In this image my informant holds up a slate for a video project titled “Two Portly Guys.” There are martini glasses drawn around the shot number “2” – this is meant to indicate that this shot will be the last shot captured on that shooting day.
It is a strange paradox of working on film sets that the experience on the set has little to do with the subject matter of the film itself. There is no way to extrapolate from a finished film the experience of the crew members working on the set.
In a set environment at a film school, students who have known each other and worked together for several years are often thrown onto crews together for a project. The familiarity of the students with each other creates a unity to the entire filmmaking process, from pre-production (planning of the film) through post (editing and sound designing the film) that does not exist in the film industry outside of school. For instance, on a USC project the on-set crew will likely know the students who will be editing the film. However, at the USC film school in particular, the way that some classes are organized require that the editors of a film not be present on the set. This results in some pranks played on the editors within the footage.
My informant (in the image above), who had held the slate for a USC undergraduate thesis film prior to the “Two Portly Guys” project, told me that drawing martinis on the slate is one way to bring the editors – friends of the set crew – into the set experience, albeit after the fact. “The martini” is the name given to the last shot of the day before everyone goes home. There are various stories about why the last shot has been named this, but it is an accepted and recognized term. It is common among film students at USC to indicate the “martini shot” on the slate by drawing martini glasses onto it. The slate, as the marker which tells the editors what shot and take of that shot is being captured after the slate has been shown, should be (if the shot was taken correctly) the only indication throughout a single shot that the film crew is there, thus it is the only time that the crew can communicate with the editors as fellow filmmakers.
I feel that the martinis on the slate can also be an indicator of set morale. On the “Two Portly Guys” set I noted that the crew was greatly enjoying their work because the scenes they were taping were humorous. My informant seemed excited when told that the last shot had arrived and quickly draw the martinis. However, my informant also told me that there were days on her undergraduate thesis set that she did not draw the martinis. Though she did not connect this to crew morale, she also told me that there was rarely a day on that set that she didn’t feel tired or stressed by the miscommunications among the crew, or the slow pace of the work. Thus I believe that a crew that is working together well and runs into few problems throughout the shooting day will be more likely to be in good spirits by the end of the day, and have the energy and inclination to take a moment to draw the merry little icons onto the slate. If the last shot of the day lacks martinis, it might be an indicator that by the end of the day the crew was too burnt out to have any fun with the slate.