Day Twenty Two
Posted: 2020-06-10 12:00:00
Continuity. I confess to having perhaps not fully grasped this particular piece of film making vernacular. Theatre runs in a continuous line often with a 20 minute gap in the middle for a toilet break and glass of overpriced wine. The actors character may age, change appearance, grow beards or indeed merkins (Salome at the National Theatre anyone?)- but the actors themselves remain largely constant baring the odd mid show meltdown when an understudy is called into a role when illness or stage fright strike the leading lady.
Crucially the event takes place over one condensed period. A follows B. Largely speaking anyway. As we are finding out in film- this is not the case. You don’t work chronologically- famously Ian McKellen’s first scene in Lord of The Rings was saying goodbye to the Hobbits as his final scene at the very end of The Return of The King. He hadn’t even met them by that point and there he was on screen saying his goodbyes. The following day he skipped back to the beginning of the first film. Such is life on a film set. Schedules are dictated by many factors from location to actor availability-very rarely are you afford the luxury of working through the shoot in the order it’s written.
Which is why you need continuity. Someone to look after those little details- the costume, the props, the make-up. Weeks, months even may pass between one on screen moment and the next- yet the illusion must be maintained that A has followed B. These details are in fact and of course all part of the storytelling. If you add facial hair for example between one moment and the next you have already signalled to the audience that time has passed. And in so doing you have changed the story.
And this is where we came unstuck yesterday as we attempted to piece together a re-shooting schedule on the fly. Tom has been sporting some very handsome stubble at various points in the shoot- largely to help suggest when the character he is playing is at a low ebb when unkept and unable or unwilling to shave. David our designer has been keeping an eye on it and we had tried on the main shoot to schedule enough time for him to re-grow his stubble for when it was required. No easy task when juggling the availability and extra curricular commitments (jobs, home-schooling, family and so on) of the cast and crew.
As we manically tried to scramble cast members back for these re-shoots and stop equipment being returned too quickly, we overlooked the stubble. Thus having sandwiched Tom’s re-shoot scenes into the new schedule David messaged in asking about whether we had considered the stubble in all of this.
We hadn’t. Naturally.
My first instinct was just to ignore him and just hope it would go away. The cunning hand in the sand approach which I’ve used with mixed rewards over the yearas. At the end of the day it’s just stubble and the audience would have to lump it. The logistics were hard enough as it was.
And then Charlotte said something sensible and slowly it became apparent that this wasn’t just about stubble and the look- but about the story we were telling. As- filmmakers, which I suppose we are becoming almost by surprise in this process- you have a duty to telling that story. And the devil in the telling is in the detail.
So we rescheduled. Again. Tom kindly agreed to hang on until next Monday and over the weekend could luxuriate in re-growing his facial furniture to the requisite length in order that A would follow B and our story telling would remain clear.
Which is why continuity is very much a thing, and more than a thing it’s a job and a very important one to boot.
It’s just a shame we don’t have someone doing that for us.
The evening was spent back in the company of Malcolm and Tom both recalled to have our third attempt at Act 1 scene 10- in which Stephen persuades his commanding officer to let him back on the line from his hospital bed. It’s a long scene- in fact two scenes spliced together with a memory from Stephen’s past in the middle. Both actors jumped back into it at 8pm and I found myself genuinely absorbed in it all. Malcolm leaning into the camera as Captain Gray the man with a soft spot for his unruly and wild Lieutenant- Stephen Wraysord. I must have heard this scene hundreds of times over the years. It has only changed a little in all that time. Yet I managed to hear it freshly tonight.
People wonder how actors can repeat a performance night after night on stage, and it’s because the old adage of ‘it’s different every night’ is true. Maybe not very noticeably, but it is never exactly the same, little details, the actors own differing emotions and of course the audience all conspire to make every night unique and distinct unto itself. The magic of theatre indeed. Yet on film when the shot is printed into celluloid or indeed these days uploaded- it is fixed. The film never changes (unless it’s CATS)- you the viewer may change- and over time you may see the film differently- but that is you changing and growing not the film itself.
Charlotte, Tristan and I now have the job of choosing which of our 800 odd takes to use. Every moment is a potential decision and each decision contributes to the performances attributed to each actor. They do say that actors should always be nice to the editors- and now I suppose I know why. Their performances are very much in our hands now.
So we had better get it right.