Tip #1160: The Secret History of Clapperboards

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #1160: The Secret History of Clapperboards

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Every shot starts with one, but what do you really know about the clapperboard?

(Image courtesy of Pexels.com.)

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Most of the time, the tips for this Tip Letter focus on production. Mostly. Recently, I came across a fascinating article on the history of clapperboards that fits right in.

This article, written by Jourdan Aldredge, first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is a summary.

Every shot starts with one, but what do you really know about the iconic film clapperboard? Let’s take a look.

The clapperboard was not always called a clapperboard, and, in fact, has had many different names over the years:

  • Sound marker
  • Slate
  • Sync slate
  • Dumb slate
  • Time slate
  • Clapboard
  • Clapperboard
  • Cue board
  • Film sticks
  • Sound sticks
  • And many, many more…

The clapperboard was very much an invention of necessity, and variations of the board date back to the earliest days of even silent cinema. A “slate board” could be found on silent film sets as a way to record and identify the type of film stock that was being used for the shoot.

The hinged, clappy part of the clapperboard was the innovation of Australian studio head F. W. Thring. When pioneering sound engineer Leon M. Leon thought to combine Thring’s hinged sticks with the slate board, the clapperboard we now know was born.

As we’ve moved into modern filmmaking, the standard chalkboard and dry-erase style clapperboards have of course transitioned as well. Modern digi-slates can be used to change and display all the relevant information digitally, as well as display SMPTE time code to further help with the pulling of metadata. There are also some other cool breakthroughs with digital slates and apps that are worth checking out.

Ultimately, it comes down to your filmmaking style and the specific needs of your production. A clapperboard will always be a useful tool, a helpful reminder, and a dependable source of information (should any of the digital alternatives fail you at some point).


Jourdan’s article also has three interesting videos:

  • The history of clapperboards
  • How to Slate the Camera
  • And a montage of slates from Quentin Torentino’s Inglorious Basterds

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