Film Continuity-
Ultimate Guide To Script Supervision

June 29, 2020
  • Shweta Raman
  • Continuity, Script Supervisor, Credible Cinema, Film Crew, Filmmaking Theory

If a character spills a drink in the car but shows up at the party in a dry shirt, that’s a continuity error and the audience loves to point those out. The prime purpose of a motion picture, whether theatrical, fictional or documentary, is to capture and hold the audience’s attention from the opening shot to the final fade-out. To accomplish this, a film must be presented in continuous visual images, inviting viewers to become deeply involved in the story. If viewers are distracted by where the camera has suddenly shifted or why an unexplained change has occurred, the spell may be broken. Smooth, fluid, realistic continuity contribute more to a motion picture’s success than any cinematic device.

Every motion picture should be based on a shooting plan. The plan may be a few mental notes, scribbled suggestions, an outline, a story board, or a detailed shooting script. The better the plan, or continuity, the stronger the chances of success. A continuity, or shooting script, is a preliminary motion picture on paper; a continuous plan for photographing and editing the production. Other than a simple news shot, a motion picture cannot depict an event in a single scene. A series of scenes, known as a sequence, is required to portray any action properly.

Motion picture sequences may be compared to chapters in a book. A director, working with a detailed script, is forced to think of the picture as a series of sequences comprising several shots; A cameraman shooting off-the-cuff must also think in sequences, and not in individual shots. But the action will flow smoothly from shot to shot only when the overall action of the entire sequence is broken down into particular actions required in each shot. This key task is taken care of by a script supervisor or continuity supervisor before the production of the film begins. Without good continuity, a motion picture would be a jumble of unrelated animated snapshots.

So who is a script supervisor in a film and how does he go about keeping it all smooth and continuous among so much chaos?

Here is a video of Tim Hunt explaining what a Script / Continuity Supervisor is:

A script supervisor (or continuity supervisor) is a member of a production crew that supervises continuity; it includes working and collaborating with all departments of the production in a highly dynamic environment. A script supervisor is often known as the editor’s eyes on the sets tracking the continuity of everything on screen between each scene of every sequence. The script supervisor not only monitors the actions of the talent during the filming of scenes but also the costume, makeup, lighting, sound, production design, camera frame and movement. They also demarcate where certain props and set decorations are from one position to another, so you can avoid any embarrassing continuity errors. All in all, it has to be a person who can multitask under pressure while being super organised.

An overview of a Script Supervisors’ responsibilities:

  • Breakdown the script for various elements including timing, time of day, costume, make-up, location, props etc.
  • Take copious notes on everything that was shot, including slate info, take numbers, length of takes, camera angles, actors positioning etc.
  • Provide the editor and post-production team a detailed production report

The script supervisor is the primary contact between the director (who decides what scenes are to be shot) and the editor (who is usually not present during actual filming but needs to have exact records of the filming in order to do the job of cutting the film together). This position is technical rather than artistic and is generally considered as part of the director’s team getting a front row seating in a video village alongside the Director and DOP.

Let’s delve deeper into what this position entails through the various stages of production.

Before the camera rolls: Importance of a Script Break Down

A script breakdown is an important filmmaking process that allows you to identify all the script elements needed to prep, schedule and budget a film production. A script breakdown is first required to assess the total length of each scene, number of shot days and thus determining the schedule and budget. By creating a script breakdown, you will also ascertain the technical and creative requirements for each department. The process of breaking down a script takes place weeks before the actual filming begins. There are various breakdown techniques one can use in this digital era but you can do it the analog way using a bunch of colourful pens and marking the final script on paper. Today, one can use multiple softwares like Studio Binder and Celtx that make this process super efficient.

Andrew Spieler (Assistant Director on RocketJump: The Show) shows how he broke down a few different scenes from the short “High Plains Drifter” (or The Good, The Fast, and The Furious):

When shooting begins: Production

Once production begins, a script supervisors’ job includes but is not limited to the following:

‘Video Village’ is the domain of the script supervisor. Other members of the crew or executives may jockey for position, but the ‘scripty’ will always have a seat in the front row. The script supervisor will have studied the shot list and storyboard to have the order of the shoot for the day down to a science. This individual will be aware of the entire crew’s activities and the camera settings for each sequence even if there is more than one camera setup. From how each take is marked on the slate to monitoring line readings for talents, a script supervisor meticulously takes notes. The script supervisor will almost always have an apparatus for timing of the scenes filmed so that the director and editor’s work is a bit less chaotic. Finally, daily production reports are created for information regarding the shoot. What was shot, what’s left to be shot, what was missed or skipped are included in the daily production reports.

When the shooting is over: Post production

Unlike many other positions on set, when the production wraps, the scripty’s job is not yet done. All of the notes and reports are now passed onto the post-production team as a guide for re-assembling all the pieces into a cohesive whole. The script supervisor must consolidate all of the information to produce a production book. How it’s presented can be as unique as the person in the role, but generally includes the marked script with detailed notes, scene reports and production totals. After these organised reports are handed to the Editors team, they cut the footage while making sure the narrative has structure so the shots and sequence flow seamlessly into each other. When the editor follows the director’s vision and the rules of continuity editing, the audience is presented with a smooth and easy film to watch.

Watch this video to understand how the editor uses the production book to work along the directors POV and maintain continuity throughout the cut:

If it wasn’t obvious by now, there are many reasons why one should consider having a script supervisor in their production team even in a small-budget independent film. With all the elements that go into making a film, it’s easy to lose track of small yet important details in the process. Script supervisor notes become vital documents on every project. For a small production team, an assistant director usually takes on this role. Here are a few tips and tricks to keeping the flow going in your next production:

1. Take photos. Photos can be easily taken on a phone camera these days. Taking photos is the easiest way to make sure things stay consistent. Photos help you track details you wouldn’t think to take note of otherwise. They make it significantly easier to set up props, costumes etc. the same way between takes.

2. Create continuity reports. Continuity reports are the backbone of a film. Take organised notes of each day’s shoot, including camera settings, screen direction, weather, props, and any possible deviations from the script. Continuity reports are a great way to ensure that everything, even the sound and lighting, is consistent from shot to shot.

3. Keep your schedule short. Everything changes with time. While filming this becomes more complex and erroneous. Relying simply on human memory or luck is not a winning strategy on a set. The simple way to not make continuity mistakes is to keep your shooting schedule short so crew members remember each scene’s details and can minimize the possibility of unwanted changes.

Script supervision is a ‘key’ role in the process of filmmaking. If you too have some simple ways of making continuity successful, write to us. We would love to know!

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