What is the role of a script supervisor?
- Continuity of storyline
- Continuity of action and dialogue
- Editor on the floor
- Recording and accessing all information regarding the screenplay and any scenes which have already been shot
- Knowing if there is a need for any additional coverage or re-shoot or link shot
- To have the ability to make definitive technical decisions in a crisis or when there is doubt
- Liaison with the film director before and during principal photography regarding all of this
What are the functions of a Script Supervisors job?
- Timing breakdown
- Continuity breakdown
- Screen-day breakdowns
- Page-count breakdowns
- Attending rehearsals
- Making sure any changes in dialogue or action which occur in rehearsals are given to the Production office and distributed to all Heads of Department and Cast (as pink pages)
- Checking that all aspects of continuity are in place before shooting i.e. proactively working in advance to prevent errors which may arise
- Attending production meeting prior to principal photography and bringing up any of those problems
- Matching action and dialogue during shooting
- Taking reference photographic information to be available at all times for matching purposes (Polaroid or Digital)
- Knowledge of scene coverage discussed in advance of shooting each day with director and sometimes producing a shot list for key personnel
- Ensuring that all shots will have matching eyelines based on Master coverage and that camera is appropriately placed
- Making sure of the execution and completion of that coverage and to offer advice when (and if) additional cover is required - or when a particular shot does not work
- To provide the editor with appropriate shot information of that coverage both on Continuity Reports and on the Marked Up Script
- To provide editor with all information regarding script changes made to either dialogue or action during shooting on a Marked Up Script
- Providing information to the production office noting what has been achieved each shooting day on a Daily Production Report
- To keep running totals of Scene Timings and Pages Counts in order that the script runs approximately to overall time
- This is a function that is rarely needed these days as the editor begins work immediately and is cutting on Avid as we shoot often having a rough cut soon after end of principal photography
- Usually there are wrap days for script supervisor in order to get all the Marked-Up Script (s) in order to finally hand over to editor
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What are a Script Supervisor's responsibilities (as above and more)?
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At what point does a Script Supervisor become involved with a production?
This tends to be the choice of the production office. If a timing or breakdown is required during the early days of pre-production, a script supervisor might be required to provide this - possibly involving him/her in (say) a week's work well before shooting starts. This is not always the script supervisor who goes on to actually do the film (which is not without it's problems). With that week completed, the script supervisor might start on the production a week or two before shooting commences in order to complete paperwork on pre-production requirements (see previous) and to attend rehearsals.
Alternatively a script supervisor might be required to start on a production 2 - 3 weeks directly before shooting to achieve the above.
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How does the job of a Script Supervisor differ between the alternative mediums?
What does a Script Supervisor do differently depending on whether the script falls into:-
- Feature Film intended for theatrical release in cinemas world-wide with a studio or independent financier (this may eventually show on TV which is irrelevant)
- Single drama for TV
- Multi Episodic TV Drama or Soap productions
- Live TV shows
- Commercials for Cinema or TV
One script (between 90 - 120 minutes in length) prepped in advance. Job described at length above.
Single Drama for TV
One script (probably 60 mins in length) prepped in advance. This will be prepared and shot pretty much like a feature film and would require similar skills. However, reports back from editors working exclusively in TV indicate that many script supervisors working in this area (who do not have feature film training) do not give them adequate information if any information at all.
Multi Episode TV Drama / Soap
Most programmes will give adequate prep time but some companies (especially BBC by all reports) seem to think that the script supervisor only pre-production requirement is to time and breakdown the script. They are not normally required to attend rehearsals and therefore they meet the actors for the first time on day one of principal photography. The ability to do a good job often depends on how much experience the director in question has and whether or not he/she knows what a script supervisors job function is (and what they might be capable of). Some script supervisors quote experience of having to spend the first week or so trying to get the director to understand that she/he is his right hand man as opposed to someone who is there to trip him/her up.
If shot in a TV studio multi camera, then the 'script supervisor' or TV PA (as they used to be known) would work from the gallery - calling the shots to each camera operator before his camera is cut to by the vision mixer. Under these circumstances the PA prepares the camera script, & attends rehearsals before hand, but is not responsible for continuity as such - she may notice eyelines, but this is chiefly attended to by the director when he/she does a camera script.
Formats might be as follows:
- 1 x 60 mins (e.g.. Dalziel and Pascoe)
- Min 3 days - max. 5 days prep
- No rehearsal
- No read through
- Recces, Production meeting are optional for S.S. But will be taken out of the allocated prep time
- 1 x 55 mins (e.g.. Holby City )
- I week prep
- No rehearsals
- No read through
- Recces, Production meeting as above
- 3 x 25 mins (i.e.. Doctors)
- 3 days prep
- No rehearsal
- No Read through
- Recces, Prod meeting as above
- The script is usually given on the first day of prep in whatever stage it is at. The immediate job in hand is to do a timing, and page count. This information is put into a chart and given to the production office. This takes up a day
- The script supervisor will read and break down the script(s) and make a list of queries and notes to take to the Production meeting or, if not attending (for reasons given above) speak to the Director and/or 1 st AD
- Sometimes the script supervisor might have a block of 3 to 5 25min episodes to prep and shoot. Whilst she/he is in prep, another script supervisor might be prepping her/his block to shoot and they will 'leap-frog' each others episodes
- Depending on the director's experience, the script supervisor does try to get involved in talking about shots and set-ups. Often though, the director is of the opinion that the script supervisor is there to get his/her tea or coffee and be his personal secretary. So ultimately this might have to be achieved by giving the necessary information to the first AD or DOP
- The script supervisor does get involved with the actors but has to build up their trust very fast. Many directors do not like this and want the script supervisor to talk directly to them and they then impart the information to the actor personally. However, often they misinterpret the information and impart it incorrectly
- Continuity Reports vary. If it's a single camera situation then standard forms are used. If it's multi-camera then a special form might be made up just listing the shots but not including camera info i.e.:
- Cam A M2S Sheila/John favouring John
- Cam B M2S Sheila/John favouring Sheila
When shooting on tape:
- Problems that emerge when shooting something like HOLBY CITY or CASUALTY or DOCTORS - which are studio based only - are that when a tape has been shot (duration 30/40 mins) or in the case of multi-camera several tapes (duration x no. of cameras), a runner appears to collect the tapes and the notes. On many of these programmes the script supervisor's role in prompting/blocking/rehearsals, etc is taken away as the first priority seems to become the notes. This means that often the script supervisor only manages to see the last crew rehearsal or even the first camera rehearsal which is often too late to deal with problems
- Specifically on DOCTORS, the speed of shooting doesn't really enable someone to be a script supervisor as that person's role becomes about logging the timecode, shots and directors thoughts
- Even the actors do not expect the script supervisor to have any particular interest in their action continuity
- Editors get the notes - either as continuity notes or as a shot list depending on the speed of shooting and the number of cameras used. They also expect marked up scripts
At the end of each shooting day the script supervisor will provide a Daily Log which goes to the production office. This is then returned to the script supervisor a day later after all departments have input their particular information in order for her/him to complete a Progress Report (this is done by the Production coordinator in film)
There is no post-production role.
Live TV Shows
- Depending on whether it's a weekly show or daily, the time you get the script can vary anything from a couple of weeks before hand (1st draft) to the day of the show (if a daily live show). Changes up until the last minute at any rate.
- If it's a "one off" directors will camera script it including any music numbers, and the PA will call the shots at the record / TX. attending rehearsals if required.
- If it's a formatted show once the director has scripted the first show, it generally stays the same for the rest of the run. (quiz shows etc) and quite often in this case the shots do not need calling by the PA (they're usually more worried about timings by then!)
- Camera cards are created by the PA (based on the camera script) and given to the camera supervisor on day of rehearsals.
- Timings are broken down before hand and a running order created for the programme. During rehearsals timings can be amended, and during the record / TX it is the PA who keeps the timings (sometimes a second PA is needed on live shows to do this, if it's a busy show)
- If the show is pre-recorded the PA will take notes for the edit. No. of takes / time-codes in and out etc.
- If the show is pre-recorded the PA will quite often attend the edit, though this does vary from production to production (usual budget costs!)
- Vision mixers will be given music numbers up front (if possible) so that they have a chance to listen to the music, otherwise they get their script on day of rehearsal.
- The gallery PA is responsible for liaising with Presentation, and for getting the programme on and off air at the determined times. Also to give timings to the presenters for each sequence, and for cueing VT's and grams alongside the director (some directors like to do this themselves, some don't)
- Eyelines and continuity don't really come into live programmes (unless there's a pre-recorded sequence we have to link in/out of)
The script may or may not be sent to the script supervisor in advance. If it is, however, it is very likely to change on the day as the agency writer will be on set doing last minute Client requests.
The script supervisor will arrive on the day and (assuming that this is the first time laying eyes on it) will be expected to be conversant with it within possibly 5 - 10 minutes (until the director has arrived anyway).
The director will then take the first AD, the DOP, the Operator and the Script Supervisor through how he/she imagines either the entire commercial (in the case of a dramatic story which works all in one) or part only.
The script supervisor will need to find out pretty quickly what the remainder of the director's intentions are in order to make sure that she/he is on the same page and that irreversible mistakes aren't committed to celluloid. There will often be a storyboard which is a very helpful indicator of the director's intentions.
Whilst the first shot is being lit the script supervisor will time each element of the dialogue against the script and storyboard provided, and then advise during shooting whether that timing is being achieved.
Checking the continuity of action and dialogue is often not as important as it would be in dramatic linear storytelling.
Providing editing notes is essential. However, these notes vary hugely from script supervisor to script supervisor.
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What skills do you need to become a script supervisor?
This is a matter of opinion really but might include:
- Computer literacy
- Digital camera literacy
- Paperwork organisational skills
- Ability to observe and retain visual information
- Ability to understand technical information and learn
- Personality skills
- Communication skills
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