Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Tip #60: Continuity is critical

By Daniel Parkes (Director)

Not long ago film sets had a "continuity girl". This term has been replaced with the more politically correct "script supervisor" a job that entails more than just continuity. But that should not undermine the importance of continuity. Since most films are shot out of sequence and on different days, maintaining the consistency of characters, wardrobe and props over the duration of the film is an unenviable but critical task. However, failure to do so can cause an audience to be distracted from the story.

The fact that it is important is seen in that almost every film ever made has some at least some minor continuity issues. The most common are:

Common Continuity issues
  • different head positions (especially when filming reversals)
  • changes in hair position (especially women e.g. -behind the ear or not)
  • hats/clothing (buttoned or unbuttoned, collars up or down?)
  • food (if an eating scene how much food is on the plate at different stages of the scene)
  • cigarettes (length of)
  • weather/lighting (bright day, dark day)
With the popularity of such film websites as IMDB, it has now become a popular pastime to spot continuity errors in films (check the goofs section on most IMDB entries). Apparently, one of the earliest continuity errors appears in Charlie Chaplin's The Property Man (1914) when his hat momentarily disappears when he steps into a room.

Five Famous Continuity Errors
  1. The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy’s hair noticeably changes length when she first encounters the Scarecrow. Her ruby-red shoes shoes inexplicably become black when she and the Scarecrow fight with the apple tree.
  2. The Godfather. When Sonny and his car are shot up at the toll booth the shattered windshield is shown undamaged in the next shot.
  3. Pretty Woman. When Julia Roberts’ character is eating breakfast, she goes back and forth between eating a pancake and a bagel.
  4. Return of the Jedi. When Lando says to Han Solo, “Go on you pirate,” his whole outfit changes. Not only does it change colour but the strap and rank changes sides.
  5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. When Harry is sorted into Gryffindor he sits down on the right side of the table, and a few moments later he is magically sitting on the left side of the table next to Hermione.
The solution to avoid continuity errors in the pre-digital age, was to have not only a person dedicated to taking lots of notes, but also use a Polariod camera to catalogue a visual record. With now even the average mobile phone taking high resolution images, photographs can play a major role in helping prevent possible issues.

Preventative measures:
  • Keep actors aware of their own continuity
  • Shoot a master shot that becomes the template for all close ups
  • Have a script supervisor who pays close attention to details
  • Make notes in the script to remind you and the team of potential issues
  • Take digital photographs of the cast and set at all times
When you discover continuity issues and errors during post-production, an editor's trick is to cover these by cutting to wide shots or cutaways that distract the viewer from noticing.


  1. It would also be fabulous if on set department crew would watch for their own continuity. As a script supervisor, I am there to be their safety net, not do their job for them. They need to be tracking changes and what happens to their items during filming. I am only one set of eyes and can only do so much. I am sick of the buck stopping with me. Some responsibility HAS to fall on each department responsible.

  2. You are using a photo of my image without my consent. I have contacted you multiple times across the years since this posting requesting that the image be removed, but you have not acted. This image is not in the public domain and you do not have the right to use it. The fact that you will not carry out the very simple act of removing this photo is extremely disrespectful to both me, and to the film industry in general. Please follow through and immediately remove this image.

  3. Itsuka Yamasaki18 March 2017 at 19:03

    Hi Anonymous.
    I'm one of the producers. Which is the particular image you would like to be removed?