For as long as people have been recording non-silent films, there has been one device that has been used on virtually every Hollywood set. This device is called the clapperboard. It usually appears as a thin board with a long skinny arm that runs along the top. When it is placed in front of the camera, the person holding it gives it a slap, which generates a loud cracking sound signifying the beginning of recording. Surely this is just a touch of ambiance right? Wrong.
So why would you really want one of these old-school Hollywood gadgets for your own videos today? There are several good reasons to pick one of these up (and use one). Here are a few of them.
Audio / Video Sync
As we’ve covered in other blog posts here on LockerGnome, recording audio apart from video gives you a few advantages over the limited audio settings made possible by modern camcorders and DSLR cameras. Basically, if you’re doing any multimedia production in a professional capacity, you want your material to be as flexible as possible.
The clapperboard is loud for a very good reason. Not only does the board itself appear in the film making finding the beginning of a scene fairly easy to find, but it also puts a very loud and sudden spike on the audio track that can be seen in the waveform by editors. Syncing the visual landing of the clapperboard with the spike in the audio allows editors to sync the two tracks in post. After all, film doesn’t actually have an audio track in it. Only in recent years have audio and video really connected into a single multipurpose data stream.
This can also be useful in cases where your camcorder doesn’t always record audio in perfect sync with your video. I’ve seen this happen before, even on prosumer camcorders. Don’t let this make life difficult for you. You can easily resync these tracks using the clapperboard as your guide.
Do you have multiple cameras to deal with in post? Having a clapperboard with an integrated digital clock can help you keep everything in sync, even when your various recordings are started at different times before the scene begins. Just make sure the clapperboard (or boards) is visible to each camera involved in the scene. Trust me on this one, you don’t want to have to sync three or four cameras manually without some visual cue to start with.
While this effect isn’t quite as noticeable, there is a difference between how sound reaches one audio source and another. This difference is based on distance and sometimes direction. It’s always good to have one solid and definitive event to sync from before you get knee-deep in editing a sequence.
Visual File Management
Few things will suck more time out of an editor’s day than tracking down which clip out of a dozen or more captured that day contains what footage from which take. I’ve edited entire scenes only to have the host flub the last line and start over on the next file. Had there been some visual cue I could have seen either in the file’s opening thumbnail or somewhere in the timeline, I could have picked the scene out right away.
If you use a clapperboard, take the time to number your takes and scenes. Write notes about which take you remember being great and for what reason. Trust me when I say hat your editor (even if it is yourself) will be very grateful for this documentation. Backing it up with a visual aide on the footage is even better.
What if You Don’t Have a Clapperboard?
Anything you can do to provide a visual and audio instance will work fine. The clapperboard just happened to be the solution Hollywood stuck with, and it’s still used to this very day on productions ranging from local commercials to Hollywood blockbusters. The clapperboard may well be one of the oldest and most currently relevant gadgets invented for the film industry. Here are some things you can do to make due should you not have a clapperboard handy.
Clap Your Hands
You might see someone in front of a camera clap their hands before a scene is shot. This is done for several reasons, including audio level checks and timing. This easy trick can also be used to create a spike in your audio waveform and a visual cue to sync it to. You don’t benefit from having a list of scene and takes, but you do get that one event that exists across all the recordings to sync it to. Just have your talent clap their hands before you get into recording. It works.
Having a countdown somewhere in the track can be helpful. This is a good thing to do in cases where your camera is recording its own audio to the file in addition to your independent recording. A countdown is easy to sync to and a great way to give the talent a starting point. I usually count down from five, leaving 2 and 1 silent before pointing at the talent to get started.
Alternatively, you can count down and say, “Whenever you’re ready.” This gives them control over when they start. It’s a great way to keep someone new to the process comfortable, enabling them to go at their own pace without a starting pistol like sound going off before each take.
For small recordings, I usually ask folks to use three seconds of silence as the barrier between takes. This makes an obvious impression on the waveform which makes it much easier for me to locate where the cuts need to be made. It also makes audio editing easier as this silence can be used to generate a noise profile for audio mastering.
This doesn’t work in all cases, but if you’re recording one long audio/video file and need it edited down, anything that leaves an impression in the waveform can be used to reduce editing time.
One solution that works fairly well is a software clapperboard such as MovieSlate for the iPad or ClapBoard for Android. These apps are great tools for the film maker on a budget, or in cases where every square inch of gear must be taken into consideration.
Whatever type of video you record, remember that sometimes the best gadgets are the oldest ones. A clapperboard is rarely something people think about when recording smaller productions, but believe me when I say that it is an absolute bonus for shoots with extended video files and audio that doesn’t stop between takes. With this tool, I can take one long video and mark out where the action starts in seconds rather than having to watch the thing over a period of minutes.
Photo By: MrGrandy