Script Supervisor (continuity)

A lack of continuity in a feature film or television drama can be incredibly distracting to the audience. If you have a keen eye you may notice certain inconsistencies – for example, when an actor is wearing glasses in one shot and then the glasses mysteriously disappear in the next. These mistakes happen because separate takes of a scene may be shot and re-shot days or weeks apart. If copious notes aren’t taken to ensure that each take matches perfectly, you end up with glaring errors such as a Roman soldier wearing a digital watch in ‘Gladiator’!

A good Script Supervisor needs to be a knowledgeable diplomat – to know how films are made and understand the dynamics of each scene – to know that each scene is made up of shots which, when edited together, will form the seamless flow of action that tells the story. This is the magic of film.

What skills does a Script Supervisor need?

  • Shorthand, typing and computer literacy with detail-orientated and fastidious organisational skills.
  • A good sense of visual composition, perspective and movement with the ability to observe and retain visual information.
  • To be knowledgeable about digital and film cameras, editing, lighting and audio mixing and recording.
  • An extensive knowledge of film and television production.
  • Clear note-taking and excellent written and verbal communication skills.
  • The ability to collaborate, to work as part of a team and to be able to be calm in difficult situations.
  • Diplomacy and sensitivity when working with artists and crew.
  • Ability to trouble shoot and respond quickly to changing circumstances.
  • Knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures.
As a most basic description, the Script Supervisor is the right hand aide to the Director and the Director of Photography – as well as being the Editor’s representative on set. It is the Script Supervisor’s job to make sure that, at the end of the shoot, the film can be edited together easily and efficiently. In that sense they back up every department, monitor the script during shooting and make sure that errors in continuity do not happen.

A Script Supervisor is more than just the Director’s, the Director of Photography’s or the Editor’s secretary. They are there to make sure that the finished film flows in continuous action as if it had been shot in real time, in shot and scene order, without any of the mistakes which may be caused through ‘out of sequence’ shooting. The Script Supervisor makes detailed notes for the Editor, times each shot and watches to make sure the Director and Cinematographer do not *’cross the line’. They keep the Director honest to the script, remind everyone of what shot is next, ensure that all the shots written are in the can and then watches closely to be sure there is continuity between shots.

The Script Supervisor’s job begins well before production starts. Before a major feature begins shooting, they will read and digest the script. They have to know the script as if they had seen it as a finished film a dozen times. They prepare a continuity script breakdown, using this breakdown during production as a reference. This is a great help when the Director asks on set… ‘Do the doors open before the music starts or after?’ or ‘Does the actress have her hair long or pinned up in the scenes we’re shooting today?’… the breakdown will give the answer in seconds.

During shooting, they pay close attention to the details in each shot, noting the smallest action – when it happened and where and how the actors were standing, sitting and moving, as well as the positioning of the props. As much as possible of what the Camera and Sound Crew saw and heard will be written down for immediate and later reference in order to keep continuity from shot to shot and scene to scene.

Typically the Script Supervisor will keep a photographic record of each scene so that pick-up shots can be easily matched later. It’s not all keeping track of costume and set errors though. If the camera is panning left to follow the escaping fugitive, the Script Supervisor needs to ensure that the camera is panning left to follow the pursuer when the two scenes are shot on different days.

Where pickup shots are required, the Script Supervisor communicates with Heads of Department to place the correct wardrobe and props, set decoration and lighting. The Script Supervisor will also advise the Director and Director of Photography on camera details and advise actors on pickup lines and blocking. When changes are made to the script, they will input them and deliver updated copies to the appropriate cast and crew. Each new version is colour-coded to track the changes, which is how scripts end up with white, pink, green, yellow page inserts. At the end of each day’s shoot the Script Supervisor will send a copy of the daily continuity reports and Editor’s logs to the Editor for use during post-production. These logs contain detailed scene information – where each scene is located on the film along with notes on the Director’s take preference.

The Script Supervisor is the Director’s shadow, always hovering with log and pencil in hand. They need to master the art of always being around when needed and invisible when not. The primary task is to observe, not interject. However, if a continuity error is spotted it is the Supervisor’s responsibility to speak up. Sometimes this may mean contradicting the Director or other Heads of Department, so diplomacy and respect are paramount – but in the end those mistakes are your job to fix. Script Supervisors will rarely be praised for catching a major mistake before it happens – that’s just the job – but they will be blamed if the leading lady is embarrassed on screen because her diamond necklace in scene 24 becomes an emerald pendant in scene 38!

Part of the job can be learned, most of it needs to be acquired through experience but the better Script Supervisors take to the role naturally, they have a gene for observation, detail and organization. They’re just born that way.

* The 180° rule – or ‘crossing the line’ is a basic guideline regarding the on-screen spatial relationship between a character and another character or object within a scene. An imaginary line called the axis connects the characters and, by keeping the camera on one side of this axis for every shot in the scene, the first character will always be frame right of the second character, who is then always frame left of the first. If the camera passes over the axis, it is called’ crossing the line’.

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