The MovieSlate Story

How our app came to be, and continues to evolve.

A tale of two worlds

We’ve written software for Mac, Windows, the Newton, the Web, and now iOS.

We’ve done graphic/logo design, built websites, created animations and motion graphics— and produced commercials, events, interviews, and training videos.

Why we use shot logs and shot notes

Video editing time is precious and expensive. Any way to reduce fruitless searching for footage is a good thing. So during a shoot, we take detailed shot notes.

For instance, interviews can sometimes take up to five hours of shooting to yield mere minutes of the really interesting material. With a two-camera setup, that’s up to ten hours of video to search through in post production.

Shot notes to the rescue! When somebody says something really interesting, we note what they said, the camera’s current timecode, and what tape roll is in the camera. So later during editing, we can quickly find that particular soundbite.

Why we created MovieSlate

We created MovieSlate for our own use, actually.

We started out taking pencil and paper notes, but found it too cumbersome and slow. We tried laptop spreadsheets, but found that it distracting on set due to the commotion of looking at camera timecode, then moving to laptop to type, plus the keyboarding noise.

So I had an idea to take notes on my iPhone. Its quiet, unobtrusive, portable. The built-in notes app was too unstructured for me. So I decided to write my own shot notes app. Then I realized that if my iPhone app had a timecode clock, I wouldn’t have to remember timecode numbers, or hand type them into my notes.

Why MovieSlate contains a
Slate and Clapperboard

We’ve always photographed an el-cheapo, hand-written slate at the start of each shot. That makes it easier to identify shots when later editing in Final Cut. And, hey, it makes us feel like Hollywood pros.

At the time we started MovieSlate, we were shooting interviews with two cameras: long shot, and close-up. Although picture and sound are always in sync on our lavaliere miked camera, picture from our second camera needed to sync to footage from the miked camera. So that’s why we used a clapper— to make the syncing easier during editing.

I’ve always wanted a digital timecode slate, but had better uses for $1400. So I decided to add the digital slate and clapperboard function to my iPhone note taking app.

Afterward, I realized that I only needed to enter most production info onto the sale just once. Very little info actually changed from shot to shot. So I decided the app should save this info to a database so I wouldn’t have to enter it over and over. In that way, the slate became the front-end for the note taking.

Once we had a database, we realized that we could save a complete set of the production info and notes for each scene and take. The clapper sticks seemed like the most natural trigger for saving this info.

OK, so how to get all this history data over to the computer where we can search or print it? Reports! And we could add a history browsing/searching feature to MovieSlate.

So that’s how MovieSlate 1.0 development evolved— organically, to meet our needs and workflow.

Why some features are offered as subscriptions

We realize that not every MovieSlate user is a sound mixer, or has a camera/recorder with LTC timecode output. So we decided to provide some department nad hardware-specific functionality as bundle and offered as a subscription.

As an aside, we’ve been asked about subscription pricing. There’s a finite number of motion picture professionals who need these features. From these modest revenues, we hope to recoup our development investment (which is significant). Many pros report that the subscription features save them hours each week, so their/our investment is a wise one indeed.

How we improved MovieSlate

After MovieSlate 1.0 was released, we were surprised and delighted to hear from many folks in the industry who frankly had way more production experience and knowledge than we. They also had different workflows, preferences, and great ideas. Many MovieSlate users requested features to help streamline their workflow, and have been kind enough to send us detailed workflow descriptions.

So we listened and learned. We accepted gracious invitations to hang out on real Hollywood sets. We invited some of the filmmaker pros to help us beta test new versions.

We discovered that there’s really no standard way of working, so have therefore tried to make MovieSlate very, very flexible.

How Apple and the iPad improved MovieSlate

Then the iPad came along. At about the same size as a traditional slate, we thought Apple had created the perfect platform for MovieSlate.

Initially, we believed that the screen size was so different that we’d have to create a separate iPad-only app. And that’s exactly what we did. We showed an early version of the iPad-only “MovieSlate HD” in a booth at the NAB show in Las Vegas. We spoke with lots of current and potential customers at the show, and they taught us plenty.

First, many of our customers wanted to use MovieSlate on more than one device. With the current App Store architecture, publishing two separate apps would require users to pay twice for the app, and for in-app plugin purchases. We thought that would be a lousy way to treat customers.

Second, we wanted a more unified feature set for both the large screen (iPad) and small screen (iPhone, iPod) versions. When we began the "HD" version for the iPad, we re-envisioned how people interact with every aspect of MovieSlate, given the iPad's larger screen real estate. Funny thing is, some of that thinking spilled over into the smaller screen version as well. It actually made more sense to join the two apps into a single, unified code base. So we did.

Apple must have agreed with us. In January 2011, we were again surprised, delighted (and very thankful) when Apple included MovieSlate in their “Iconic” iPad TV commercial. That attracted even more industry attention, who suggested more great features such as the Sound Department plugin.

How Technicolor is helping MovieSlate

Technicolor approached us with some interesting ideas to make MovieSlate more useful to professionals and studios. The first of those ideas became reality in MovieSlate 3— which can now import data from Technicolor’s Digital Printer Lights application. The slate screen has a new “CDL” (Look ID) field, and the color data flows through MovieSlate’s History and exported reports.

What’s Next?

As I’m writing this, a feature-request email arrives from a MovieSlate user who asks: “Is it possible to add a feature to movie slate?”.

I think he might be joking that we've already added so many features, that there isn't room for more.

I assure you, dear reader, that from the size of my TO-DO list, we haven't quite reached that point just yet. We have much more to come.

Big Thanks

So thanks so much to the ranks of MovieSlate users who continue to send us their great ideas, and tell us about ingenious new ways they’re using MovieSlate. You make our day, every day. We really love working on the app for you.

—Cliff Joyce and Eric Goodwin, PureBlend Software

Credits Productions
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