SMPTE Time Code Slate or not at Citizen Doug Productions

“We don’t need time code or ever use it.” This phrase is becoming more common in conversations with producers, shooters and editors, often the same person.

“We have a slate app.” But you can’t see them in bright sun. These are cute and soon will be a correct and reliable method, but right now, none of them have passed accuracy tests and some of them have wrongful non-standard rates like 23.97 drop frame. It’s already confusing enough that Canon products show one frame rate on their LCD, but the sound person has to know what the actual frame rate is. Don’t be seduced by cheap convenient apps. Take the time to do a thorough camera test that includes sound and the editorial process to be sure everything is running well from start to finish. At least discuss and agree on the frame rate and time code master source.

Plural Eyes is great, but only when it works. Having a slate on camera and sound is the best way to make sure that Plural Eyes did work. Something accidentally moved in post? With the slate it is a no-brainer to check the clip. Here’s my rule of thumb, for short projects that don’t have the potential for being revisited, maybe the risk of not having a proven, rock solid means of synchronization, like SMPTE time code may not be a big deal. But if it’s a long shoot, and you want this client to return, and you believe your project might have a lasting value, or be subject to compilation or multiple versions, why risk it? Likewise if there are multiple cameras and a long roll time, like a music performance, or an all day event, you will love having an obvious time reference when you try and put it together in editing later. Just the User Bits with the date is a good reference when you see the same people wearing pretty much the same thing in the same place over several days. I’ve actually had clients thank me for using the slate because it “looks” professional. It is not uncommon for people to shoot the slate as behind the scenes B-roll.

As a Sound Designer this is a “pay me now or pay me later” circumstance. Please don’t get caught short at the end of a project when the money is mostly spent.

Citizen Doug Productions features the Denecke TSC small back lit slate. We have Ambient ACN enabled lockits that keep all recorders from drifting. All our lockits are tuned to GPS reference. Years of ProTools experience have proven time and time again, methods come and go, SMPTE may be a mystery to some, but there’s a reason in double system sound why every step is important. Learn the rhythm and litany of the well run set. Don’t let the camera department get lazy or bully the sound department just because they have more people. Don’t get ahead of yourselves or blow the take with too much pressure to get started. Use the same phrases. “Camera is up.” “Let’s Roll” “Sound Speed.” “Camera Speed” Read the slate by looking at it “Camera B Scene 12 Take 1 Apple” Say “Marker” and clap the sticks. Record at least two seconds of a still, in-focus slate including the clap. Don’t move the slate around while doing this process. And very important, say “Cut” when done with the scene. So many of the new breed of DSLR shooters don’t say when they’re rolling or cutting. Experienced videographers are often out of practice because they’ve been running the trigger for so long. It is embarrassing and seemingly unprofessional to have to stop everything and say “We didn’t get that.” Learn the rhythm and use it every time. It is a good ritual. “Record everything” is not possible or any fun to put back together later. The best productions try to send only good stuff to the next step.

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