“What Do You Do Again?” is Stareable’s series profiling the different film production roles. What roles should we profile next? Let me know in the comments!
Ever wonder who keeps track of what hand an actor holds a coffee mug in from shot to shot? Wonder no longer, because today we’re talking about script supervisors!
What do script supervisors do? Lightning round:
- Keeps track of continuity between takes and shots- where props are placed, if the set has been disturbed, hair and makeup, what hand an actor uses to do actions, etc
- Acts as the editor’s on-set liaison, making sure what is shot can be cut together coherently
- Takes notes for the director and editor about continuity, shooting progress, and other things as needed
You don’t really need to hire one. It can be easy to tell yourself that you don’t need a scripty (the on-set nickname for ‘script supervisor’), especially on an indie project, but you do. You absolutely do. Because there’s nothing more frustrating than editing together all your beautiful footage only to realize there’s a glaring continuity error that you can’t correct or cut around, forcing you to choose between a reshoot or just hoping no one notices.
The scripty just looks at the script. To be sure, “script supervisor” might not be the most inclusive name for this role, because while they do keep an eye on the script, their job ranges far beyond that. Making sure all the lines in a scene are said and captured is important, and does fall under the scripty’s purview, but a film is about a lot more than its words. Chris Cherry, script supervisor for several web series, including mine, reminds you that “you have to think like an editor … because that’s really who you’re working for.” The editor has a lot more concerns than just whether or not all the lines were caught on camera.
Obsessing over one segment of continuity. As Chris puts it, “I think in the beginning you’re probably not paying enough attention because you have to pay attention to EVERYTHING.” A script supervisor has to keep an eye on prop placement, set dressing, actor positions, blocking, lighting, dialog, and so much more, but often new scriptys will get tunnel vision. If a scene has a lot of props, for instance, a newbie might completely forget to pay attention to what hand the props are being held in, which can cause major continuity errors for the editor.
Assuming mistakes are intentional. Directors have a lot on their minds, and usually don’t read along with the script as they watch a take play out. If an actor drops a line or two and the director doesn’t correct them, don’t assume it’s because the director doesn’t care about the line. Quietly let the director know which lines were dropped, in case they want to remind the actors or make the conscious decision to drop them, and then make a note in your production report based on that decision. “Take 2 dropped these lines. Take 3 added them back in.” You get the idea.
Not taking notes. These notes will be helpful to more than just to the editor who you’re representing. “Make a bunch of checklists for yourself,” Chris suggests. That way, you won’t forget all the little things you need to check before the cameras can roll- eyelines (where actors are looking), lighting, props, etc. Anytime something changes, even if it’s just one take, write it down, along with the information on the slate. The more information about each take the editor has before doing a thing, the more efficient the entire post-production process becomes.
How can I learn to be a script supervisor?
Chris suggests that if a production doesn’t have a dedicated scripty on their team, perhaps ask your editor to fill the roll, since scripty duties are largely for the editor in the first place.
Otherwise, as I so often encourage, start as a PA and keep your eyes out for continuity, training yourself to pay attention to everything.
One of the biggest mistakes new filmmakers make is living in the moment- you must always be thinking ahead. Having a dedicated script supervisor will take some of the burden off of you, the showrunner or creator, and make sure that all your hard work is just as impressive in the edit as it is in the moment it was shot.