Continuity in Indie Filmmaking: It Really is Important

Continuity is one of those things that just seems to take extra valuable time from an already packed schedule. Does it really matter that much? I mean who is going to notice anyway, right?

Has This Ever Happened to You?

I was sitting in front of our big screen TV watching The Man From Snowy River with my youngest son. There are a couple of scenes in this movie with continuity issues. We were at the famous part when the herd of wild horses stampede and run over our hero, Jim Craig. There at the back of the herd was a wrangler astride one of the horses urging the rest on. I’m pretty sure wild horses don’t have riders.

Then there is my favorite Jane Austin movie, Emma. The moment we’ve all been waiting for where Mr. Knightly declares his feelings for Emma. He removes his hat to reveal what naturally would happen… “hat head”. But as it cuts to a close up Knightly’s hair it is suddenly brushed to perfection. Then it happens again, it cuts to Gwenneth Paltrow (Emma) then back to Jeremy Northam (Knightly) and the “hat hair” has returned. You really see it about half way through the following clip.

Continuity in movies, TV or an indie web series for that matter can be distracting. Director Jared Hess, poked fun at continuity issues in the lunch scene at the cafeteria in his film Napoleon Dynamite. The food on Napoleon’s plate starts out full then the next shot most of the food is obviously gone. But it doesn’t stop there. Just when we’re thinking, “Wow, he ate a lot of food during one sentence”, the shot cuts back again to a full plate.  I Love Jared Hess.

You’ve Got to Be Aware

But when you’re not wanting to draw attention to visual mistakes there is only one solution. You have to pay intentional attention while you are in production. When we were shooting our upcoming web series When Fact Met Fiction (WFMF), we had a PA (Production Assistant) who was on his “A” game.  And because of that we had very few continuity issues to deal with. Everytime we dressed the set, placed props, or filled a mason jar with a drink, Sam Lyons was there, camera in hand to take a picture. Even with his eagle eye keeping watch we had a few things come up. In the first episode the character of Jon Frank talks on his Bluetooth as he brings pizza boxes to the office. Once inside the office the Bluetooth is gone. You’ll have to watch the episode when it comes out in December 2016 to see how we addressed the problem.

4 Tips for Maintaining Visual Continuity

The following tips may seem obvious, but I’ll throw them out there anyway as a reminder to all of you who may be working on your first project.

  1. We use a designated person who manages continuity of props and the set. He / She should have a camera ready to capture everything. That person will reset props between takes. In episode 4 of WFMF, Sam reset the desk of one of our characters several times and it was tricky. In the scene our actress Rebekah Babelay was eating popcorn that had been spilled out on her desk. After every take Sam was there with his camera making sure everything was as it should be so we could get another take.

    Continuity photo on the set of When Fact Met Fiction.
    The desk started each take looking like this. Sam Lyons got it right each time.
  2. Our lead Hair and Make-up person, Sandi Henderson is always watching and asking questions. Has an actor started glowing? Has the hair shifted in between takes? She keeps an eye on the actors wardrobe for us as well. This may seem nitpicky, but when you go back and watch the footage, our actors look consistently as they should. Hair and make-up continuity came into play on episode 8 of WFMF in a major way. We were at an alternate location. Ivania Escalante was doing H/M and had Rebekah Babelay looking perfectly under the weather. Several days later she perfectly recreated the look for a scene on our primary set. You’d never know the scenes were shot at completely different times.

    Rebekah Babelay as Olivia Smith. When Fact Met Fiction
    “Olivia Smith” after oral surgery, Episode 8 of When Fact Met Fiction
  3. Our director, AD and Camera crew all watch for character positions between takes. If you can’t remember if a character was standing or crossing at a given line take a moment to review your camera footage. It only takes a few seconds to insure your editor doesn’t want to kill you when the footage reaches them.

    WFMF Camera Man Dusty Abernathy setting up for another take
    WFMF Camera Man Dusty Abernathy
  4. We take a moment to insure everything is as it should be before the cameras roll. Having pictures of your set means nothing if you don’t use them. Don’t get so rushed that you neglect the little things. Our AD (Assistant Director), Jennifer Miller, is great about making sure everyone respects the time Sam takes to get everything ready for the next shot. It takes a team.

There was one point in episode 7 of When Fact Met Fiction where we had to call it a day and come back to pick up a scene the next day. The problem was, we had shot part of a different episode in between two of the scenes for episode 7. When we came in the next morning  everything had to be set exactly as it had been  earlier the day before, including Christmas lights around “Mel’s” backdrop. Thanks to Sam and his digital camera we had a template to go by.

Set dressing epsiode 8, When Fact Met Fiction
Sam Lyons and Sam Scott resetting the set for Episode 8.

No Regrets?

It’s pretty much impossible to not  look back on a production and realize you should have done something differently. But you can minimize the regrets by being proactive. Have you ever done one of those puzzles where you look at a picture for a few seconds then have to find the differences in another picture without looking? Don’t do that on your film set. Put a camera in someone’s hands and  make sure you have a reference for that scene you are shooting. You’ll be glad you did.

Thanks For Reading