Tools of the Trade: Applause for the Clapper

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A modern clapper -- or "sticks" -- with LED display.It’s the icon perhaps most commonly used to represent Hollywood or the film industry —  though it’s not a strip of film, camera or film reel.  Everyone recognizes it, although fewer actually know its purpose, despite the fact that it’s changed very little since the early days of film.  The clapper (aka sticks, clapperboard, clapboard, slate, marker) is the chalkboard used to designate scenes and “takes” in motion picture and videotape production.

The clapper’s purpose is to synchronize a movie’s sound and picture, which are captured separately.  It’s briefly held in front of the running camera prior to the take, and a hinged stick on top is clapped sharply.  Often painted in black and white or colored stripes, the sticks form chevrons or another clear visual sign when closed.  The clap can be easily heard on the audio track and synced with the visual track.

In addition to the scene and take information, the clapper typically includes the date, production title and name of director and director of photography.  Modern sticks may be constructed of whiteboard or acrylic glass, and more costly versions display LED time codes.

In the post-production phase of a movie or TV show, a film colorist is often the person who aligns the picture and sound.  Colorists are image artists that possess the technical and aesthetic skill necessary to review each frame for consistent color and lighting or to manipulate colors to achieve a stylistic look.

Dan Boothe III is a film colorist at visual effects house Encore Hollywood in Hollywood (and the author’s neighbor). In his 23 years in the business, Dan’s been the guy in the telecine bay that made sure the sound and picture matched.

“The sticks are for me, at least for scene and take identification,” said Dan.  “I used to do it all, but now I spend my time viewing digital files, and the sound is synced by our DITV assistants at Encore.”

Next time you’re watching your favorite movie or TV series, remember the camera assistant who claps the sticks and the colorist or DITV assistant who syncs the sound and picture.  They may be your neighbors, and we all depend on a thriving local film and television industry.

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