Are you ready for a long rave?: well, here it comes, ready or not …
Recently I was doing a typical M.R. whinge to a contemporary about how I’m totally anti the way many human skills are being replaced by technology. I don’t mean people on assembly lines being replaced by robots, either – not even I would recommend the retaining of mindless crap jobs when machines do them better and faster. No; I was, in truth, thinking specifically of what at various times was my own job – Continuity on film crew (apparently these days called Script Supervision) – but not being honest enough to admit it. So now I do. Allow me to elucidate …
In the ‘70s and ‘80s in Oz, Continuity had a fair few things to do in her (it was always a ‘her’ back then) working day. She’d had to read the script very closely, looking for errors – in action, dialogue, timing or logic of any kind. For example, me at a Production Meeting:
At the gathering around the table, someone has just finished saying something, at which point M.R. raises her hand. Everyone else groans.
(impervious, points to her copy of the script)
There’s a problem at the head of Scene 119: we see Jake sneaking into the shed and emerging with the rifle; but back in Scene 108 he gave it to Helen and told her to hide it in the summerhouse …
All turn dutifully to the page, read, and roll their eyes.
(frown: heavy sigh)
OK, I’ll fix it as soon as we finish, so that we won’t need to issue a blue page.
M.R. nods, satisfied.
(flipping through script to next post-it)
And then, on page—
Indignant cries of protest from all, who thought they were about to break for lunch …
She had also to time the script to ensure that its entire action would fit into whatever was the required timeframe. She had to do a wardrobe and props breakdown so that she’d know in advance what the cast should be wearing and carrying and interacting with. And she had to familiarise herself with the action so that she could support the Director when he asked her things like “Have we covered this scene …?” – meaning, were the setups now in the camera sufficient to get across what was needed. And this was all in pre-production.
During the shoot, she had to
- record the technical details of each setup, so that if by any chance a re-shoot was needed, all conditions could be matched
- annotate her script with an identification and description of every setup, including any changes made to the dialogue by the cast (try to imagine my language when some of them liked to change it with every take!)
- note everything that happened during each setup so that cutting points matched, and actors weren’t seen halfway out a door at the end of one shot and a metre back inside the room at the beginning of the next (MUCH worse than this has been seen onscreen!)
- keep track of wardrobe and props so that a character didn’t run across the road in a striped tie and carrying one kind of gun in one shot, and enter a house in a patterned tie, carrying a different gun, in the next
- be ready INSTANTLY to prompt actors with dialogue during rehearsals
- be ready INSTANTLY to prompt them with action, ditto
- take Polaroid shots of things that were going to be needed to be matched on a different day
- maintain an incrementing record of each setup with the setup details, which would go to the film editor at the end of the day to help with the rough-cut
- have a second, clean copy of the script in separated pages on which to record all the setup descriptions (with all dialogue amendments), which would also go to the editor
- maintain a daily record of the shoot activities – amount of screen time shot and all that kind of thing – for the Production Office and its very mercenary drive …
and I’ve run out of memory. It was an awfully long time ago, after all …
Now s/he does almost none of that. To begin with, as everything’s shot on video, s/he has no need to remember anything: if there’s a query of the “How far had Peter walked when Bob called out to him?” kind, the camera will simply replay it so that everyone could see. Ditto with dialogue: any argument re who said what to whom at which point, and a replay will solve it immediately. The ’1st Assistant Cameraman’ (they tell me: in my day it would’ve been the Clapper-Loader) keeps all the technical records; Wardrobe and Props keep all their own records; one or other of the 2nd–umpteenth Assistants keeps the details for the Production Office …
In other words, today’s Script Supervisor is left to do … continuity! – in fact, to supervise the script. (Oh! – I get it.)
But, you know … today the industry is full of young smart-(_|_)s who think they know everything because they did a course at some Uni or Tech College; and the people lecturing at those places have hardly ever themselves worked in the industry. Today’s crew-members are mostly ridiculous haircuts and tight jeans and social networking; and they have no loyalty to the production. They feel no obligation to work as hard as they can. And yes, you are indeed reading the words of a grumpy old codger.
Sighh … It was a wonderful, exciting industry, once upon a time. We worked 6 days a week and roughly 70 hours; and we loved it. Impossible for a producer get a crew to do that, these days.
The film industry is certainly not a case of plus ça change …