Continuity 101 (or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Scripty)
- Q & A on just what it is that Continuity / Script Supervisors actually do...

Fair enough. So, back to what you do – you’re like, checking the amounts of water in people’s glasses and that sort of thing, right?

Well…yes, after a fashion. But that’s actually pretty low down the list of things we’re checking.

In rough order, my priority list for each take goes something like:

  • Screen Direction (entrances & exits, L->R and R->L, and so forth).
  • Crossing the line
  • Eyelines
  • Action Cut Points (which really comes under Coverage – but ask me about that later)
  • Action Continuity
  • Action/Dialogue matching
  • Performance Continuity
  • Largest Moving Object
  • Main Characters
  • Person Speaking
  • Bright Colours
  • Reflections
  • In & Up
  • Hero/Action Props
  • Dressing Props

So that glass of water? Well, it’s either at the bottom of my list (if it’s just sitting on the table – when it’s a Dressing Prop), or almost at the bottom (if someone’s actually drinking from it – then it’s an Action Prop) (oh, and if one character throws it in another’s face it’s a Hero Prop, although that’s a fairly arbitrary distinction).

Hence yes, I am checking the amount of water in the glass before (and of course after) each take. But those things at the top of the list are much more important. Everyone’s seen those glasses of wine that mysteriously keep topping themselves up, or car doors that are open one moment and closed the next, or the gun that’s there then not then there again, or the dinner jacket that changes colour[1]. Most of those things up at the top of the list though – well, even those socially-challenged teenagers in their parents’ basements in Iowa with the freeze-framed Blu-Ray haven’t been able to find them to put up on IMDB in the ‘goofs’ section, because you’ll pretty much never see them in any commercially released film or television show. Because if we get those wrong, the shot’s not usable – it won’t cut.

It’s also worth pointing out few continuity errors pass unnoticed on set, but the average Continuitist knows that once it’s been shot, there may be many reasons why that take with the open door is the one used. Usually because that’s the one with the best performance, which is after all what the audience are usually there for.[2] So we try, hard, to make sure that the errors don’t happen in the first place.[3][4]

And while I’m at it: a lot of what may appear to be “continuity errors” up on-screen are actually there because of cuts for time or pacing. That pie being taken out of the oven and put on the benchtop was filmed, but you don’t see it in the final product because it just wasn’t interesting enough to justify the extra twenty seconds of screen time.[5][6][7][8]

  1. Yes, I’m looking at you, Mr. Bond – for all four of those. []
  2. Editors have their own priority list too – the things to consider when choosing a cut. Continuity is around number seven. []
  3. Especially ‘cos regardless of whether we flagged it, noted it, or had a fist-fight with the director about it , we’ll invariably get the blame for it anyway. []
  4. Caveat: I have never actually had a fist fight with a director. Or anyone else since Pugh in Year 4. []
  5. There’s a good example of this in The Shining where a fresh piece of paper “magically appears” in Jack’s typewriter –  the putting of said sheet into the typewriter was shot, but later cut from the edit because the scene was dragging. []
  6. I have had the recent pleasure of working with one particular director who was thinking about this even as he shot – we filmed a character moving from one room to another, putting on his hat as he went, but the director reshot it unprompted it on the basis that he might well be cutting the walking part and he didn’t want the character to suddenly appear in the next scene with a magic hat. Quick thinking Batman. []
  7. Of course, these cuts can sometimes extend to entire subplots too. In Shanghai Noon, you can periodically see a large cart for “Bulldog Drummond” in the background. You’ll see Bulldog Drummond in the credits (played by my friend Curtis Armstrong). You just won’t see him in the film, because they cut his whole subplot out. []
  8. Or even unfortunately to the main plot – The Abyss being a high-profile example. Only if you get to watch the Director’s Cut (formally titled the Special Edition) does the film actually make sense. []

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Posted By That Continuity Guy On March 2, 2009 @ 6:20 pm In Continuity 101

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