Actors cue up for cue cards
“When I started on Saturday Night Live,” says Tina Fey, “I had the choice of wearing contact lenses, which I had never worn before, or glasses, in order to be able to read the cue cards.” Thanks to cue cards, Fey turned wearing glasses into a fresh fashion statement. But more than inspiring the framed accessory, cue cards are used to “cue” actors on their lines.
Also called idiot cards, cue cards became popular during the 1950s when television was a new medium. They are still used in TV today, typically on shows where material is updated often, such as the news-based opening joke monologues on talk shows or, as Fey noted, sketches on Saturday Night Live.
Cue cards will also be occasionally used in film productions. In fact, they date back to the 1930s when John Barrymore (considered one of the world’s best actors of his generation) was aging and unable to recall his lines.
In TV, cue cards are held by a crew member off camera, but due to the intimacy of some shots, this setup does not always work in film. So, when Frances Ford Coppola was working with legendary screen icon Marlon Brando director on The Godfather, for which Brando received an Oscar for Best Actor, he had to put cue cards onto the bodies of actors whose backs were turned to the camera so Brando could read them. It’s rumored this practice was also done via post-it notes on Maria Schneider’s naked body in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, for which Brando was nominated for an Academy Award.
If you’re working in broadcast, on cable shows, in the theater and indie films, or want to beef up your own home videos, Whiteyboard makes 1 x 1.5 ft. dry erase boards ($9.99) and small sticky notes ($2.99) that let you cue your cast in a subtle and environmentally responsible way.