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What a Script Supervisor Does

Shannon writes in about becoming a script supervisor:

I love the work you do, just LOVE.

Right now I’m a proud PA but like all PAs I want to grow. I work in the office which I quite enjoy but my heart is in scripts. What is the path to go from where I am to perhaps someday become a script supervisor, a lofty dream though it may be.

Thanks for everything!

There seems to be some confusion as to what a script supervisor (or “scripty”) does. She’s not involved in the writing of the screenplay. She doesn’t “give notes” in the sense of telling the producer or director how the script could be improved. She doesn’t even deal with the distribution of scripts.

So what does a script supervisor do?

Let’s let Tim Hunt explain, since he’s been doing it for a long time and is much smarter than me–

But if you can’t or don’t want to watch a video, I’ll try my best to explain the job. A scripty is in charge of keeping track of continuity. In fact, sometimes they’re called “continuity supervisors.” Way back when, they used to be called “continuity girls,” because why not demean someone who has an incredibly important job?

A script supervisor ensures that the actors are saying the same lines every time, interacting with their environment the same way (picking up a cup with the left hand, for instance), and even checking that nothing’s different in the set dressing. She’ll also check actor’s eyelines match between setups, a conversation that inevitably leads to many ridiculous arguments on set.

Scripties also time each shot, to give an accurate accounting of how long scenes are going to take. They keep meticulous notes on the length of shots, the number of setups, and the number of pages filmed for every scene. This information is passed on to the office PAs to write First Shot, Lunch, and Wrap Reports.

Possibly their most important job is the editor’s notes. Script supervisors marks special annotations on their scripts which tell the editor which shots and takes cover which characters and lines. Plus, they note when shots are incomplete or picked up, when continuity errors occurred despite their best efforts, and so on. In the edit bay, the director will often say something like, “Hey, isn’t there a close-up of Mary Jane saying, ‘Face it, Tiger, you just hit the jackpot’?” Instead of scrolling through all the bins and clips and files, the editor just flips to the right page of the script and says, “Yup, shot 42B. Three takes. Let me pull those up.”

All in all, script supervisor is a very important job. But it has very little to do with writing.

But I want to be  a writer…

I imagine Shannon was actually asking about becoming a script coordinator. That’s the person in the writers’ office who oversees the final creation of the scripts. They’re like an “editor” in the publishing  sense of the word. At the most basic level, they check formatting, spelling and grammar. They also check story continuity; did character X leave in a huff on page 13? Then he shouldn’t have a line on page 14. You know, the kind of mistakes when a script goes fifteen drafts.

Beyond that, the script coordinator makes sure everyone has the current draft. They send it to the studio, network, and production office. They make sure the new pages are marked as new colors, and that each line change has a star next to it. It’s meticulous, complicated work.

But, they get to work in the writer’s office. At that point, it’s usually just a short leap to staff writer.

How do I get this job?

Well, you work your way up from writer’s assistant, and before that, writer’s PA, and before that, office PA. You have to be on a show right at the moment when the job opens up. You have to be friendly with the writing staff, so they think of you, rather than someone else, when they need to find a replacement.

It’s as much luck as it is talent or skill, like most things in this business. One thing I can tell you is that there’s no job board for these sorts of gigs. It’s all dependent on who you know. So get working and networking as soon as possible

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4 Responses

  1. Speaking of demeaning the role, many in the script supervising community find “scripty” demeaning, so check yourself. I don’t mind, but you should see the arguments that ensue within our circles.

    1. I’ll start worrying about it the first time I hear a script supervisor consistently use “craft services” rather than “crafty.”

      I used “script supervisor” eight times in the article, and “scripty” only twice (and one of those was simply to explain the term). I also spent the majority of the article praising script supervisors, and calling attention to their importance in both production and post production.

      I’m not going to worry about the language police when I’m just trying to vary my language a bit, especially with such a long, ungainly term.

      1. I’ve been heckled for using Scripty. For the reason you stated that the position has a history of being demeaned. Using “crafty” as the defense is not strong because that refers to their table/area/the snacks. At least people call the crafty guys by name on set. People will actually say “where’s Scripty” on set and refer to her and not her chair. She has no name and it’s disrespectful. It’s a double standard. Same goes for “The vanities”.

        With that being said, I imagine a post about the nuances of the department’s names would be interesting.

        In third areas the whole costumes department is called costumes and I’ve met some wonderful crew members that get bent out of shape when you call them wardrobe. Conversely in NY, costumes refers to the designers and wardrobe refers to the on set people and be forewarned also not to screw that up (it’s two different unions). I wish I knew what it was in LA.

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