Production Essentials: The Pearstone Slate

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The Pearstone SADC-711Just about everyone on the planet is familiar with clapper slates, but few people understand why they're used on set. Now that video-enabled DSLR cameras are at the top of many people's wish lists, the need for clapper slates has never been greater. In this post I'll test out the Pearstone SADC-711 clapboard slate, and let you know why it's an essential item for any serious video shoot. Lights, camera, blog post!

In my spare time I like to make short films, and I also like to do the location audio on other people's video and film projects when my schedule permits. Recently I did the sound on a shoot in which the Canon 5D MkII was used as the camera. One of the things I did to prepare for the shoot was to purchase the Pearstone SADC-711 clapboard slate. I didn't buy the slate just to make the shoot feel more like an official Hollywood production (although this is one of the qualities that a slate brings to a set).  

It's well known that the image quality on today's video-enabled DSLR cameras is fantastic, but the audio quality leaves a lot to be desired. So on this shoot I used my Edirol R-09HR as an external audio recorder, and the Pearstone clapper was used at the beginning of every take. The main purpose of a clapper is to create a visual and sonic mark in the footage, which enables post production to sync the sound and picture. On a set, once the subjects are ready and the lighting is perfect, the director will call for the camera to roll. When the camera and external audio recorder are rolling, someone on set will hold the clapper slate in frame (in a spot where it's in focus), call out the scene name and take number and snap it shut.

Imagine for a moment that you're editing this footage on your computer. At the beginning of every take you can slow down the footage of the clapper smacking down. On the very frame that the clapper visually makes contact with itself, you can line up the spike in the waveform of the audio tracks. This way you can be sure the audio will remain in perfect sync with the picture. If the sound is just slightly off sync, it can be very distracting for the viewer (with the exception of poorly dubbed Kung Fu films, in which out of sync audio is strangely awesome).

The Pearstone SADC-711 fits perfectly inside of a PortaBrace BK-1N backpack

I was pleased to discover that the Pearstone SADC-711 fit perfectly inside the front pocket of my PortaBrace BK-1N backpack. The color bars are nice to have as they help post production with color correction. An added bonus is that the rear of the SADC-711 features black and white bars (pictured below). The dry erase feature is also essential. It's important to write down the scene and take number every time you use it. Dry erase markers make this process quick and easy. I had read the customer reviews of this product on the B&H website, and a few people had trouble with different kinds of dry erase markers. A B&H Sales Professional recommended I use this specific set of Draper Dry Erase pens. I bought them, and they worked perfectly with the Pearstone SADC-711.

I've used this clapper slate on several different shoots now, and so far I'm really happy with it. The build-quality seems very sturdy, and although it's only been used on nine shoots, it was handled constantly by several different people. It's one of those things that didn't cost very much money, yet it's already been extremely useful. It may seem odd, but it's a piece of equipment that location sound people are expected to have. I affixed a PortaBrace white balance card to the back of my Pearstone slate. It's a little $6 tweak you can do to impress the next DP you're working with.

The rear of the Pearstone SADC-711 features black and white bars

A clapper slate really does bring a professional air to even the smallest productions. On one shoot an experienced 2nd AD (the second assistant camera operator) took over my slate and used it with such proficiency that it was clear that this piece of equipment not only plays a prominent role on a professional set, but knowing how to properly use one can be a full blown career.

Clapper Slate Tips...

Since the slate gets handled so much, it's a good idea to write information that won't change throughout the course of the day (such as the date, production name, director, etc) on tape with permanent marker. This makes it easier to handle without accidentally rubbing off any dry erase writing. I use Permacel/Shurtape Paper Tape for this, and it works really well with the SADC-711. One tip I learned was that on a busy set you can keep track of the slate by attaching it to your body. You flip it upside down and slip its bar through the back of your belt. If you have any more clapper slate tips, I'd love to hear about them in the comments section of this post!

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I have this slate and love it. Fits in my DSLR camera bag. BUT it requires you to use a damp rag with dry ***** markers. For some reason the ones I use - which are your typical Expo-type dry ***** markers - don't ***** all that well. Damp cloth, however, and it cleans right off. Dry, doesn't work.

Good point, Shawn. I learned pretty quickly that using your fingers to wipe off the dry ***** is not a good idea! The savvy 2nd AC that I mentioned in the post even brought his own dry ***** marker. With all of the activity going down on set - I didn't get a chance to ask him what brand of marker it was. But, the sweet thing about the one he was using was that the cap had a little *****r on the end of it. It worked perfectly, no wet rag needed, and the dry ***** ink didn't stain my slate. If anyone out there knows what kind of dry ***** marker this was, I'd be grateful to find out... 

If you ever forget to slate at the beginning of a shot, or simply can't for whatever reason, keep your camera and sound recorder rolling at the end of your take.  Slate at the end, but turn the clap board upside down.  That way you still have a label and a reference for your scene, and a way to sync your audio.  You also won't get confused when going through your footage quickly, since the upside-down slate will let you know it's a tail slate, and not a head slate.

Here's a handy tip if some bozo ever accidentally writes on your slate with a Sharpie instead of a Dry ***** marker - If you draw over the Sharpie with a Dry ***** marker, and then ***** it, the Sharpie ink will come off as well.  It will still take a lot more elbow grease than regular dry ***** ink, and you may have a bit of residual Sharpie image, but it's certainly much better than leaving the Sharpie on there for eternity.