When Slates Attack: A Shark Week Surprise

In most cases, film slates provide basic information about the scene that follows. In our military holdings, the slates tell us the unit, who the cameraman is, and the film’s subject. Sometimes the camera model is identified and the location and date are included.

They usually look like this, an example taken from reel 8 of the unedited footage for Training During Combat:

slate-TDC-r8

This 1944 film slate includes a title, the name of the military unit (9th Combat Camera), the name of the cameraman (Lt. W.T. Blume), and a headless assistant. (Still from 18-CS-2538, Reel 8)

Slates are meant to be functional and pass by quickly. In fact, we usually barely notice them at all.

Last week was an exception. After spending a good chunk of time transferring a researcher request that consisted of half-hour long reels of silent unedited footage of Vietnam-era river patrol boats (also called PBRs for their official name, “Patrol Boat, River“), I came across this slate:

shark-slate

In this slate, the cameraman decided to include an artistic rendering of the PBR as a shark, complete with a scary set of chompers and two muscular arms. One hand is gripping the hilt of a large knife, while the other clutches a Viet Cong soldier. (Still from 111-LC-53808)

I think I can safely say that in all the hours of unedited footage I’ve inspected or transferred, I have never before seen a shark boat. This slate serves as a reminder that when dealing with moving images, even the most ordinary aspect can contain extraordinary detail. Don’t blink or you might miss it!

About Audrey Amidon

Audrey works in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, which is responsible for performing conservation and preservation work on motion picture records held across the National Archives.
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2 Responses to When Slates Attack: A Shark Week Surprise

  1. Daria Labinsky says:

    Love it!!! One of the main reasons filmmakers used slates was to sync the sound and the picture, and that’s still one of its uses. That’s why they clack. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clapperboard

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    • Audrey Amidon says:

      Thanks!
      Having a point of reference in order to synchronize the sound and picture is definitely important. Most of our unedited footage is silent and doesn’t have clapperboards. I can think of some cases where I’ve seen them in the motion picture holdings, though. We recently had a bunch of astronaut interviews from the 1960s come through that all had clapperboards in order to establish the sync.

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