Script Supervisors: The unsung heros

You’re a script supervisor on a film set. It’s hectic, you’re losing light fast and still have a quarter of the scene left to complete. People from EVERY department will fire questions at you quickly and you have to know the answer.

Makeup: “Does she get the bruise on her knee before or after this scene?

Hair stylist: “Does the hair need to match scene 25 or has time passed?

Boom operator: “On what line does Jane stand up?

Sound Mixer: “How many takes did we do for 34 Apple?

Prop Master: “Was the window open on that last shot?

Director: “What was the timing on the rehearsal?

DOP: “What time of day is this?

2nd AC: “Was 23 Baker MOS?

Actor: “Did I look over my left shoulder or right shoulder?

AD: “What time was first turn over?

You get the picture. As a Script Supervisor you need to keep track of all of these things, ensure we have enough coverage to edit the scene AND keep consistent continuity while filming. Although departments such as hair, makeup and props will keep their own continuity, they are relying on you to be their safety net so that nothing slips through the cracks.

To maintain mental sanity, it’s good to have checklists of what to look out for before each take to ensure perfect continuity. Before they start rolling, look at EVERYTHING one by one. First, costume. Are the actors wearing the right costume? Is his shirt tucked in? Has her dress got that rip in the sleeve from the scene before? Then, hair. In front of or tucked behind the ears? It was raining in the last scene so shouldn’t it be a bit damp? Props: We have already shot the scene after this and the character was carrying a briefcase, so we need to see the character pick up a briefcase in this scene. Another one is time of day. One of the Script Supervisor’s jobs is timing the script to know it’s run time and also break it down into narrative days. Do the events in this film take place over a year? A day? An hour? What time is the clock on the wall in the background? Does that time match the time on the actors watch? If it’s midday, then there shouldn’t be long stretched out shadows on the floor.

One thing that can catch anyone out is eye line. Take screengrabs of whatever we are matching this shot to and make sure the actor is looking the right direction AND correct side of the line to cut with the reverse.

You also need to pay attention when actors say their lines. Adlibbing or the occasional slip up is to be expected, just be sure to keep your ears open to nudge them if they get stuck and make a note of any on-set script changes.

However, slip ups and errors don’t occur just on set, they can occur in the script long before filming begins. Part of your pre-production preparation is to get extremely familiar with the script. You are the Script Supervisor after all. You should know it inside, out, back to front. And this will happen naturally as you breakdown the script, noting location, costume, props, character, action, time of day etc. This will also help you spot any errors in the script. For example: a character says “I had such a lovely time on our dinner date today” when we have already established it’s the morning.  Or, it’s Monday, eleven O’clock in the morning and a woman looks out of her office window to see children running up to an ice cream van. Unless this is on purpose and a key beat in the narrative, normally the children would be in school at this time.

No point sugar coating it. There is a lot of pressure and work for a department of one. But every day is different. You know the story better than anyone else. You’re right next to the action, you are the director’s trusty right hand man/woman and you build friendships with every department on set. It’s a crazy job and you may feel like every day you’ve lost a few marbles but it’s one of the coolest and most fun adventures to get paid for doing.

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