- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2014

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - Peoria native Helen Caldwell isn’t fond of mistakes. In fact, it’s her job to make sure they aren’t made on camera.

Caldwell - who was the script supervisor of AMC hit TV show “Breaking Bad” and who will serve the same role on the upcoming spinoff “Better Call Saul” - has been working at her craft for more than 30 years.

“It’s my job to keep track of everyone’s mistakes, from the lens on the camera to which hand (an actor) picked something up with. I make sure there is continuity with wardrobe, hair, makeup and wounds, because you shoot everything out of order,” said Caldwell, who splits her time between California and New Mexico and who was recently in Peoria visiting family.

Caldwell, who graduated Richwoods High School in 1971, took shorthand and typing classes then worked for a secretary for several years. She moved to California and started the Fast Women Typing Co. in 1980, typing up scripts for writers in the days before the computer was ubiquitous. Actor, director and screenwriter John Cassavetes hired her as a writer’s secretary and later asked her to be his script supervisor.

“I said, ‘I’ve never been on a movie set in my life.’ He said, ‘Well, you’re smart; you’ll learn.’”

The first film set she worked on was Cassavetes’ “Love Streams.” It was 1983. Caldwell was 29 and made more money working on the independent film than she ever had. From there, she worked on everything from “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” to “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey” and “Eight Seconds.” Her TV credits include “In Plain Sight,” ”Colombo” and “Huff.”

Details matter

Caldwell said early in her career a veteran scriptwriter taught her how to take detailed script notes. She also worked with a script editor, to see how the tiniest of details were important.

“If you shoot an interior shot with a guy walking out a door with a coat over his arm, three weeks later when you shoot the exterior shot of him walking out, you have to make sure he has the same coat over the same arm,” she said.

While it may seem like a small discrepancy wouldn’t be too noticeable, there are people who relish finding continuity errors. On Internet Movie Database, most films have a “goofs” section. In “Shawshank Redemption,” for example, a handful of bullets are neatly lined up in one shot; in the next shot, they are scattered. In the horse head scene of “Godfather,” first there’s blood on the bed, but in the next shot it’s gone.

To make sure goofs don’t happen on her watch, Caldwell first reads through a script to look for errors in structure or continuity, such as references to days or the timing of events. When on set, she takes meticulous notes - everything from whether a car has its headlights on in a shot, to what side a character’s hair is parted on, to whether a character is wearing a wedding ring. It all has to match in later shots of the same scene.

“My job is tedious but I like saving the day and my job puts me in a position where I can save the day a lot,” she said.

‘Best job ever’

Caldwell, who joined “Breaking Bad” in its second season, says it was “the best job ever,” with top-notch writers, crew members and actors. After watching the first season, she knew she was joining something special.

The series features Bryan Cranston as struggling high school chemistry teacher Walter White, who was diagnosed with cancer. To leave his family financially stable, he turns to producing and selling methamphetamine with a former student. The show was widely acclaimed, winning a host of Emmys and Golden Globes and charming critics and viewers alike.

“The first episode, the acting and writing just grabbed me right away,” she said, though the work could be grueling.

A 12- to 14-hour shift might net just 4 minutes of footage. After time on the set there were daily reports to hand in, and scripts to read at home. On a typical work day Caldwell might log 5 or 6 hours of sleep and head back out the next day to do it all again. But the quality of the show made it worthwhile, and the cast and crew became like family.

“Bryan Cranston is one of the most pleasant, kindest, funniest, most talented men I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” she said. “He’d be goofing off like crazy, then the camera would start rolling and right away he’d turn into Heisenberg, it was remarkable.”

Caldwell said the writers on “Breaking Bad” were increasingly secretive about the plot lines near the end, as Walter White fell deeper into the dark spiral of crime. Parts of the script they took home to read were blacked out.

“We would chomp at the bit to get scripts,” she said. “The minute I got a script - the minute anybody got a script - we sat down and read it as soon as we got it. We’d be like, ‘Oh my god, what could happen next?’”

‘Saul’ spinoff

Caldwell will get to work with many of the same cast and crew on “Better Call Saul,” a spinoff about shady lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). Creator Vince Gilligan recently told Rolling Stone that the show will be a prequel of sorts to “Breaking Bad.”

Two “Breaking Bad” writers are already on staff, and more may join, Caldwell said. The show is expected to start shooting in May in Albuquerque, N.M.

“I’m not privy to plot lines yet, but we can’t tell those things anyway,” Caldwell said.

Before shooting starts, Caldwell hopes to pick up some shorter jobs in early spring, when work on pilot TV shows picks up. That shouldn’t be a problem, given her history.

“I’ve been doing this for 31 years,” she said. “I don’t send out resumes or look for work, they find me.”


Source: (Peoria) Journal-Star, https://bit.ly/1eBwqI3


Information from: Journal Star, https://pjstar.com

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