Continuity is key in filmmaking, especially when most films are shot out of sequence with scenes mixed up depending on the production schedule. This is where the script supervisor comes in, their job to study the intricacies of the screenplay and ensure that there’s continuity across all departments.
From costumes, hair, and make-up, to locations, set decoration and dressing, the script supervisor is across it all. They’re an essential part of the production team from the very start of the filmmaking process, and are very well-respected by the entire crew.
As script supervisors, they are relied upon heavily by department heads, producers, and directors to keep track of everything that’s in the script, both in the day to day and overall running of the production.
Despite their integral role, the job of the script supervisor is to go unnoticed by the audience when the final product is shown in theaters around the world.
The Role of a Script Supervisor
As we’ve already discussed, the script supervisor is on board from day one of production. So, what does a script supervisor do on a film set and beyond?
Responsibilities During Pre Production
Before a script supervisor steps foot on set, they need to ensure they know the script inside out. This is where a full script analysis and breakdown is required, so they are prepared for their on-set role.
A script breakdown allows the script supervisor to identify all the technical and creative elements for each department, as well as create reports for every single camera shot. There is a wide range of elements that the script supervisor will highlight, including characters, props, wardrobe, special effects (SFX), visual effects (VFX), sound, and special equipment.
The script supervisor also times the script, estimating the time of each shot and the overall running time. Quite a feat!
The script breakdown can be done manually, however this process can easily confuse and become disorderly very quickly. Technology is a wonderful thing, with more screenwriting software offering automated options for script breakdown.
If there’s no script breakdown, the script supervisor’s job will be near-impossible when they arrive on set.
Want to break down your own script? Click here for our guide on how to do a script breakdown using our very own Celtx software!
Responsibilities During Production
Here is where the work really begins! The script supervisor or ‘scripty’ will monitor absolutely everything. They’re even the timekeeper for the shoot, ensuring that every department is collating efficiently. You’ll mostly find them in Video Village, keeping a close eye on the monitors, ready to identify any issues.
The ‘scripty’ will take records of everything that happens on set, both written and photographed. They produce daily production reports and shot notes. They’ll be there during rehearsal periods, ensuring actors are reading the correct lines of dialogue and taking notes for continuity before the camera rolls.
Shot notes are directly related to the different camera shots being filmed and what was said by members of the crew, most notably the director.
To avoid any continuity errors (we all have a wonderful time pointing out such errors when we go to the movies!), the script supervisor will keep track of where props and set decorations are placed and in relation to one another. They’ll make notes and take pictures of the beginning and end of each scene.
The attention of the ‘scripty’ doesn’t just stay with inanimate objects. They also keep an eye on the script and the actors’ movements. For example, if they pick up an object before reciting a particular line of dialogue or have a specific eye-line, the script supervisor will make a note of this for future takes.
Daily production reports detail what was shot that day, what is left to shoot, or if anything was missed to be reshot at a later date. ‘Scriptys’ will include a log of:
- When shooting takes place.
- When breaks began and ended.
- The pages, scenes, and minutes shot.
- The above details from the previous day’s shoot.
- The entire script.
- To-do list.
- Scenes shot, the number of retakes, and the number of wild tracks (tracks used to obtain a recording of dialogue usually inaudible due to set noise such as narration, phone conversations, ambient and environmental sounds).
During the shoot, the supervisor also ensures the shooting script is up to date. Any changes made during filming are recorded to refer to in post-production, for continuity or if a scene needs to be revisited. The ‘scripty’ will inform each team of the changes.
Responsibilities During Post-Production
The script supervisor’s job is not yet complete after the film set wraps. Providing the editor and post-production teams with all notes collected during the shoot. It’s like putting a giant jigsaw puzzle back together, but instead it’s a production book usually presented as the script with detailed notes, production reports and totals.
Script supervisors work with all filmmaking departments, but are closest to the director and script editor. Of course, due to the nature of their responsibilities, they have regular contact with actors, the hair and make-up departments as well as production.
The ‘scripty’ can often save the director’s bacon when it comes to the detail. The director is looking at the bigger picture, the overall shot in front of them. However, the script supervisor’s specialty is continuity, so they’re looking out for the finer details in set, wardrobe, action etc.
For the director, it’s also another set of eyes and perspective on the film’s construct. Therefore, it is the script supervisor’s responsibility to inform the director when something’s wrong. As with all working relationships, there will be times where script supervisor and director don’t agree. It can be a delicate balance in collaboration.
Qualifications of a Script Supervisor
No formal qualifications are required to become a script supervisor. However, if you are looking to pursue a career in script supervision and are keen on a vocational qualification, there are many course options available in both Bachelor’s and Masters levels at well-renowned colleges and institutions.
Not sure whether film school is for you? Check out our post: Is a Film Degree Really Worth it?
Other aspiring script supervisors complete intensive courses, workshops, and networking.
Like many roles within the film and television industries, experience and knowledge are what will set you apart from other candidates. If you aren’t able to formally study, try studying films and TV shows as you watch. Break them down into shots, time the scenes, study the pacing.
If you do have the opportunity to work on productions, collate a showreel of all your best projects and work as you go. Over time, you’ll have a brilliant portfolio to show your skills – remember, show, don’t tell people how awesome you and your work are!
Many production assistants forge a path into script supervision. They spend a few years in a junior position, before moving onto assist a working script supervisor in their work. During these early years, you can network, build a contact list, and familiarize yourself with the industry and film set roles.
A minimum of 30 weeks working on a film set is required before you can move onto script supervision on multi-camera productions.
Essentially, script supervisors need to be organized, have a sharp eye for detail, and be great communicators. With many voices clamoring to be heard on a film set, it’s important that the script supervisor’s is one of the loudest. They work independently, a whole department of their own, and should therefore be ready to speak up when there’s an error.
Not to mention, script supervisors must love taking notes and collating them.
Challenges Faced by Script Supervisors
As we’ve said, a film set is full of diverse voices. There are bound to be conflicts at times when crew members could become irritated with each other, and with the script supervisor. Therefore, the script supervisor needs to always remain calm and assertive to ensure everything moves smoothly and any issues can be resolved quickly.
Yes, the ‘scripty’ voice may seem critical, but their role is crucial to the overall production.
Unforeseen production changes also present an opportunity for things to go awry on a film set. Notes provided by a script supervisor can help to prevent as much disruption as possible, as well as the extensive prep completed pre-production.
This is why preparation for a script supervisor is vital to ensuring the shoot goes as smoothly as possible. If every shot and scene is broken down beforehand, the script supervisor is then best prepared to alleviate any production mishaps.
It’s the same story for the tight schedules a production is under. Detailed notes, not just in pre-production, but on every day of the shoot, mean that small changes to call sheets and schedules can be made accurately and quickly. The pressure can be overwhelming, which again is where prep is key.
Following our deep dive into the job of the script supervisor, it is surprising that many directors and producers don’t hire them for their shoots. However, as we’ve seen, the ‘scripty’ brings so much more than just another pair of eyes on set.
By having one person across the entire production, focusing on continuity from one shot to another, plus across the entire development of plot points and character arcs, it can take a film shoot from good to great and beyond!
As script supervisors are privy to the workings of all departments, they often progress into a director, producer, writer, or script editor role. The experience they gain on a film set allows them to build a wealth of knowledge which they’re able to use in many different areas of film production.
Do you fancy looking into a script supervising career? Knowledge of and experience on a film set will kickstart you, alongside an accredited course. Whether you are looking to go down the formal education route or not, networking and building a contact list will also help you on your way to securing jobs and that first vital experience on set.
Make sure your communication and organization skills are top notch. Even practice breaking down a script using pre-existing scripts you can find online. Also look out for how continuity and shots are constructed in your favorite films and television shows.
Alternatively, if you are pursuing a career in directing, producing, script editing or writing, script supervision could be your first step.