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...

But surely there’s always something that’s not right?

Aha! An astute deduction sirrah. There is always something that does not match from take to take and shot to shot. The gallant continuitist notices all these things.[1] And then decides whether or not they matter.

Pretty much any film you watch, if you know what you’re looking for, you can even identify when different takes are being used for different segments of a scene. With a live-action film or tv show, it’s just not possible to match identically.

But if as a scripty you pull the director aside after each take to explain exactly what was wrong with it and demand another “for continuity”, or even just request that she decides, you’ll be hurting the film, not helping it.[2][3]

I have constantly to make a judicious call on whether or not whatever “problems” I have just seen warrant actually bringing up, if they can/should be fixed before the next take, if the director needs to be made aware or if we can keep it between me and the art department / wardrobe / make-up / whoever, or if I need to steel my nerves and (gulp) approach the 1st AD to explain how no, we really really do need another take because that last one just isn’t usable and there aren’t any other shots that the editor can use instead. No, there aren’t.[4]

And to be able to do this requires a considerable level of trust on the part of the rest of the crew.[5] The Director has to trust that when I do flag something to her and suggest that she has to make a call on it, she really does have to make a call on it. The 1st has to trust that when I am strenuously attempting to get him to allow another take, the reason is a very good one. The DoP has to trust that we really would be crossing the line if we take that shot as it’s currently set-up. They’re all relying on me to know what matters and what doesn’t.

So mostly I just mutter to myself and make a note.

Similarly, as mentioned already above, most shots are “cheated” somehow. Thus I have to make a call on what can be cheated, and by how much, before the audience is going to start doing that slow “Heyyy…?” (or that fast “oh come off it!” or just the plain old “huh?”).

And therein lies the true heart of continuity – knowing what you can get away with. This varies from take to take, shot to shot, scene to scene, film to film. But if say there’s a nasty glare off the gold brocade on an armchair in the background which is driving the DoP nuts, and it’s still there no matter how much we adjust that chair, and it’s going to take half-an-hour to somehow adjust the lighting to get rid of it, then I’ll suggest just ditching the chair and putting another similarly-dark and similarly-shaped one in its place (since we have one to hand). Which will absolutely horrify the art department and even the 1st AD, but I’m calling that no-one is going to notice the slight change in the blurry-dark-chair-shape in the background, it’s still better than the glare that’s driving the DoP spare, if they do notice then we’ve lost them from the film anyway, and we really need that half hour for another shot.[6]

In the same way, what you see in the frame is very unlikely to be the perfect composition that the Director and Director of Photography saw in their heads and planned for so carefully. It’ll be close (most days), but it won’t be exact.[7][8][9] This is why 1st ADs spend so much time hustling DoPs – to quote one very able DoP I know, “Hey, I’ll light all day if you’ll let me.” It can (almost) always be improved somehow, always be tweaked.[10]

It’s the trade-off between getting it right and getting it shot.[11].

  1. Yeah, okay, maybe not all. Bah. [↩︎]
  2. And chances are she’ll be asking the producer to find another scripty by tomorrow. [↩︎]
  3. And if not, the 1st AD is probably going to take out a contract on you. Quite rightly. [↩︎]
  4. Explanatory note to non-industry readers: the First Assistant Director (1st AD) is not really an Assistant Director at all, and is certainly not an Assistant To The Director (you know, like “Assistant to Ms. Campion” / “Assistant To Mr. Hanks” / “Assistants To Mr. Rudin”). He Runs The Set. He is In Charge. Period. Picture him as, oh, an overseer on a slave galley, and you’ll be getting somewhere close.
    And he does not want Another Take. He wants you to Move On to the next shot on his schedule. Now. No, Now. Or you’re not going to get those other five shots by the end of the day. Understand? Do You Understand? [↩︎]
  5. Which is why crews stick together so much from project to project – it can take a long time to achieve that trust in each other, and once you have it things really do work so much better. The first day with a new crew is always, well, a bit shambolic… [↩︎]
  6. True story – how did you guess? [↩︎]
  7. Except arguably in Pixar movies, where every single thing you see anywhere on the screen matches perfectly, is there for a reason, is exactly as it should be, and has had at least twenty exceptionally talented people working on it for a month. Which is (in part) why they are so effective in sucking audiences so completely into their world. [↩︎]
  8. The other part is the usual stuff like, y’know, story and script. [↩︎]
  9. Which is why while it may appear that they don’t have anyone doing my job, in effect it’s more that they have about four hundred people doing it. [↩︎]
  10. Just a bee’s sneeze to the left on that reflector please Mark. [↩︎]
  11. Which is pretty much the whole business of film-making, but that’s rather outside our remit here [↩︎]

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Posted By That Continuity Guy On March 2, 2009 @ 10:44 pm In Continuity 101

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