Keeping continuity on a non-scripted show
March 17, 2006 3:07 PM   Subscribe

TVFilter: I caught the tail end of a reality show on the Discovery Channel and noticed a continuity person in the credits. Continuity? On a reality show?

I understand the usual job description of a continuity person—things like making sure that when a character smokes, the cigarette is the same length between takes, or that if a shirt is ripped, that shirt stays ripped in later shots set in the "future" of the film's timeline. But this doesn't seem to make any sense in a documentary context. So what gives? What does the continuity person do? If it's important, the show I caught was Canada's Worst Handyman.
posted by chrominance to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
(er, I flagged the above post hoping to make a little note about how I didn't notice there was a media & arts category, and could I change it. Instead I just left a flag saying "other." I'm a stupid. Sorry!)
posted by chrominance at 3:10 PM on March 17, 2006

Excellent question chrominance. I've done film production work and there would be absolutely no need for a continuity person in a docuemntary shoot. Alas - reality shows aren't actually documentaries.
posted by AuntLisa at 3:12 PM on March 17, 2006

Yes, I think you stumbled upon their nasty little secret. They are, for the most part, scripted and not "real". The script would be more like "You and Mandy hate what Justin just did and talk about him behind his back..." sort of direction.

All the drama is made up. So, besides being really bad, those shows are even really real.
posted by qwip at 3:17 PM on March 17, 2006

Watching the 'outtakes' show from America's Next Top Model last season, it was very obvious how much the producers had messed with the timelines to get a dramatic storyline. Girl A is the mean one for a while, then gets kicked off the show, suddenly Girl B goes mental and everyone hates her. However, the outtakes show that Girl B had pretty much been hated all along, but this was not suggested until halfway through the show, when this new storyline became interesting.

I'd guess the continuity person would keep the 'storylines' together and ensure that no shots of Girl C hating Girl B appeared before such time as it was 'dramatically necessary'.
posted by Gortuk at 3:18 PM on March 17, 2006

Documentaries have standards. Making things up is frowned upon.

On the contrary, "reality" television is just regular TV, shot in a particular style. The people are coached and prepared. There are plots. Perhaps the actors do not have their lines memorized, but they're ad-libbing according to a pre-set story arc, and they're expected to stick to it. Things are shot out of order. Everything is fake. Sorry.

Queer Eye is supposed to take place in one day? No, complete home renovations don't take one day.

The Apprentice? Faked.

Other shows? Faked.

posted by jellicle at 3:22 PM on March 17, 2006

Somewhat related - on Trading Spaces, they have everyone wear the same clothes both days for the sake of continuity. Sometimes they'll shoot something (like the art project) on day 1, but then edit it into the show so it looks like it happened on day 2. Viewers can't tell because they are wearing the same clothes.
I agree with jellicle. Home improvement shows are not documentaries.
posted by clh at 3:36 PM on March 17, 2006

I knew "reality" television wasn't actually documentary, and was aware that storylines are often concocted from the shot footage. (Though this is a lower-rent, not-so-dramatic kind of reality show, so I'm not sure if the same amount of behind-the-scenes tweaking goes on.) I'm still a bit unclear, though, as to what role a continuity person would have. Is that person's job all in post-production, then, or do they have a role to play "on set"?
posted by chrominance at 3:43 PM on March 17, 2006

Reality TV is not even remotely documentary -- they would need to make sure there is some continuity between the reams of edits they make from the hours of crap they shoot.

I think Gortuk is putting you on the right track -- the main story arc in reality TV is essentially fabricated (I think in some shows, like Trump's, it's even rigged). I bet the continuity person has to make sure that the shots picked for inclusion make sense with last week's episode, and this episode (was Gabi the bitch or Janey? This scene has Janey being a bitch -- she's currently the sweetheart, we can't put that in. In this scene, Joe is obviously very distant in time from the next scene, so we need some other edit to fabricate this feeling we are going for...)
posted by teece at 3:48 PM on March 17, 2006

I go with clh's answer...continuity would just be on the shoot [not in the edit suite picking shots] making sure that clothes [and other changing items] are consistent.

I once shot a concert over two nights but we were going to edit them to make one night's show. The performers had to wear the same clothes both nights and have their hair the same [and while we didn't have a continuity person for this job - we sure had to make sure it was consistent].

I imagine on reality shows they would do pick-up shots later when they realised what the story was going to be - eg they shoot on Monday and by Tuesday realise that Greg and Stacey hate each other. So on Wednesday they shoot a pick-up shot of Stacey glaring at Greg in her Monday clothes, so it can be cut in later. The continuity person would be responsible for the accuracy in the pick-ups.

Also as pointed out earlier QEFTSG is not shot in one day so a continuity person would have to look after everyones hair, make-up and outfits [as well as the state of the house].
posted by meech at 6:44 PM on March 17, 2006

continuity would just be on the shoot [not in the edit suite picking shots] making sure that clothes [and other changing items] are consistent.

This is the only explanation that makes any sense in terms of the job title "Continuity". The continuity person makes sure that people are wearing the same shoes as they were in previous shots. It's a very dull job.

Everyone else's weary cynicism is missing the point completely. The people manipulating timelines and plotlines and tweaking the audience's perceptions of the contestants are producers or production assistants. Of course, if the manipulation involves action appearing to happen on the same day when it didn't really, the continuity person is part of maintaining the illlusion, but they're not the person deciding what illusion to maintain.

And to be even more prosaic, reality shows often have hosts. The host does all kinds of links and pieces to camera and expository things like that. It's not really misleading the audience if the host appears in the same shirt with their hair combed the same way for all these sections, it's just avoiding distractions.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:56 PM on March 17, 2006

I read an interview with the Queer Eye guys where one of them said that the show actually takes place over *four* days.. but editing makes it seem like one day.
posted by mrbill at 9:08 PM on March 17, 2006

I'd not thought about time compression, host continuity, etc. I'm curious as to whether the manipulation on these shows is so overt as to actually shoot pick-ups, but then I don't generally read up on just how fake reality shows are these days.

If anyone has further insights, I'd love to hear them.
posted by chrominance at 11:09 PM on March 17, 2006

I've known a couple of people that ended up on reality shows (one person from my graduating class was on one of those 'group date' things, and another was on the UK version of Beauty and the Geek). Both of them have said that they were made to film most scenes multiple times (especially scenes when people are being dismissed), and that the things you're seeing are almost totally different from the reality of what happened.

For things like 'The Real World', they shoot so much footage that just about anything can be cobbled together to portray whatever feelings or events the producers want.

I've also read that on shows like 'While You Were Out' and 'Trading Spaces' and stuff that they'll show people using sewing machines, but there's really no thread in it, or that they'll do the 'first seeing the room reaction' a couple of times, and then call cut, but leave the camera rolling.
posted by lhall at 12:59 AM on March 18, 2006

"In yesterday’s LA Times, columnist Joel Stein breaks news that some reality shows “are secretly crafted in advance by writers.” His big scoop is a 19-page Queer Eye “second draft” script [PDF] for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. It shows that “[e]very moment is planned in advance, including a few specific lines for the straight guy to deliver, which Bravo says is not unusual for any reality show,” he writes.
Stein also reports on The Simple Life 3, which he says “is so unreal that people who produce the show refer to it as a ‘hybrid sitcom’ or a ‘soft-scripted show,’ a fact Fox does not deny.”

Link to story.

to Queer Eye script (PDF)
posted by iviken at 3:08 AM on March 18, 2006

This kind of makes sense to me in a not-entirely-evil way.

Let's say A tells B how much she, A, hates C. If B later goes to C and spills the beans, and it becomes a whole huge thing, you need a continuity person to make sure you (a) have and (b) included footage of, or at least an explanation of, A telling B.

Similarly, on a home makeover show, you don't want an awesome chair to appear in a final shot without explaining where the chair was found and how it got in the room in the first place.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:56 PM on March 18, 2006

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