there’s a change in any of the important details. Once a week should work.

And then comes filming day, where you’ll be able to work with tons of extras, make plenty of contacts, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Just make sure of one last thing:

Everyone showed up for a reason. Make sure you do not disappoint by being disorganized. 

But that’s a whole other post….

If Your Friends Don’t Dance…

This is something that has bugged me for some time.

You have a movie that has two sides, fighting for whatever reason. = Good.

Both sides come to some mutual resolution and learn to not hate each other. = Good.

Right before the closing credits, all the characters have a dance party instead of an epilogue, or any closing comments. = THE WORST THING EVER.

Seriously, when you have a movie, take the time to write five lines of dialogue at the end. Even if it’s narration, or a Stand By Me style epilogue. But for everything that you hold dear, don’t make your characters just start dancing with each other because you are too lazy to finish the movie.

Notable examples: Shrek, Gnomeo and Juliet, Despicable Me, Tropic Thunder. I’m sure there’s more, but I try not to watch bad movies.

How to Suceed at a Timed Film Competition

As a veteran of five film competitions in two years, there’s quite a few things that I have learned in this time. Some things from success, some from failures. Here’s numbers 1-5 of a million.

Prepare as much as you can in advance. Leading up to the event, you should have some time to acquire your team members and just talk. Chat about some of the movies that you’ve seen lately and have a sense of camaraderie. Also, see what everyone’s specialty is before you start production. Assign some tasks, agree to a certain genre, or just enjoy some company.

Bring food. This is a good way to delegate the task of acquiring food to everybody. Have everybody bring one dish that they enjoy the most. If your competition spans multiple days, plan out the meals for each day. Before long, you’ll have a potluck fit for a king. Just beware of allergies.

Sleep-deprive smartly. Chances are, you most likely aren’t going to spend a third of the competition sleeping, so you’ll be sleep deprived unless you do the following:

  1. Do tasks in shifts.
  2. Rest periodically.
  3. Don’t have someone double up on a major job.
  4. Wait to consume stimulants until after you’ve been up for 12 hours.

With this, you can stay up late and work efficiently. Zombies may make good cast members, but not good crew.

Plan out the whole day. Once you have a rough script, you should have someone make a schedule, planning out which scenes you’ll be filming on each day. Make sure you allow enough time for reshoots and editing. Remember that the schedule is not ironclad; it is a guide to let you know how you are doing.

Work as a team. This has to be the most important advice anyone can give. You all signed up to make a great work of art in a limited amount of time, and you have to do it without being at everyone’s throats. Leave your ego at the door, and work together with everyone. If not, all you have left is a movie that you all hate, and a loathing for the team. Above all, remember that this is supposed to be FUN!

Film Tips #3

Tip #3

Beware of Hustlers!

This is something I have recently ran into. So, no names are being used to protect the guilty.

A few months back, I was contacted by a friend who is an actor. He said that there was someone new to Denver who hired him for a leading role, and he was looking for someone to provide equipment, and act as assistant producer. Seemed like a good deal.

So, I had a meeting with my friend and this hustler. He went on to say that he’s just come from New York, worked on huge-budget films with special effects, and wanted to revitalize the industry here in Denver. And, if I would provide him a camera, I would get at least associate producer credit. Seemed like a good deal.

So, naively, I loaned him a camera for a weekend, it came back with no problems. I had also signed a contract with him that said that with giving him the camera he would A: credit me with at least an associate producer, and B: introduce me to executive producers, clients, people who do fundraising, and studio owners. And then I never heard from the guy. A few months went past, and I heard from my friend. He called me and said that this hustler had given him some bad information. Apparently, this guy had worked with a big-name producer, and had used his accolades as his own. Mr. Hustler had not worked on all of these film sets. He had no access to be able to provide what was in the contract that I signed.

So, now I’m a bit wiser. I’m a little more cautious when helping someone out that may not seem like they can fulfill their end of their deal. But something good came of it. The executive producer with stolen accolades was contacted, knows about Mr. Hustler, and did see my film.

In short, be cautious when talking to someone that you don’t exactly know. Do some research and ask cohorts that may have worked with them.

Film Tips #2

Tip #2

Use Sunglasses!

When on and around the set, make sure you have sunglasses nearby. Especially if you’re working indoors. Especially if you’re working with exceptionally bright 2500 Watt HMI lights for hours at a time. A light like that is powerful enough to give you retina damage. Or in the best case scenario, give you a monstrous migraine that would slay the gods. That will take you out of commission fast.