What’s Continuity Got To Do With Documentaries?

black magic pocket cameraA couple of years ago I was incredibly privileged to have a prototype of the Black Magic Pocket Camera on a music video I Directed. That music video ended up being a nightmare deal with the clients, but about that maybe in another post. That dreaded experience didn’t put me off seeing the potential of the tiny black box the size of a point and shoot holiday camera!

A year later I bought my own Pocket Cam. I was Script Supervising a short film for Brown Cab Productions when I received it. So I took the camera on set to test it in my downtime. I only had an old style 50mm Olympus lens with no stabilizer, no sound gear, not even a tripod and only one memory card. I just wanted to take a few shots to see how it all looked like. And I was so captivated by it! Not only by the camera but by what I was discovering about my behaviour after all the years spent watching the on set monitor. This was real life, no script followed, and I still kept thinking about continuity!

Because I was on a long lens most of the shots were in close up. That forced me to think about coverage, to make sure I had more than just talking heads but also points of view, details of the action, I had to keep in mind how the reverse angles would cut with what I had already shot and how I would eventually put it together to tell a story. And continuity was always on my mind! There was an incredible freedom not having a script but my mind was still going back to the habits I formed all these years on set as Scripty!

Cutting the footage was about creating a mood with the shots I knew I had. And shooting all that footage with continuity in mind helped enormously!

Shooting that behind the scenes clip was a reminder that every shot had to be seen in the context of the story. This is something I find incredibly important when I’m on set. I try as much as I can to see every shot in the context of the scene and to imagine it cut with everything else.

It’s really easy to get lost in the details of the moment and to forget the big picture. Many posts by rookie Script Supervisors on the online help forums are about technicalities in their paperwork. Many want to know the RIGHT way to number a pick up shot or a reshoot, or stress about certain departments not wanting to set the correct time on a cast member’s hand watch.  Many ask for THE way to do it. I’d say that as long as the editor gets a logical, consistent map of all the footage then THAT is the right way of doing it. And as long as all the shots make sense in the context of the story then the time of day incorrectly set on the actor’s hand watch makes no difference since that detail will never end up in the final cut.

At the end of the day our role needs to support the telling of the story. It takes time to get used to observing all the details, like watching the action on many monitors simultaneously while following the written dialogue and taking notes at the same time. But really, the best support one could offer, is through understanding the story and finding meaning in everything that’s being shot and always thinking of its context.

Shooting and cutting my own documentary material helps me understand what is essential when I’m Script Supervising. I also find it incredibly liberating to not follow a script and still, I always keep in mind what’s needed visually to tell a coherent story. I hope that more Scripties invest in some gear to shoot and cut their own footage. I recommend it!

The actual short film I Script Supervised when I got my Pocket Cam was screened at Sydney Film Festival a couple of weeks ago and its Director, Ryan Griffen, received a special mention in the Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director. Well done Ryan and the team! And here is the behind the scenes of You Turn, shot, edited, graded and everything else, by yours truly.

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