The purpose of using a clapperboard in filmmaking is to identify the scene to the editor and in addition, synchronize audio and visual elements of the production. The “clap” sound is recorded and this is then synchronized with the recorded image to align sound and video in film production.
Lights!… Camera!… Action! Then the sweet sound of the clapperboard…
The clapperboard is one of the most iconic symbols in the filmmaking industry. Since making their way onto film sets in the early 1920s, clapperboards have become a standard on every project to date. But why is this? What even is a clapperboard, and more importantly, how do you use one? Do you even need to use one? Well, that’s quite a few questions we need to address there, so let’s get started…
The Origins of the Clapperboard
While an exact date of their conception is unknown, clapperboards were introduced sometime during the boom of the silent film era; a good estimate would be sometime around 1926-27.
Early clapperboard designs consisted of a chalkboard slate connected to an acrylic slate via a hinge mechanism, allowing the two pieces of slate to separate and close again. It was when the two slates would be forcefully closed that the iconic “clap’ would be sounded.
Clapperboards were vital to film productions. On the chalk slate, the name of the production, the scene, and the take that was about to be performed, would all be displayed. Without this, the film could not be edited. Remember, this was almost exactly 70 years before digital filming would be introduced, so the video would be captured by burning the image onto nitrate film.
To edit a film, you would have to select the piece of a film reel that you wanted to keep/get rid of and cut it at exactly the right point, before essentially gluing it back together.
It was a tedious and finicky process on its own, which would’ve been almost impossible without the use of a clapperboard.
The clapperboard would show the editor exactly what scene/take he or she was looking at, and they would be able to cut and splice together, accordingly.
The clapperboard would be instrumental to every single production up until the move to digital film in the late 90s. But clapperboards weren’t then abandoned. They’re still very much in use today.
Why are clapperboards still used today?
Well, in the majority of film productions, from big-budget blockbusters down to student films, video and audio are captured separately.
Typically, the camera and microphone will be hooked up to different capture systems, and so would need to be synced at a later date.
And this is where clapperboards come into use. The clap of the board is easy for editors to pick out on the audio track and match to the visual of the clapper clapping on the film, syncing the moving picture with the sound.
But most sets don’t even use an actual clapperboard these days; instead, they use what’s known as a “digislate”.
These digital clapperboards use an LED display to show a timecode generated by the device recording the audio.
The board just has to be shown to the camera before a scene for the editors to find the same point in the film and audio tracks; no clap to be heard.
While this may be more efficient and easier for editors, it does kind of take away from the fun of using a clapperboard.
Here is a link to a free digislate app for reference:
How to Use a Clapperboard – Do You Need to Use One?
Depending on what type of clapperboard you have, will dictate how you use one, and how you’ll have to fill one out.
Most traditional clapperboards will have the following: a space to the production name, the director’s name, the number of the camera (if you’re using more than one camera onset), the date, the scene, and the take.
Some variations might also include a space to put the name of the camera operator or director of photography/cinematographer, as well as sound capture.
But is all of this even worth it; do you actually need to use on in this day and age?
Well, it really depends. Seeing as the primary use of clapperboards in the modern day is used to sync audio and visuals, it depends on whether you’re even capturing the two on separate equipment.
Most amateur/beginner filmmakers are probably capturing both through one median, that being the primary camera (again, you’re probably only using the one). In this case, a clapperboard probably isn’t that useful to you. Your set is likely incredibly small, maybe only a half-dozen people, and you’re likely not doing enough scenes and takes to need to do mass organization at a later date.
Most student films and/or amateur films are short films, not 3-hour epics.
But it’s really up to you. For most, the clapperboard is a neat inclusion 😃
Where can I buy a clapperboard?
There are many clapperboard options on Amazon, from traditional “black” ones that will need chalk to more modern-looking ones with a whiteboard face.
Here are some options: