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So You Want to Be a Script Supervisor?

Emi writes screenplays for TV and film. She graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in Film and has on set film experience.

Learn the basics of being a script supervisor!

Learn the basics of being a script supervisor!

What Is a Script Supervisor?

A script supervisor is defined as such:

"... a member of a film crew responsible for maintaining the motion picture's internal continuity and for recording the production unit's daily progress in shooting the film's screenplay."

– Wikipedia

Basically, if you are an organized individual that has the eye for seeing anything different on the screen from what you shot in the first angle, then this is the right job for you. Not only are you in charge of continuity on the screen, but you are also in charge of documenting everything that was done during the shoot.

Feeling the pressure already? I'll break down what you need to know.

What You Need

When stepping onto the film set you need to be prepared with a few essentials.

  1. Binder of script and daily logs
  2. Pen or pencil (preferably both) to make annotations while the scene is filming
  3. Your wits and patience

All joking aside on the last one, even when you think you're prepared for whatever is going to happen you might end up hitting a roadblock on set or a specific take isn't going as planned.

Even when you are getting tired of the same take being done and just want to move on, you have to make sure the continuity is the same as the other angles or all that shooting was for nothing and it has to be redone at a later date.

What Are Script Supervisor Notes?

Script Supervisor Notes are logs that you take while the shooting is going on. This is created for the producer, director, and editors to use when they are going through the editing process. What you write down is important and will help make choosing the right takes an easier job.

What you are keeping track of:

  • Scene: Knowing what scene you're taking notes for is crucial for the editors.
  • Slate/Indent: Make note of the slates. If this is the first shot/take of the day it normally starts with the Scene # and the first letter of the alphabet. Double-check with the 1st/2nd Assistant Camera people.
  • Camera Roll: What film roll are you using? Is it digital? Write it down.
  • Sound Roll: Same as above. Also, note whether it's synced sound or wild.
  • INT./EXT. & Day/Night: Where and when this is being shot is important for retakes.
  • Location & Scene Description: Again, where this is being shot is important for retakes.
  • Camera information: Lens, Distance, f-stops, filters; this is all information needed for the camera department to know when they have retakes.
  • Takes: Keep track of how many takes are being done. Even if they started a take and then canceled before the scene got shot. That's being logged into the camera/sound rolls and it should be logged on your paper, unless told otherwise by the DP or Director.
  • Duration: How long did that take last? Time it using a stopwatch, writing the time codes down, etc. It helps the editor and director know how long the scene will be with congruence with the rest of the film.
  • Remarks: Listen to the director. If (s)he says that was good, write down "good" and vice versa if the take was bad. It helps the editor know which take to look at while piecing the angles together.
  • Continuity: Make notes of what happened during the take. What costumes were worn, what props were used, whether or not the actor's hair was moved, etc. If it was done in the first shot, it must be done with the others.

At the end of the day, you'd want to log what scenes were shot that day and how much of the film is left to shoot. This helps you keep track of what still needs to be done and lets you make sure you're not missing anything that was done during the day.

Continuity: What to Look For?

When looking for continuity there's a lot of things to consider. Most of the time, the actors are very conscious of what they are doing because they were blocked a certain way, but there are a few times when they forget whether or not their hair was placed a certain way or they used their hands when the spoke.

It's very important to annotate these kinds of actions or reactions down as it is happening during each take. You can make notes of it on the script or on your form.

What Do They Look Like?

  • Hair: Write down the way the hair is styled. Is it parted on the right or the left? Are there bangs and do they slant to a specific side? Is there wind and which way is it blowing? When it comes to long hair, make sure you note whether they place their hair on their shoulders (front or behind) or tucked behind the ear.
  • Hands: Were they placed in pockets? Are they unbuttoning/buttoning something? Are they holding props; which hand? Are they wearing jewelry on a specific hand? When did they do the actions while they spoke? Are they holding hands with someone else?
  • Legs: Did their legs cross? Which leg is over the other? Are the knees being covered by the actor's hands? Are their legs being crossed at the ankles?
  • Make-up: Keep in mind, the make-up artist is usually on top of this. Make notes if there are specific injuries that are supposed to show up or fade depending on the scene. Or if it's a different day than their night out on the town.
  • Injuries: Have the injuries progressed in this scene? Do they need bandages? Make note of which side the body has the injury.

What Are They Doing?

  • Eating/Drinking: How are they handling the food/dishes/utensils? On what word or action are they eating and/or drinking?
  • Entrances/Exits: Note the placement of the people: who follows whom and pace when entering and exiting. Are they carrying props? Which hand/arm?
  • Laying Down: Which way does the head lie? Keep in mind the position of the pillows: open end of the pillowcase is towards camera left or camera right? Is the actor's hair long and spread out on the pillow or under the body? How much of the blankets are covering them? What color are the linens?
  • Motions: Is the actor leaning forward, backward, to the side?
  • Picking up Objects: Which hand is used and from what side of the camera?
  • Rising and Sitting: Which word did they do the action? Note the level of eyes directed off-camera in each position.
  • Turns: Watch the head movement and body movement.
  • Walking: What word did they start or stop walking? Make sure the gestures are matched while in movement and during dialogue.

What Is Around Them?

  • Doors: Where are they placed on set (background, camera left/right)? Are they open or closed? Check for door numbers. Note activity and lighting in the background.
  • Furniture: Are the pillows on the sofa and chairs placed in the right spot? Make sure the chairs or positioned correctly in relation to the camera angles.
  • Practical Lights: Lamps are lit or unlit? Are they positioned on camera left/right? Were there candles and were they lit/unlit? Note the size of the flame and how far the candle's burned.
  • Set Dressing: Note the proximity of details (at background, foreground, sides). Where are they positioned surrounding the person or object being photographed?
  • Signs: Watch for numbers and logos.
  • Vehicles: Traveling close-ups must match long shots. Are the elbows/hands on the door windows positioned the same? Were the windows up or down? Which direction is the vehicle is facing? Are the wipers on or off?
  • Windows: Where are they placed on set (background, camera left/right)? Are the drapes or blinds? Are they opened or fully closed?

Go Forth and Script Supervise

With all this knowledge, you are ready to take the next step and get your experience. Every director and director of photography work differently, so they might not provide the information or want the information you are trying to write down. It's important to talk with the producer and director to discuss what they're looking for in your notes.

If the film is low-budget and has a small crew, then chances are the director just wants you to take note of the good takes and what file name/film roll it was on. You might be shoved in the same room as the scene is being shot and not have a monitor to watch everything.

Keep an eye on the script and the scene at the same time and watch for the continuity. If you end up on a higher budget film, or in Hollywood, then you will probably be set up in video village with the director and producer themselves.

Don't be afraid to speak up and ask for the information you need to collect. This is your job, they will understand and respect you for reminding them about it. Also, don't be quiet when you see discontinuity. The reason you are there is to inform the director and DP of the mistakes, so they can retake the shot then and there -- not three months later.

So, go on, prevent those bad continuity errors from ever showing on the screen.

Be a hero. Save a film, one take at a time.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.