A clapboard displaying production details with a digital timer showing 01:28 makes everyone involved in the board games session happy.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your board

If you poke around the iTunes App Store long enough, you’ll find an abundance of two things: apps that fart, and virtual clapboards. Let’s focus on the latter. With well over a dozen clapboard apps to choose from, one must ask, “Do I need any of them?”

To answer that question, you must first understand why a clapboard is used. On a typical film set, sound and picture are recorded separately. Naturally, there needs to be a way to sync them together in post. After a closing clapboard is filmed on set, the editor can match the frame where the clapboard closes along with the loud ‘CLAP’ sound on the audio recording. Now the picture and sound are in sync. It’s been done this way since the 1920’s.

You should also use a clapboard to sync multiple cameras. All you have to do is make sure all the cameras shoot the slate slamming shut. Then, in post, you can sync the multiple angles by lining up the frames where the slate closes.

A clapboard also provides useful information, such as the scene and take number — a must when editing large productions. There are other uses, but you get the idea.

Now let’s compare a real clapboard to a virtual one.

Real clapboards are easy to use, last for years, and don’t stop working when you get a phone call. But, they’re expensive. A real clapboard will set you back anywhere from $50 to $100 (unless you get a novelty clapper on Hollywood Blvd.).

A clapboard app will cost you under $10. Nice! Aside from the price, there are some very real advantages to a virtual clapboard. Your iPhone can fit in your pocket between shots. It has an illuminated screen, so it can be seen by your camera even in dark environments. Info can be easily updated with a flick of a finger, perfect for a crew of one.

Some apps offer another major advantage. You can capture, and then export, a data log of all your shots. Very helpful for the script supervisor and editor.

Considering how inexpensive these apps are, it makes sense to keep one handy. I typically use a real clapboard on bigger productions, but I always have a backup in my pocket.

Here’s a list of the slates we found, but there may be more if you dig deeper.

Movie*Slate – $9.99

I’m starting with Movie*Slate because, frankly, it kicks a truckload of ass. It’s the one I use and recommend. It boasts an impressive list of features, and is backed by a solid developer.

Here’s a few highlights: It can log data from multiple productions, and export the data as Final Cut Pro XML files. It has a terrific interface for changing data on the fly. You can customize the hell out of it, including stick designs, colors, and fonts. You can save text, voice, and photo notes for each shot. You can rate the audio and video quality of each take. You can set markers within a shot to remember when something specific happened.  And here’s a feature that knocked my socks off: You can wirelessly sync the running timecode of multiple iPhones running Movie*Slate over bluetooth. Now that’s just sick. To read the full list of features, just visit the app store.

Movie*Slate is not without flaws. I’ve experienced a few glitches with the interface. And I’ve heard of the occasional crash. But, the developer is well aware of the issues, and promises a speedy fix.

If you don’t need all the extra whiz bang, there are plenty of cheaper apps. Many are quite good, in fact. But for now, Movie*Slate is the the Rolls-Royce of iPhone clapboards.

AClapBoard – $4.99
This was my app of choice for a while. It offers a good number of features, including the ability to manage multiple productions, export logs, and display test patterns and charts. It also boasts a built-in timecode calculator. All-in-all, a very usable app.

 FilmSlate – $4.99

A solid app that gets the job done. You can change the roll, scene, and take numbers with a swipe of the finger. It can record and email logs. And it supports all the major frame rates.

Slate – $1.99

Displays running timecode on a white or black slate (nice for day and night shooting). Change the scene and take numbers with a tap. Offers two options for the clap sound.

iSlate – $2.99

Clearly displays all the essential information. Supports all the major frame rates. Easy to add log notes and remove log entries. Black or white slate display. Automatic date and time entry.

Pocket Clapper – $0.99

The feature that sets this clapper aside is the ability to ‘write’ on the slate surface with white chalk, which more closely mirrors a slates real-world appearance. More of a gimmick than a feature, it’s still pretty damn fun.

LlamaSlate – $1.99

This was the first slate to hit the app store. In fact, I think it was the first app aimed at a professional film and video market. According to the developer’s description, LlamaSlate is a simplified digital version of a traditional “clapper board” or “slate”, which is used to mark the beginning and end of every shot filmed. The 1.4 update allows for more options for labeling scenes and takes, adding date and time.

Timecode Slate- $3.99

This slate offers a unique feature. It will play back any song from your iPhones music collection with corresponding timecode. I can’t vouch for it’s accuracy, but it sure is an interesting idea. If anyone has used this as a ‘smart slate’ on a music video shoot, we’d love to hear about it.


Action Log Pro – $29.99

While this app isn’t technically a clapboard, it does log shots while on set like some of the other apps mentioned in this list. Having said that, it looks like this thing is a logging monster, offering way more features then its competitors. We’re really hoping to get our hands on this one for a test run. Developer? Are you out there? Hello? Is this thing on?

UPDATE (10/30/09):

Grat’s Film Slate/Clapboard – $0.99

Here’s a new clapboard that just hit the App Store a couple weeks ago. According to the developer, you can edit the fields by tapping them. By rotating your iPhone, you can cause the slate to open and close with a ’Clack’. The slate is displayed in classic black, and modern white.


More to explore


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7 Responses

  1. What are the timecode numbers on these slates supposed to refer to? Just a rough approximation of the camera/sound timecode?

    I’m also curious how the Final Cut XML export / import in the first app works. What happens when you import the XML file?

  2. Hi HD,

    The timecode has many potential uses. If it’s set to display time of day, then you know when a particular shot was taken. If it’s been set to ‘jam-sync’ (or match) the timecode from your camera, then the the logs you record will contain semi-accurate timecode, perfect for importing into an editing system. I say semi-accurate, because there’s currently no way to precisely match the timecode, although a few companies are working on that.

    Slates that display timecode in the real world are called Timecode Slates or "Smart Slates." They are also very useful when shooting music videos. That will be explained in a future tutorial.

    Let me try to address your question about the FInal Cut Pro XML. If you’ve "Jam-Synced" the slate’s timecode with the camera’s timecode, your XML file will contain accurate (well, accurate enough) in and out points for your shots. After you import the XML into final cut, you can use it to digitize your material, complete with descriptive titles and notes. It’s like having an assistant editor log your footage for you. Hopefully that made sense. If not, I’ll ask the developer to post a response.


  3. Thanks for the great review Taz, exactly what I was looking for! Maybe just mention with each app whether it supports all the framerates we filmmakers use: 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 50, 59.94 as well as any other custom rates possible.

    Cheers from Tokyo!


  4. Of course, aside from generating TC with internally played music, the timecode displays on these apps are essentially useless for jamming a camera with separate audio. Until they can jam to TC from the audio recordist’s gear, the displayed TC is irrelevant.


  5. Hi Michael,

    It’s true that timecode will become far more useful when developers figure out how to jam-sync the code… but, even now, the TC does have some pretty nifty uses. On the simple side, when shooting with multiple cameras, the timecode lets editors easily identify how many frames she/he must shift a clip to achieve multi-camera sync.

    But the REAL coolness comes when exporting logs (or to Final Cut XML files). All you need to do is set your camera’s internal clock to match your iPhone’s clock. If you’re shooting with multiple cameras, try and get them as close to the same time as possible, again using the iPhone time as a guide.

    Then set your camera to use time-of-day for its timecode. Do the same thing on the iPhone slate. Now your camera(s) and iPhone should have VERY similar code (within a couple seconds). This makes your exported logs very useful and usable. Obviously, you need to get all the clocks as close as possible for this to work.