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.