CONTINUITY CHILDSPLAY

I got chillllls, but I dont got trees, the background guys gee-gawking with their arms up and the same hue of seafoam green

My parents didn’t take us to the movies as much as I would’ve liked, but a couple of those early screenings have stuck with me as filmic comfort food.  After the daily stress of the world on hold and nightly chores on the farm, 2020 has been the year of classic cinema. Not meaning highbrow, just old!

Grease is the word! Or it was last night, streaming into our living room.  Way back, when movies stayed in the theater for months, I did get to see this film projected a couple times.  That year a friend and I danced and sang our little girl heads off to the soundtrack. And when it later came out on VHS, and when my family eventually (better late than never) got a VCR, teenage me maybe might’ve rented it once, or twice, until someone down the road gave me a tape of my own. Never got around to a DVD copy.

So my hub and I watched, in HD on a decent sized flat screen. And during the climactic final duet, some childhood cinematic memory urged, “was I right?” There was something that I remembered feeling off about that part of the song where Sandy and Danny move their way up the zig zaggy stairs of a carnival attraction.

And there it was. The close ups didn’t match in continuity, the backdrop didn’t quite match, and were (now quite obviously) filmed on stage. I felt that as a kid!  But I’ve seen this on tape several times since then, and thus knew this already no? No. Poking around versions of the scene on Youtube it became clear. After seeing it in the 1970’s theater, the other viewings were on a squarish TV, the image severely cropped (unless there’s a letterbox version out there), with the softer focus and drained color saturation of a film on tape.

Good grief, who knew then that seemingly useless observational sense would apply to decades of work as a script supervisor!

As an aside, in mentioning this to a friend, she brings up the cringiness of some of the sexist dialogue and lyrics in my beloved Grease. Well, I look at it as a film about the 50’s made during the 70’s. Context people! BTW what kind of example are today’s big name musical artists promoting? I will take my hand jive and pussy wagon all day long over a degraded twerking Cardi B or Miley Cyrus.

the wideshot

JERRY LEWIS, FRIEND OF THE SCRIPT SUPERVISOR

Virus and a Video

The Genius Jerry Lewis – with video camera mounted to film camera

Well our country and world is kind of …closed. Some people have been dealt tragedy, many mere inconvenience, and a few, with good cheer and stocked pantry, hold a winning hand of rest and reconnection with family and home.

Here on the farm it’s just another day after day of spring chore after chore. When it’s finally time for a little lie down before bed, too many news programs bring the fear. So I prefer the comedies of the 60’s, which as a child of the 70’s were like comfort food, safe cozy movies playing on TV in the afternoons or on the weekends.

We started with some Jerry Lewis. The French thought him a genius. And they were right! Not his spasmodic shrilling that first brought him notice, but with Directing and the construction of story – composition, timing, editing, visual transitions, the use of sound, expanding simple moments. Some of his films are downright experimental for their time (like The Bellboy – who else could make a successful modern Hollywood film like that, where the star is silent and there is no story just a bunch of rather unrelated vignettes?!).

Beyond what’s on the screen, Jerry Lewis changed film production technology for the rest of us in advancing the cause of Video Assist.

What?

To be able to truly direct (himself) and best assess his performance as Actor, he worked with the Studio and Sony to develop what we now know as video assist, or having monitors and playback.

Basically at a time when movies were shot literally on rolls of film, he pushed to have a video system capture what the film camera was seeing (by mounting a video camera onto the film camera!). Thus he could adjust his performance take by take, instead of waiting for the film to be developed and a print to come back from the lab, only then deciding whether to reshoot the performance, or live with what he got. All time and money.

The Script Supervisor of yore would often watch takes from as close to the (ONE) camera as possible. Think of Pat Miller, with her binder, on a ladder behind the camera! Now with a faster pace, multiple cameras, location shooting, hand held etc…the video monitor is an essential tool in doing our job.

And this “LAAAAAAAAAAAADY” says thank you Mr. Lewis.

FAKING IT IN FILM

The Magnificent Cheat of the Ill Prepared Actress

Typically a cheat in production world is visual, like faking one location for another, playing with an Actor’s eyeline, or shooting day for night. My favorite cheat happened in secret, long ago.

A very established Actress came to set but forgot her glasses. “I’m blind as a bat.” She and I spent quite some time going over her scene – 2 pages of a phone call, with her character doing most of the talking.  Her version of the lines weren’t close enough. These Writers placed clues (not shared with us) into their scripts and wanted the dialogue delivered as written.

Picture’s up. Props handed me a cell phone so I could read the other side of the conversation to our Actress through the phone instead of screaming them out. I was moved away from set for sound. Our Actress dashed over and asked me to read HER lines instead of the ones she was supposed to respond to.  A couple takes in a couple sizes and we were done. High five! 

This was the only time she wasn’t right on the nose that I saw, and it was kind of fun to sneak through the scene this way. Now a friend comes home from working on a show out of town with a big name Actor, who wore a hidden earpiece and brought his own guy dedicated to feeding him his lines. Is that a cheat? It kinda sounds more like a lie. 

MARTINI COMMERCIAL

Film Production Idiom

“WINDOW? We don’t need no stinkin’ window.”

Standard Commercials are a different beast, but tend to be easier work for the Script Supervisor than a long project. The “script” may be just storyboards (pictures), a page of narration, voice-overs and/or description. There may be several commercial spots, or framing formats for social media and different sized screens.

Some crew crosses over with movies and TV, but some folks work commercials only.

Generally, Royalty is not the Producer or Director, but the Agency – the Ad Agency, representing the Client, dictating by very expensive consensus. The star of the show is not an Actor, but a product. A famous Actor will get some pampering, but the no-names are basically props to support the thingy.

I finished the year working on a commercial for a cleaning product. We had messy floors, smudgy glass panes and lots of laundry. Crew came from throughout North America.

Near the end of the 3rdday, the young Canadian DP (Director of Photography) asked the American AD (Assistant Director) if the next shot was “the window.”  The AD looked surprised and explained that we’re done filming the window pane and are setting up for the table top. They looked at one another in confusion. I stepped in with a bit of interesting but useless to me information that had apparently been years lying in wait for this very moment. 

To AD, “He means the martini. In Canada they call it the ‘window’ cuz after wrap crew used to collect their wages at the pay window.”

To DP, “In the States the last shot is the ‘martini,’ named for a Director readying his cocktail for when they call wrap.”

Slang reflecting different priorities. Unless after the pay window came the bar stool!

ACTORS – Larger Than Life, or Inflated Egos

god bless gary busey

Actors are fascinating. They lie for a living. Or, lets say, pretend. Yet when they etch in a character’s map with the highways, side roads and dead ends we all encounter on life’s journey, the Actor becomes truth-teller, reflecting our own circumstance and emotion, or eliciting our reaction to such.

Script Supervisor supports the Actor by running lines, then as we roll, by (gently) correcting dialogue, or actions for matching when needed.  Sometimes we are the messenger for the Director, dashing on to the set with his or her suggestion, and sometimes the Director is the messenger for us!

Before a challenging scene Actors may isolate themselves, do jumping jacks, listen to music. On There Will Be Blood crew was asked to dress in muted, somber, sepia-type colors to help engage the period and stylistic mood for Actors, you believe?  Crew may also be asked to work quietly or even clear the set. Whatever it takes to help the Actor concentrate, live in the role, despite a dozen folks aiming cameras and microphones up their face.

I once worked on a low budget Indie that had a cameo appearance with an interesting odd bird who could go from charming to grossly inappropriate, or merrily singing oldies to politically boisterous, in a flash. He created such a deep back story for his character that he often thought out loud, adlibbing lines that had no context or connection within the actual script.

His last scene was in a bar, shot on location in a small Texas town.  Camera was about to roll. “Watch this.”

He pulled out a yellow onion, and bit into it, over and over, right through the papery skin, gagging chunks of it down, producing tears and mucus for what seemed to be an almost B-roll shot.

That’s entertainment. And dedication.

I’ve wondered if this is tried and true, an old performing trick, if Shakespeare stood by in the wings of The Globe , slipping a shallot to an otherwise complacent Juliet. Or if Dreyer had his silent screen Joan Of Arc snack on some scallions to squeak out those glorious black and white tears, in close up.

Dreyers The Passion of Joan of Arc with Renée Jeanne Falconetti and onion –

FUTURE/NO FUTURE – A General Rant

How Technology Effects Script Supervising

Bloody Hell Photo by Jeff Peterson

A hammer can be used to build or to destroy; it’s in the application. Technology is a tool. 

The on set kit bag for the Script Supervisor of yore consisted simply of a stopwatch, pencil, perhaps a colored pencil or pen, and a ruler, for notating on a paper script. The notes were quite important, as was being present on set for corrections, suggestions, and touches to flesh out the story, working shoulder to shoulder with Directors, Actors and Crew. Much information was stored in the Script Supervisor’s head, as memory for matching, or formulas to assess if enough film was in the camera for another take. Because every frame of actual film costs money to print, care was put into every shot.

With Polaroid cameras, continuity pictures became part of the toolset as a visual double-check of wardrobe, hair/ make up, and settings. That shifted to digital still cameras and thus added the digital photo printer to our gear (and added the extra time to print pictures out!).  Eventually that drifted into the digital cameras being replaced by phones, and continuity pictures often just taken off the monitor.

As film systems became more digitized so did the Script Supervising workflow, using special software and apps with electronic scripts and forms on our laptops and tablets. Now the formats can be more homogenized (ScriptE or Skarrat anyone?), perhaps more convenient for some who want those notes before the word “wrap” is completely uttered.  Even though they may not look at them once the notes are loaded into the editing system. And don’t forget the charging cables and back up batteries, and stands and tables for the machines.

This kit bag is getting heavy!

But external pop-off screen grabs are passé, with converters and down loaders the actual camera footage can be streamed to the Script Sup’s electronic device, and direct screen shots taken from there, to be folded into the script notes. So Script Sup doesn’t even have to sit by the monitors. Now we can capture whole takes, free flowing series of takes that go on and on to replay for the Director to decide what he wanted to match to.  And all the dailies can be down loaded too. The expectation, or pressure, to use this ability, along with the blurring of DITs obligations to pull up takes, despite Union rules, make the original Video Assist job passé as well.

Wait what’s happening here?  More and different work with the technology, making this feel like a chase rather than a craft.

By now there are 2 to 3 cameras minimum filming simultaneously, perhaps a GoPro or 2 tucked in somewhere for a specific “cool” shot. Oh no! What if the boom dipped into frame, or a camera panned off set into a light, or that prop didn’t land quite where we wanted it too! Don’t reset, just fix it in Post.

And while Post is at it, make that 70 year old Actor look young for a flashback, even if she is now deceased. And with digital mapping who really needs the Actor anyway, and the animated films are no longer cartoons but strive to become photorealistic, so that someday there will be no need for a “set” and no need for on set crew any longer.  Progress. 

Progress?

Rant complete, thank you.

YOU MEAN YOU’RE LIKE A SCRIPT GIRL?

NO.

That’s a conversation opener I’ve encountered more than once.

actress playing a script supervisor as candy in The Life Aquatic

But NO.

I can still hear my little ol’ Auntie basically asking the above. Well, at least this shows there’s an awareness of someone on set at the helm of the script! More than likely this comes from movies about movies themselves, like Singin’ In the Rain, 8 1/2 or Get Shorty, to mention a few off the top of my head.

Particularly in older movies, when a film set was shown in the story, the only woman sitting by the Director as part of the filmmaking process was a secretarial gal with a script on her lap (a more professional example than, uh, what was portrayed in the picture above).

My husband jumps in with enthusiasm as to what an important and influential position this is. I then fill in the gaps, that many men also hold this position, and that it entails much much more than following lines in the script.

In general terms I explain how this is about managing several simultaneous streams of information in a highly organized way, sometimes creating systems to do so. Yes we support, and correct, gently, the Actors, with their dialogue and with continuity to help things match. Continuity causes us to guide or coordinate with several departments, as Hair, Make Up, Props, Set Dressing and Wardrobe, to keep everyone on the same timeline page and matching looks. We work to keep the Directors on point, inform them as to the coverage or shots needed to tie the story together so they can choose how to proceed, and we keep track of their preferences while we are shooting.

All this while also keeping track every time each camera rolls, notating information for each take on each camera, watching for technical errors, and essentially transcribing a map for Editorial, in a way being on-set eyes for the Editor with the goal to get all the pieces necessary to put the project together appropriately, elegantly, if possible.

We keep tabs on what’s been filmed and what’s yet owed for each scene in the script, applying mathematical calculations that translate into scheduling our production days for the AD Department. These numbers also go to the Producers to help them gauge the budgeting for those days.

Our shoulders also bear the responsibility to our fellow crew and cast members in legally documenting our production time on the clock, to ensure everyone gets the appropriate pay, meal penalties and overtime contractually agreed upon by the Union.

On top of the pure logistics, a bit of psychology is involved for there are a lot of egos involved. One must adapt and learn how to earn trust so that people will allow you to help them.

…My Auntie stares at me blankly.

“It’s like being a Junior Director to help get everything right.” Bah.

ON BECOMING A SCRIPT SUPERVISOR

I Like to Watch and Imagine…Dont You?

Why does one become a Script Supervisor? The short answer, for some: “It’s just a job, Kid. “ The long answer, for me: As an almost-only child in the 70’s, books, TV and an active imagination were my daily companions.  There was an instinctive pull to soak up stories, and in turn create my own through play, drawing, and eventually words. And eventually eventually photography, film and video.

With just a handful of channels to choose from, there was always a desire for more! Sleepovers at my friend’s next door were great for the extra bonus that the Gran watched Television all night long. And from my sleeping bag on the floor of the living room so could I!

Sneakily trying this at home did not go over so well, the sirens from a rerun of Emergency! waking my dad, stumbling into the TV room at 2 am to find wide-eyed little me.

Before VCR’s we had to hope and wait for a movie to play on TV, and were happy to sit through commercials for it. The Wizard of Oz only came around once a year. As I got older it seemed parts of the movie were missing, later realizing the missing scenes and storylines were ones I had made up in my head! But they were so authentic to me.

Hmm what the heck kind of future could this child have? Despite my well meaning parents’ push toward a “safe” trade or degree, Universe took the scenic route to plop me on a commercial film set (better late than never), and eventually at a monitor to observe, take after take, what is, what should be, and with some friendly Script Supervisor suggestions for the Director, what can be the best to bring words on paper to life.

Now as an adult in my downtime I prefer to be in nature, or with friends – away from electronics! Yet still driven and inspired to story – will the sunfowers bloom? Will there be frogs in the pond this year? How can I write a personal struggle into a screenplay best?

Oh and where does that red brick road lead?