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...

So you’re looking at what the audience should be looking at, and looking for anything that might prevent them from looking at what they should be looking at?

Bingo![1] I’m not just the editor’s representative on set – I’m also the audience’s representative on set.

When an audience watches a film, they are supposed to be watching the story and sucked into the world that is being created for them up on the screen. Anything that distracts them from this is a problem. A big problem. Once the audience is distracted by something – anything – they are no longer absorbed in the story on the screen. One moment they’re thinking “Hey, wasn’t she wearing a purple hat before?” or “Hang on, how did he suddenly appear on that side of the room?” or “Oh come on, that’s just plain stupid – you expect me to fall for that!”, the next they’re moved on to what they have planned for the weekend or what’s for supper. Or they then start to notice all sorts of other things “wrong” with the film. Which are more likely to be story or character problems. Either way, you’ve lost them, and it will take a while to get them back – or you may never get them back. So my job is to look for anything that might distract them, and if at all possible stop it from happening.

Of course, this isn’t just those things I mentioned in that priority list above – that’s just what I’m looking at when the camera’s rolling. Audiences also get pretty distracted by things which in continuity terms you could view as geographic and temporal continuity.[2]  This can range from “hmmm, that’s some pretty speedy horse you’ve got there to ride 800 miles in two days and nights” through “hang on – how did he get from that second-floor schoolroom window to outside the front door in 1.2 seconds?[3] all the way to “um, isn’t Krakatoa WEST of Java??[4] All of which are really problems of plausibility and consistency,[5] of which there are many other variants, which thankfully for you I’m not going to go into here.[6][7]

Suffice to say that as the audience’s representative on set, I’m actively looking for these problems, and trying as much as possible to head them off at the gate.[8][9]

The most important continuity is Story Continuity – that everything we see actually flows – and all aspects of my job basically boil down to ensuring that it is preserved while we’re filming. So that it can be preserved when you get to the edit suite, and so that when the audience watches the final film they’re picked up, sucked in, and never taken out of the picture.

  1. If not very succinctly put. Tsk tsk. [↩︎]
  2. If you were the sort of person who tried to impress people with long words. If not, you could view them as continuity of space and time, but personally I can’t do this without thinking of Tom Baker. [↩︎]
  3. Although you were probably more concerned by the Wonderful Oirish Accents To Be Sure. [↩︎]
  4. Or this. Yes, the “Silent” Predators in question are, ahem, rattlesnakes. [↩︎]
  5. Apart from the last two – they’re just plain idiocy. [↩︎]
  6. In fairness to the makers of both though, they wouldn’t have chosen the titles. In much the same way that the actual filmmakers have very little to do with what you see in the trailer. The best (worst?) example I know of for this would be Shoot to Kill. Known as Deadly Pursuit in the UK, in France it was titled (in translation) The Killer Without A Face. Which is significant – the point being that for most of the film, we are left in suspense as to which of the six men on the fishing expedition in the Rockies is said killer, as neither we nor our pursuing heroes Sidney Poitier and Tom Berenger have any idea what he looks like. Hence showing the killer’s face in the trailer was perhaps not the most inspired marketing brainwave. [↩︎]
  7. And yes, I realise it’s not exactly a modern classic, but it’s been annoying me for twenty years and I wanted to share. [↩︎]
  8. Within the realms of whatever it is we’re shooting of course – there would be a rather different degree of concern with historical and geographical accuracy between Carry On Henry (pretty much irrelevant) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (um…). [↩︎]
  9. Okay, maybe that’s not such a well-chosen example – let’s go for, er, Carry On Up The Khyber vs. The Man Who Would Be King instead. There, that’s better. [↩︎]

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Posted By That Continuity Guy On March 2, 2009 @ 10:32 pm In Continuity 101

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