By Johnny Papan
Continuity is a vast valley that requires precise attention to detail and spawns through many departments. To save time and money, films are shot out of sequence. It is up to the script supervisor to make sure props, costumes, makeup and things of the like are exactly how they should be in order to look continuous on screen, despite being filmed separately.
A key part of being a script supervisor (commonly referred to as “scripty”) is paying attention to actors and their performance on set. It’s not uncommon for actors to go off-script, forget their lines and change movements between takes. Without proper attention, this can prove to be disastrous in post-production, as the editor may not have the right footage to cut things together seamlessly or cinematically. In essence, the supervisor serves as both the eyes and ears for the director and editor.
Debra Margolis is a mentor, teacher, and retired professional script supervisor who began her career 1987. She garnered her years of professional experience in this role on shows such as: Masters of Horror, Da Vinci’s Inquest, Dark Angel, So Weird, Cold Squad, and The Collector, to name a few.
“I’m always running back and forth from the set to the monitor,” Margolis states. “Sometimes the director will wanna be close to the actors and they’ll tell me to go make sure everything looks good on the monitor. Sometimes I have to be close to the actors because they forget their lines. If there’s any deviation, I’ll mention that to the director and they’ll make changes.”
Script supervising is an ideal role for proficient multitaskers. While keeping an eye on performances, set decoration, costumes, and things of the like, the “scripty” must meticulously jot notes on everything as well, including the length of each take as well as how long it took overall to setup and achieve the shot. This plethora of paperwork is known as the Script Supervisor’s Bible and will assist the script supervisor in making sure that everything is how it’s meant to be.
THE SCRIPT SUPERVISOR BIBLE
The scripty’s bible is a log of everything filmed on set, shot by shot, with various notes including: the director’s favourite takes, what worked and didn’t work for certain takes, technical notes and continuity errors. These notes serve as a map for the editor, saving them hours of sifting through unusable footage. Some documents contained in the bible are:
An overview of all the notes that relate to every shot that was done as well as every take for a specific scene.
A reference of the shots taken on any given day, in the order they were shot in. Information provided are the camera rolls, sound rolls as well as descriptions of how the shot is set up. Sometimes, a script supervisor can circle or star the director’s favourite takes so the editor can immediately use it without needing to go through every shot.
The scripty will make notes on a physical (or digital, if preferred) copy of the actual screenplay. Along with continuity notes such as actor movement, the editor will use this as a guide for which actors are on screen during specific takes.
“There’s two things: there’s a squiggly line and a straight line,” Margolis states. “When I line each shot, let’s say it’s shot 2A for example. It’s a medium shot of a character named Joe. All the dialogue that’s said while Joe is facing the camera will have a straight line on it. All the dialogue with anybody else who’s not on camera will have a squiggly line. We use this so we know everything is covered.”
If a scene is shot and Joe only has squiggly lines beside his name, the editor knows that the specific scene has no shots with Joe on camera.
Daily reports prepared for the production team. The report will also include a breakdown of the script pages and scenes. The script supervisor logs how long each take is from action to cut. Most production reports will also contain information from the previous day as well as what still needs to be done. Though there is much information put on the production report, its main use is to track timing.
Margolis says there’s lots of opportunity in becoming a script supervisor. Experience is key to getting on big projects.
“You should always contact IATSE because there is a real demand for script supervisors. We don’t have enough because there are so many productions going on, but you also have to be qualified. They’re not gonna take people with no experience.” Margolis continues: “In order to be qualified you have to start taking courses. Or you can find a script supervisor you wanna mentor with.”
From there, you have to build your rep through dedication.
“I just think you have to prove yourself. You start off doing little independent feature films with full scripts to hone your craft and learn how to do your paperwork. You have to feel that you’re capable of doing that.”
With the script supervisor working so closely with the director, Margolis states the job can often lead to directing opportunities. “I used to teach a lot of students that were making films. The position really helped them a lot with directing, editing, writing, those are all the departments I think the job is really helpful for. I know a lot of script supervisors who have gone on to direct. They know about shots, how to segway from scenes to scenes, they basically get the overall picture.”
Teaching for over 25 years, Margolis offers the same advice she’s been holding close to heart throughout her career: “I always say to my students that it’s very important to make mistakes because that’s how we all learn. We all learn from mistakes. But you don’t wanna make a mistake when you’re in a union and a professional at the top of your game. You wanna make the mistakes when you’re just starting out. After about three independent features you’ll know whether you’re capable of doing the job or not.”
Margolis concludes: “I’m very excited to see upcoming filmmakers and happy to share my knowledge if that will help them with their careers. There are a few script supervisors that I’ve trained and they are working right now. That makes me happy.”