I don’t ever get enough time in pre. The Director is always busy in the weeks just before the shoot, the 1st AD has already done a schedule and most times they won’t change it for continuity, Art Dep is running around dressing, buying, stressing out, Glamour Dep is buying, doing fittings, tests. So I send out as many emails as I can and eventually I get the answers I need!
Main tasks – time the script (explained in Maths), break it down, decide Story Days and Times Of Day, find continuity elements, note changes, check for inconsistencies, check the schedule, go to rehearsals, recces and production meetings, try to get at least one meeting with Art, Costume and Makeup!
This is the condensed version of the script in table format that has ALL the elements of the script: Scene numbers, headings, synopsis (I try to use the same as the 1st AD’s), Script Days, Time Of Day (TOD), Locations, Hero Props, Costumes, Makeup, Cast, Notes. Anything that you find scripted or assumed to be in the story goes in there.
It’s all in your hands to decide when a new day begins. Obviously this is implied by the script. Some stories take place over several years, so note the years and even the months if relevant. If a scene is set in Romania, December 1981 then your Australian crew needs to know this is winter in a communist country and therefore Production Design, Costume and Makeup need to be on the same page and reflect the story time. It might seem obvious at first, but when you have lots of flashbacks or cutting back and forth in time within the same script, details can be omitted and in the rush of a shooting day you need to know precisely when a scene takes place. You might shoot a scene that takes place in present days in the morning and one that takes the story back in time in the afternoon. This breakdown will keep all departments in the same story year/season.
Story days are most important as the convention has it that each new day characters wear different costumes – unless scripted otherwise. It’s also important for Locations Design as Art Dep might want to show the progress in time for a particular location. For instance, if at the start of the story characters move into an apartment, then that apartment might get progressively more furniture over time. As you never shoot in sequence you need to know the exact Script Days when those changes in a location’s look are intended and therefore dress in more furniture or remove it when required.
Times Of Day are the imagined (or occasionally scripted) clock readings for each scene. When the script says there’s an alarm clock that reads 2:03, then this will be the TOD for the scene. If in that scene a character with insomnia wakes up then in the next scene walks into the kitchen, that kitchen scene is a direct continuation and TOD for that would be 2:04. If there’s a clock on the kitchen wall it needs to read 2:04 for believability. The kitchen scene might get shot 2 weeks after the bedroom scene so Standby Props will check with the TOD in the Breakdown.
By the way, you’ll NEVER shoot scenes at the scripted time of day. If it happens it’s really a coincidence. DOP’s will mainly check if it’s a sunrise or a dusk scene to light it accordingly or to ask for scheduling close to that scripted TOD if it’s an exterior scene.
EVERYTHING has continuity! All elements on screen change over time or with the interaction of the characters. Someone might get a short haircut halfway through the story. In all the scenes that follow the character needs to have short hair. The script will mention the haircut but won’t remind you of it afterwards. The same applies to all the other elements on screen. Some props might be mentioned in one scene but not in the scene that follows directly. Characters might not always be mentioned as present. A detail like a costume getting ripped and dirtied during a fight might not be mentioned at all.
It might sound daunting but you’re not alone in this. Art Department, Costume and Makeup need to keep their own continuity so there is always backup on set!
Sometimes the script might suggest actions that do not make sense. For instance if the character that got the short haircut is mentioned to put the hair up in a pony tail well, you’ve got a problem. Talk to the Writer or the Director and see if the action needs to be amended.
Also keep an eye for typos. Maybe the country scripted as Australia is in fact Austria…
Have a close read of the schedule and make sure the scenes that need to be shot in sequence for continuity are scheduled like so. For instance check that the scenes with that character sporting long hair should be shot before the character gets the haircut. Maybe Hair/Makeup decided to use a wig. Have a chat about it and make sure that it doesn’t become an issue on set, when the morning scenes need the character with short hair and the afternoon scenes with long hair, and there is no wig. Of course, the 1st AD schedules as much as possible with these big changes in mind but you are their backup.
I love them! It’s a great time to meet the cast and see them try various performances. I also think it’s a great idea to watch how the director interacts with the cast and get a preview of how some scenes will be blocked. You will also get a better understanding of the pace of performance now that the actors add a bit more to their characters.
I try to always go on the tech recce. Most techs will be there so it’s a great time to meet them before you go on set. You’ll also get to see the locations and can now can visualise the script. Most times the 1st AD will explain what will be shot where and the Director might even roughly block some trickier scenes. Great time to become friends with the Standby Props as you’ll work very closely together.
They are too long but you need to be there and if something in the schedule looks odd then clarify it. This might be the only time when you have Glamour dep nearby so ask what you need to ask now.