Director Steven Spielberg accidentally stepped into the frame of one of his first movies, a made-for-television production called Duel. When the film was released on DVD, Spielberg left the mistake in to remind him of the imprecise nature of film making. Link
When I was a kid I would watch movies curled up beside my father on the sofa, eating Ritz crackers and drinking ginger ale. This was the time of VCR’s so we could rewind when required. When he saw an error he would ask, did you see that? Then rewind the scene and we would watch it again… and again, till I could point it out to him. It was our game. I loved it and still do… much to the dismay of my husband! Hey, don’t all people watch TV like me? I guess not.
I receive an email last week from a new follower to my blog. This person asked me to give him some pointers for costume continuity. I took a look at what the Internet had to say and there are some wonderful descriptions already so I will link to one of them, and also give a few pointers of my own!
Basically, every on-set costumer is responsible for costume continuity. It doesn’t matter if it is a cast member or a background player, each person’s costume in front of the camera should track from the beginning to the end of the scene sequence. All costumers on set should watch either the monitors if possible, or stand with a view of set while the scene is being shot. This will help you to see how the cast is using their costume pieces. Take your notes during the scene, this will keep everything fresh in your mind and your notes will be up to date at the end of the day.
If a character has many scenes over one script day, the look of the costume will be maintained for that day unless otherwise scripted. Over the period of a script day the costume may vary in how it is worn, the same as the look of our clothing would change during the day.
It would be very strange to have a character start the day in the house wearing a raincoat, then exit the house into the rain, stay at work with the coat on all day, and then arrive back home in the same state of dress. Our responsibility is to track what happens to the costumes pieces, how and where they can be removed or added and what happens to them when they are left behind!
Continuity is more than just reading the script. I try to read the script through at least 4 times before we start filming. The first time is to just read the story and then the others are to help hold it in my mind and to try to lock the details. On my second read through I start highlighting the cast in the scenes, and breaking the script into numbered days and nights. Third time, I start picking out all the info that will pertain to me. Anything that I think will require special attention: stunt doubles, photo doubles, special effect/visual effects sequences or even a cooking scene. (Watch for that pesky tomato sauce!) Is there a love scene, what will I need to have on hand for that? Do any of my cast carry a weapon, ie: police, CIA, classic bad guy? Will the character need a belt or will we need to hide the weapon or holster of choice? Fourth time, I go though and make sure that I have not missed any details. I also take another look at the shooting schedule for the number of background players, how many cast are in each day and work out how many costumers I will need to help our on-set department keep running smoothly.
If you have a shooting schedule from the AD’s grab that, and while reading through the script add their notes to the margins with yours. If you are reading your script on an iPad, I found iAnnotate is a great app that allows me to write directly on a PDF script and keeps the info with me, but there are many other app’s that will allow you to do the same. Take a look and see what you like.
When I am breaking down the script for the character plots/costume plots, I divide it into days/nights, scene numbers, costume changes and what will be required in those costume changes. Each character gets a plot sheet/change sheet for each of their changes so we can quickly look up the correct change in the continuity binder and confirm what they are wearing for the scene.
Changes are normally used to help show time progression in a movie. If the script is all shot in the daylight you wont be aware of the passing of time, changing the costumes helps the audience to know that the day has changed. Costume changes can also be added because of dialogue or action in the script. A character may change because they are wet, going out to dinner or if someone tells them to grab their coat. If this happens in the script, we add another change sheet, or make a note on the change sheet for the character and it will signify a change in costumes. For example, a note on a change sheet might read: Sc#53 Grabs coat when he leaves house, coat in right hand.
Breaking down a script by hand involves a lot of paper and space to spread out! This was the way we all did it when I first started. Boy was I excited when the computer programs started to arrive. Now there are a number of different costume breakdown programs and Apps available for us out there. You will have to take a look at them to choose which works the best for you. I will list some of the ones I have worked with and looked at here,
Take a look, some are more expensive then others and they are worth talking about with other costumers. Talk to your team and see what everybody wants to use, using the same program makes things MUCH easier.
When you have finished breaking down the script and you have built your character plots, you will then start adding your notes in the costume changes area on your sheet.
When writing descriptions for costume changes try to think like it is someone other than you looking at the clothing or reading the descriptions. Short quick descriptions can sometimes lead to confusion. If you just write ‘black jacket’ it could be any of the jackets around you. Instead note all the details, ie; leather, cotton, zippered pockets, hood, trim, self stripe, grey lining, 4 button, store label… and if it is a rented piece write down the rental number and rental house it came from.
Writing continuity notes for the scene: everyone does this a little differently! You will find what works for you after you have done this for a while. It is important to think that someone may have to step in for you one day. I was taught; do your job like you are going to be run over by a bus… I know that’s hard, but I did have to replace someone who had been knocked out and taken to hospital… and she had not written anything down for me to work from!
So always think; are the notes legible for some one else to read? Does everyone understand your short hand? (link to other blog on long hand) I always start my notes with the scene numbers above so it is clear to see which description is for which scene.
Include description of what is happening on the back and front of the costumes, ie: is the hood over the jacket at the back, are the zippers or snaps closed or open on the pockets, are the strings on the aprons tied in a bow, half bow or knot? Also how are the boots laced; wrapped around the ankle, are they laces tucked in at the top edge, or dangling?
I also like to keep track of what props are attached to the cast. If the props are wrong it still looks like we, the costumers, have made a mistake so keep and eye on everything that goes on to your actor.
For some shows writing notes can be a challenge. With a super hero or speciality outfit, sometimes there isn’t much to say… when the outfit is on, it’s on. If that is the case, just detail what is needed for the outfit; what pieces are there, if it laces up the back and whether the laces are tucked in or not.
Great things to add into the notes are special requests that the actor has. If they like thicker/thinner socks, do they have a preferred warm-up jacket, is there something that a new costumer to the show should know about them. If there are re-shoots or additional photography this will help the next person to step into your shoes!
This is where the pictures come in. Yes, take photos… lots of them! When we used Polaroid or before that when pictures where taken by the set photographer, it was expensive so there were few photos taken. Now with the advent of digital you have the freedom to take more and just not print them all. With your pictures and an iPad you can store and carry them and all your notes in your hand. Actually, you can also do this in your smart phone… wow, electronics have made things so much lighter!!
When printing your photos, label the front with the Scene, Location, Character Name and Cast Number and Day or Night number. Don’t forget the back of these as well. Write down any important notes that a costumer should know on the back of the photo. If you are sending the photos and costumes to 2nd unit, they will be ready to go!
No matter how perfect your continuity is there is always a possibility that after the show has been edited it will not be the same. I was working with a director that wanted a scene to look like it was shot over a very long period of time. I was very diligent to mark down which piece of dialogue a change was made. Start with coat on, tie tight, then loosen tie, then remove coat, then roll sleeves on shirt… so on and so forth. I was careful to make sure it was right and followed through the scene sequence correctly. When the show was finally aired they edited scene as a montage, and the costume was all over the place. The character had his coat on and off, his tie tight and loose, off again then on again. When the show is being edited, the director and the editor choose to put the scenes and shots in the order that they feel drives the story the best. Sometimes continuity is sacrificed in this process. Don’t worry, you did everything right.
One final thought; if you have a show that is a little crazy, you may want just to have a ‘quick-glance sheet’ that you can reference in the morning. I have used excel to build a calendar for myself in the past. I write on it which cast members are in (by their Cast Numbers), which costumes I will need to establish for the day, how many background are in and how many day calls I have asked for that day. This gives me a handy cheat sheet in my pocket or on my iPad and allows me to answer questions quickly for the designer, the 2nd AD when we are working on the call sheet, or just for myself.
Continuity is challenging; watching and plotting what every cast member and background player has on, and how they wore it for every shot in every scene is a lot to deal with. Continuity is the muscles of our department, with out it we are nothing more than a pile of weak goo! Write your notes, take your photos and keep smiling! This is a challenge worth striving for.