This is a fairly common question that you should not be ashamed to ask. I’ve talked with many seasoned professionals in the film industry who really have no extent the work a script supervisor actually does for a production. Unlike a grip or Teamster, a lot of our responsibilities aren’t easily observable. While this isn’t a place to go into every detail of the job, here’s a few common tasks:
- Continuity, we’re in charge of it. Even if you shoot your film in chronological order you can still run into continuity issues that can take your audience out of the scene. Script Supervisors are known for being the front line. Not only do we prep and break down all the continuity in your script (and I do mean ALL), we also liaise with all other departments to make sure everyone is on the same page. We will know things like how long a scene is running as it’s being shot, what time it is in the story, what day it’s supposed to be, what a character was wearing in that scene that was shot a month ago in a different country and exactly where the little piece of food that stained the lead actor’s shirt in that one really good take you wanted to use so that we can recreate it.
We’re the connection between pre/post and actual production. We work with the assistant directors and all the other keys to make sure everything is set before any cameras roll. On set we are exhaustive sources of information. What’s the camera roll? What drive are we on? What sound roll is this? That’s just extreme basics (but unfortunately these things can easily fall between the cracks). We ultimately wind up memorizing dialogue and movements for whole scenes so that we can be prepared during takes. We take meticulous notes on just about everything from the lens used on a shot to the weather that day, to almost anything else that might be needed for off set crew to know exactly what what shot, how, and where they’ll find it. This includes producers who can’t be on set (I can even shoot them an e-mail to update them on first shots automatically if they want to feel like they’re there), assistant editors, editors, post sound, and visual effects, as well as other units. The digital workflow I employ allows for most of this to be delivered instantly across the world. These notes, especially the high tech notes I provide, save tons of time both during shooting and during post, which equals saved money, often quite a bit more than you’d think. For example what if you do an action several times during one take? Someone could sit through all the bad actions, or they could just jump straight to the timecode of the good ones which I’ve provided. Another way Script Supervisor’s save your productions time and money is allowing for a way to diagnose some potential shooting problems early on in the shoot so that they can be corrected. We note things like first shot of the day (automatically and synced over the internet so it’s argument proof and accurate to the minute) so you can see just how long it’s taking to get up and running. Or maybe you notice that we’re doing a lot of and/or long takes that are killing your days. We also keep track of estimated running time, so you know how much you’ve shot. These are just a few examples of ways we can help diagnose possible issues. Oh and a lot of distributors consider script supervisor notes as part of your deliverables. We also try to keep in constant contact with post production as we’re shooting if possible to help troubleshoot anything that might be an issue later, for example not being able to read slates because they’re too fast.
- We are like the memory of a production. I explained a little bit about the importance of the notes we take above but even that is underselling the nature of what a really good Script Supervisor can do. I personally like to form relationships with directors, DP’s, and other crew members who might have notes for post production, or maybe have thoughts about other things during the day. For example I tell directors to tell me whatever is going through their minds during a take. This way my notes can contain things s/he won’t remember when in the editing room later, like why s/he chose a particular take as their favorite. We also write down literally every word an actor says in a scene and tie that to specific takes so you always know which one had the funny improvised line. With the responsibility of knowing everything about your production comes the very serious job of discretion. What happens on set stays on set.
- We know what shots you absolutely need. We’re not the DP or Director obviously but it is a big part of our job to make sure what is being shot can be properly edited together. We know all the things like proper eyeliner and the 180° line. We’ll try to prevent you from overshooting if you are worried about that, but we’ll also help with things like making sure appropriate coverage is gotten so an easy time in the editing room is virtually guaranteed.
- Unfortunately a lot of people might view us as some sort of data recorders and think a PA can easily do our job. Besides all the intricacies of knowing many different things about the operations of many different departments that can only come through experience, as well as cameras, media, and workflows, we also know how to act professionally on set. That big name actor isn’t going to intimidate us or make us freak out, we’re going to treat them as fellow professionals. We know many various acting styles and can in most cases pick up on a particular actor’s preferred methods of working so we know the right time to deliver anything that we may need to relate to them. This is a part of the job many producers overlook when hiring a Script Supervisor but it is very important. The same applies to directors and their various styles. I’ve worked with all levels of experience and directing types and can adjust the way I work to best suit the production.
For more information about script supervising and a script supervisor’s duties please visit IATSE Local 161 or NYSSN. And now that you’ve learned about script supervisors in general, let me take you through why you should hire me specifically for your next project here. Or you can contact me now!