Lights, Camera, Action; Why Clappers Are a Filmmaking Staple


Imagine a film set. What images pop up? Cameras, light panels, tv monitors, cast, crew, the black board thing that you slap together and call action, and…..Wait. Those “things” have a name. Actually, they have a ton of names. Primarily they are known as clappers. They are also referred to as slates, slate boards, clapperboards, clackers, time slates, and clapsticks. No matter what you call them, clappers have been a staple for filmmakers. Here’s why:

To clear things up, clappers haven’t always been on film sets. They were first introduced in the 1920’s with the advent of sound in motion pictures. Up until this point, all films were silent pictures. Now that films recorded both picture and sound, a device was needed to synchronize these two elements.

How it works:

There are two primary features in each clapper. First, on the body of the board there is general information about the production. This includes the title of the production, date, director name, and camera operator. In order to then sync the audio and video, the scene, camera angle, and take are clearly labelled as well.

The second feature is the stick attached at the top of the board. For each take, once the audio and camera are both recording, the clapper is held in frame with all the information visible. The scene, angle, and take are then clearly said aloud. Lastly, the stick of the board is quickly lifted up and then back down, creating a loud clapping noise. In editing, the visual clapping of the board is then lined up with its corresponding clapping sound.

Though clappers are still widely used today, many filmmakers are making the switch to digital slates or using applications like Plural Eyes. Digital slates work by using an audio recorder that continuously generates a timecode. This timecode is also then digitally displayed on the slate board. So, just like with a clapper, if the slate board displaying the timecode is visually recorded at the top of each take, the audio and video can then easily be synchronized in post production. Applications like Plural Eyes eliminate the need for any kind of board at all. Filmmakers must simply upload all unedited audio and visual clips into the application, which will then synchronize the two. The benefits are pretty great, considering you can save time during production by not needing to fiddle with any kind of board. But the real time saver comes in post production, when you can gleefully skip the process of manually syncing all your clips.

No matter how you choose to do it, make sure you have a plan for how to synchronize your audio and visual for your next film ahead of time!