What does a script supervisor do on set?

Script Supervisor

If you are interested in the world of screenwriting and film, but not sure where to start in terms of writing, you’re in luck. Your job prospects aren’t limited to being hold up in your room, agonizing over proper formatting. You could take on far more practical roles within a film production.

For some, it may come as no surprise films are shot entirely out of scene sequence. This can be due to budgeting, time limitations, studio space or availability of locations, adverse weather conditions…the list of circumstances can go on and on!

This is why any production needs a script supervisor.

A script supervisor–also known as continuity supervisor–has a very hands-on-approach within the production of a motion picture, as they are present during all filming sequences on set. Essentially, the script supervisor keeps detailed records of dialogue, sound, set design, camera position, slate and clapperboard info, costume, make-up and hair, props and lighting. This is to ensure that filming makes continuous and coherent sense for the sake of the story. They’ll also be aware of post-production and funding, and will maintain a close relationship with directors and actors to ensure seamless coherence.

1. Collecting and transcribing

Script supervisors must keep script revisions ready on-set, alongside continuity notes (usually printed on different coloured paper to differentiate from previous notes). Instead of working on a spec script, the script supervisor works on the shooting script. This falls under the camera department, and means having a good eye for the minutest of details, as well as keeping an exhaustive track of where everything was on set and how it is laid out before the next shooting day–or scene–begins. Everything has to be consistent, or the end result will suffer.

2. Script Coverage

In some cases (usually in smaller production or casting companies) you might also be appointed to deal with coverage. This is basically reading and analysing spec scripts with the intention of discerning whether they have potential. Script supervisors follow a set of guidelines and detail a quick breakdown of the synopsis. Note: Even though the first ten pages of a screenplay is usually all that it takes to get the yay or nay, often screenwriters don’t include a breakdown, premise and logline. That’s your job!

3. Breaking down the Script

As script supervisor, it will probably be your job to break down the script according to scene length (camera time). Generally, one script page amounts to one minute screen-time, but this isn’t always true, considering stunts or VFX requirements. This is also to help prepare running times, as later on you will also keep track of the slate/clapper information.  If the screenwriter has used script writing software like Celtx, then it will automatically make each page of your script about 8 inches long. This is because each inch of the page is identified as 1/8th. Say for example, a scene is about 4/8ths of a page, in running time it translates as half a minute. If, like me, you had no idea this even existed, and especially if you wrote your script yourself, you probably find yourself acting out each and every scene whilst a slightly bewildered friend times you. In my case, myself and my co-writer broke down our scene lengths by acting them out in a small, stuffy campus room. It was time-consuming, tedious, and slightly ridiculous, but I promise you it does work. You get an idea of where things are too long and what needs re-editing, especially dialogue.

4. Colour-Coding

In features, it’s usually up to the assistant director to separate segments of your script according to different requirements via colour coding. But again, if the film crew is atypically smaller, your roles will be far more diverse, so it could fall into your eager hands. Color-coding the script is a visual aid for the director, and the standard is as follows:    

This is then checked and coordinated with previous shooting day costumes & wardrobe detailed within those marked in scripts. So you’ll need to at least understand these codes to communicate with other departments.

 

Breaking into these roles

If you’re at university, studying a Masters or Undergraduate degree, don’t limit your duties to coursework requirements, think outside the box. University is the one place where you’ll have free access to camera equipment, equipment that would otherwise cost a bomb to hire, no questions asked. Take advantage of this. Experiment. Gather a team of like-minded individuals and make that short film you’ve been thinking about. Write the script and then film it. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a script writer. Whether you’re a cinematographer, editor, or producer, you’ll figure out a lot of how the entire operation of a film works. This is something that will help you later on, especially when developing your people skills. The film industry relies on filmmaking as a group effort, particularly in terms of producing a film, location scouting, finding funding… you’ll be in constant communication. But if you get used to it as soon as possible, it will give you an edge over competitors.

Besides, there are perks. Making an amateur/student film helps you test the theory. You’ll even start developing your trademark voice that will make you stand out in the future. Prop building, production, casting and filming–at an amateur level or not–especially when you’re just starting out can be an extremely rewarding experience. Why wait until you’ve graduated to start out?

If you’re not in full time education, write to, apply, or volunteer at casting, production and film companies. Offer your script-revision services. Take a course in script writing (or whichever role you’re interested in). Once you’ve got a few months experience under your belt, start applying to paying jobs. Start networking. Scour the internet for film events happening around your area. Write a short. Get your friends to help you film it. Ask for help. Ask for feedback. Send your film to festivals, competitions, upload it to the internet. Network. Create a website for yourself. Network some more.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Perseverance is key and breaking into the film industry is difficult, but you know the saying, nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort.

Advisory Council 2017 Nomination Reminder

IMIS will be holding an election for members to the Advisory Council this summer and we invite all eligible members to nominate other members to serve the membership. The rules of who can nominate and vote are listed in the link below.

Nominations are due by Monday, 22nd May 2017 at 17:00 BST.

Flaws for Thought: Character Development

In a technologically geared world, where VFX and Motion Graphics are taking the film industry by storm, proper character development is sometimes left at the wayside. Complex antagonists and detailed backstories have also taken a hit, alongside emotional depth and realistic personalities.

The hero’s flawless. The heroine well-groomed. He’s cocky. She’s funny. They laugh in the face of death. They drop corny one-liners even though they’ve got a gun pointed at their heads. There are faultless explosions and unconvincing reactions and it’s all a bit…

Predictable.

If you’re flicking through your script as you read this, and realise that you can smell a happy ending from a mile off, it might be time to revise your characters, as he or she could be a bit too predictable, and a bit too picture-perfect.

The same goes for your antagonist. Most people in real-life aren’t evil for the sake of being evil–they don’t have trademark wicked cackles and devious master plans. People have complex backstories that make them the way they are–and this is in constant development. The human brain is a slimy network of grey matter (literally)—there really is no black or white. And that’s okay to portray in your characters.

Character Conflict

As I’ve said in other articles, conflict is the main driving force behind any story, and it’s the writer’s job to identify this and provide it through your character’s actions. Characters who don’t face conflict because they’re just so amazing at everything they do won’t make the audience worry about their outcome. A litany of failure and flaws is essential for keeping our interest in the film alive, and makes the protagonist’s eventual success that much sweeter. Perhaps it’s because we identify with their flaws, as we see our own shortcomings reflected back at us.

Character Building

A good example of character building is in Lost, ABC’s drama series. Through a series of flashbacks, we can see how Jack Shephard is emotionally scarred by his father’s expectations, and how this shapes his entire thought process, fostering his exaggerated hero complex. Even his surname represents his position of leadership amongst the other crash survivors.

Charlie, on the other hand, is the ultimate underdog. Battling against drug addiction, through his flashbacks we come to understand how he used to protect his brother against it. The same goes for Kate: she may be manipulative and a murderer, but if you delve into her backstory, you come to realise she killed her stepfather to save her mother.

A sign of good character-building is when your audience sympathises with their plight because their backstory is realistic, detailed, and ultimately touching. It’s the Walter Whites and the Tom Ripleys of the world that cause a reaction within us. Characters with messed up minds and real-life human flaws.

Give your character a history. Think about what it was that made him the way he is. If he’s going to be cruel, what event-or sequence of events pushed him over the edge? If you can create a character which draws up mixed feelings–someone who we hate and pity and admire all at the same time, then you’re well on your way to creating multi-dimensional protagonists.

Empathy

Being a good writer is also about empathising. We’re all shaped by our past; our thoughts and actions are guided by our backstories. So will your character’s. It’s up to you to help this shape your script. Stepping into your character’s shoes and attempting to see what the world looks like from their point of view will add this layer of much needed realism. You can’t convincingly write about your character’s phobia of bouncy castles unless you really understand that while comical, this phobia is as real to them as is your fear of a paper boat-pinching, gutter-dwelling clown…

Character Questionnaire

What were your character’s parents like? Did she/he have a positive/negative relationship or is your character an orphan? Where did he or she grow up? What was the environment like? Did they grow up poor, wealthy or comfortably middle-class? How has this had a psychological effect on him or her?

Do they laugh easily? Andy Dufresne barely cracks so much as a smile all through Shawshank Redemption, yet all Harley Quinn does in Suicide Squad is smile, one is endearing, the other vaguely psychotic, yet both are equally interesting.

No two people are truly alike, and that is the beauty of character building–you have complete freedom to create as you will.

The same goes for the way your character speaks. Think of two people you know, and listen closely when they speak. Just as their accents might differ, one might drop the F-bomb five times in one sentence while the other might laugh too loud, a bit like a hyena. Is this endearing, or annoying? What reaction does it cause?

Think about your characters, emotionally. What scares them?

What is your character’s biggest regret?

Is there something missing from your character’s life?

Character Introductions

First impressions always count and are a great opportunity for writers to show just exactly what is special about the protagonists.

In American Beauty, screenwriter Alan Ball introduces us to Lester Burnham via a voiceover. “This is my neighbourhood,” he says, as the camera pans down onto a suburban street. “My street. This is my life. I’m forty-two years old. In less than a year, I’ll be dead.”

We sympathize immediately because he represents the middle-class monotony of suburbia. There’s an almost claustrophobic feel to the way Ball introduces him to us. As readers, we feel just as trapped as Lester does.

Juno Macguff, from Diablo Cody’s Juno, is pretty charming for a sixteen-year-old, and her quirky way of introducing herself gets us hooked from the get go. The first few minutes even include a flashback with backstory. We see Juno staring with rapt attention at a battered-looking leather recliner dumped on the side of a curb. It all started with a chair, she tells us. And then we immediately jump to a flashback, featuring the real chair in question. Note the creative way of linking a present object with the story line?

When we meet Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, however, no flashbacks are needed. He comes storming over the seas like a pro, with background music rising impressively, only for the shot to reveal his sad, sinking boat. His comic timing and debonair style are both portrayed within a matter of seconds, and the audience can’t help but like him the moment he steps onto the pier.

Remember, making characters people find relatable, someone to root for, is a big part of what makes a script successful. This doesn’t mean that you’ll spew out everything you know about your character in the first five minutes of your screenplay. You’ll have to reveal snippets as you go along, using different techniques.

Warm Wishes to HRH Prince Philip in Retirement

The International Moving Image Society would like to extend a warm wish to HRH, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in his announcement of his retirement from public duties.  At 96 years old, it is a well deserved retirement and we wish him the best of health as he continues forward.  Prince Philip served as the Patron of our Society in the 1970s from 1973-1981.

Thank you for all that you have done for us and the industry.