How To Become a Script Supervisor
What Exactly Does a Script Supervisor Do?
The Script Supervisor oversees continuity during principal photography. Roe Moore, a veteran Script Supervisor says, “The typical day-to-day is keeping the set organized. When it comes to resets everything needs to go back to one. That means bringing back everything, props and people, to how the scene started. Just think about hair, makeup and blood for horror films! But, it’s not always that complicated. Sometimes it’s just making sure a cup an Actor moves is returned to its original spot. The Script Supervisor is a one-person crew keeping track of all these details. It can be quite intense. We also take notes for the Editor. It helps them organize footage faster so they’re not stuck looking through countless dailies to find a specific moment in an Actor’s coverage. We also note if there was an error within a specific shot.”
Most of the time a film is shot out of order. Usually, a production will shoot one side of a room before flipping to do another angle of the opposite side. This means that everything must be put back in the exact same spot as the first angle for the two shots to cut together. This process is repeated for multiple takes. In a larger sense, a scene will be shot and then the following scene won’t be filmed until a week later. It is the Script Supervisor’s job to make sure that when production shoots the following scene, continuity is maintained. For example, the Script Supervisor makes sure that the Actor’s wardrobe is precise, like how their hat is tipped the exact same way. It’s truly a job that believes the devil is in the details.
Moore says, “Since we’re a department of one, when a Script Supervisor starts they’ve got the weight of production on their shoulders. It isn’t a job that is directly taught in film school, either. Most Script Supervisors will shadow a veteran to learn the job. It’s a sort of an apprenticeship method. I got into it by working with a twenty-five-year veteran. It gave me the opportunity to get on set and make connections that would lead to my first couple of jobs.”
Many Script Supervisors advance in their career by working on larger productions. Some will go on to become Directors or Editors because they spend so much time focusing on shot setups and details. The best approach for advancing as a Script Supervisor is to understand the context of what it means to be on set, including etiquette, as well as knowing what needs to happen for each specific scene and when.
Education & Training
There are ways to prepare for a career as a Script Supervisor before beginning an apprenticeship. “I would highly recommend getting to know what every position on set does. A Script Supervisor’s hands are in every single department and it’s important to know what they’re doing to effectively collaborate.
It’s also good to understand how shot lists work. Sometimes the Script Supervisor must be the outside eye and let people know if shooting in a specific order won’t work. For example, if a chainsaw comes through a wall and cuts a desk in half where a character in a movie is supposed to be hiding then it’s important to get the Actor’s coverage under the desk before sawing it in half,” says Moore. A lot of these things may seem simple but while on set people’s heads are in pulled in so many different directions that the obvious can become invisible. A good job to take to get on set experience is as a PA in the Grip or Art Department.
What skills do you need to be a Script Supervisor?
When script supervising it’s good to have a general knowledge of filmmaking. However, there is one special skill that is imperative to have. “I would definitely say be detail-oriented. Our job deals with very small minutia. It’s making sure that an Actor takes a sip of their drink on the exact same line every time, but it’s not just that. A Script Supervisor needs a lot of positive energy when communicating what they see. It’s really easy to become a nag,” says Moore.
Every single take will be slightly different. It’s up to the Script Supervisor to catalog these differences and make sure that they each match enough to cut. Therefore, a general knowledge of how to shoot and edit a movie is imperative.
Everyone on a film set needs to be collaborative. A Script Supervisor also needs to be diplomatic because their job is often about pointing out flaws in the other departments. It’s about being approachable. “Be kind when talking to others; we’re not supposed to be the police. If you start bullying or bossing people around then it’ll make it a toxic set and you won’t get rehired.
The best way to be is solution-minded. Always have a solution to a problem before approaching someone with it. If you walk up and tell someone to deal with it things won’t go over well,” says Moore. Having a good attitude is always important but it’s especially crucial for Script Supervisors because the potential for conflict is so high. Sometimes it’s just as simple as asking for one more take to see if an error can be solved without telling everyone except the Director why.
The freelance life can be very sporadic. Moore says, “Sometimes a job will come in a month in advance and other times it’s less than twenty-four hours. Usually, features and television shows give more notice while commercials are in the two-day range. When working with a network, things can be more regular but usually, it’s booking a job for three weeks and then nothing for a month, then three commercial jobs all at once. I’m lucky to have friends and a spouse who are totally understanding. Work can be any day of the week, at any time, and show up with no notice.”
Script Supervisors work in the production phase of filmmaking. It can be a bit turbulent due to people dropping out of jobs and the last-minute nature of building a film crew. When a Script Supervisor becomes more established they’re going to have better luck booking jobs with a more consistent workload because their network of referrals and rehires will be larger.
The Script Supervisor is usually hired by the Line Producer or Unit Production Manager. They take notes from the Director and pass on all continuity observations to the Editor. Otherwise, the Script Supervisor is working with every department on set, making sure that each shot can be cut together.
Most people become a Script Supervisor through mentorship. “Script Supervisors pass on the training that they have. If I’m not working and one of my mentees has set, I’ll go with them for support. If they have questions then they can ask me first before walking up to the Director or star of the project. Doing that can be intimidating. Otherwise, I’m usually meeting up with my students after a day of filmmaking to hear how everything went,” says Moore.
She also mentions, “If someone is going through film school it can be great for them to hop on their friends’ shoots and practice. It’s good to keep those student film connections. Even if you’re not in school it can be good to do student films because some schools, like the AFI cycle and thesis projects, hire key department heads to help with projects for a decent rate. Also, those relationships can be carried forward after people graduate.”
A person usually lands their first Script Supervisor gig through student films or a recommendation from their mentor. As they continue to work, a network of relationships will be built that results in rehires, leading to consistent work.
How Much Does a Script Supervisor make?
When Script Supervisors are just starting out in the industry, the majority will work non-union and set their own day rates. After joining the union, they’ll benefit from higher wages established by the union.
Unions, Groups & Associations
There are many good resources and professional organizations for aspiring Script Supervisors to check out. Moore mentions, “Some of the best online resources are the Facebook groups ScriptSupervisors! and Digital Script Supervisor. They’re a great place to find work and build connections. Also, it’s good to check out the Local Union 871 or whichever union represents your area. There are different local unions and while they can’t give jobs they do have meetups. It’s a good place to meet a veteran Script Supervisor.
Finally, I’d check out Below the Line magazine. It has a list of all projects in development or production with contact information. Reach out to a Production Manager who works consistently and take them out to lunch. Let them get to know you and build your contacts.” The most important thing to remember about script supervising is that it is a job that needs to be learned through experience. The best thing a person can do is use these online resources and organizations to make contacts and get on set.
- Examine shows for common continuity issues.
- Join the Facebook groups recommended above.
- Find a mentor and work with them on set.
- Study films. Break down how many cuts are in a scene and how many angles it was shot in.
- Read Pat Miller’s continuity book.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“The biggest thing young people starting out need to remember is to not get intimidated. Often it can be a bit scary walking up to a Director, especially someone that’s respected, and letting them know a mistake has been made. However, it’s good to remember that everyone is there to make the best film possible and that’s the Script Supervisor’s job.
It’s all about speaking up, which can be practiced in everyday life. That doesn’t mean to be aggressive or bossy, but begin to pay attention to how great communication happens. A large part of a Script Supervisor’s job is communication so if someone practices that they’ll be way ahead of the game.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“The biggest mistake people make when getting into this field is that they think they know everything because they downloaded an app on their phone. There is a balance between what notes are taken, how many there are, and how they end up being communicated. Also, that sort of arrogance can be off-putting and lead to mistakes.
Most of a Script Supervisor’s skill level won’t be discovered until a film hits the editing room. However, a couple bad projects can kill a career. Most mistakes are made by looking at a computer instead of watching what’s happening on set. It may look like a Script Supervisor is just hanging out next to the monitor but they’re keeping track of everything in a production. They don’t need to be showy about it.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
Why is a Script Supervisor always just sitting by the monitor?
The Script Supervisor is constantly studying what is in each shot. For every take, they write a couple of minutes of notes. If the crew is very talented and the Director has an eye for detail some people may feel like a Script Supervisor is not necessary. However, when a Script Supervisor is not writing notes or trying to do corrective work on set they’re providing notes for the edit. This can include shorthand for what an Actor did in each take and whether it was a preferred take by the Director. This sort of work greatly expedites the post-production process. There is never a moment of just hanging out on set as a Script Supervisor!”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“What’s the best metaphor to describe a Script Supervisor?
Being a Script Supervisor is kind of like being a Paramedic standing by. You’re there in case the production gets hurt in any way, taking notes on what happened and trying to stabilize the problem. Then, when the issue reaches the Editor the Script Supervisor can describe it so the problem can be remedied properly. Something always goes wrong on set. It’s just the nature of the business. So it’s always good to have a Script Supervisor around.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Cheerful. I know what I’m doing and I’m a pleasure to have on set.”
Originally from Aurora, Colorado, Roe Moore started her performing career on stage at an early age with dance and music. Moore’s vast filmmaking experience has taken her both in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes on familiar television shows like CW’s Masters of Illusion, Emmy-nominated PopTV sitcom This Just In, and El Rey Network’s Lucha Underground. Most of her experience has been as a Script Supervisor working alongside many highly-acclaimed Directors, including 2016’s Student Academy Award-winner, David Henry Gerson. Her favorite work experience was working as the Associate Director of the beloved Hollywood Christmas Parade.
In Spring 2017, Moore was a speaker at SXSW’s Script Supervisor Panel. She is teaching a Script Supervisor course at Glendale Community College in California. She is a blog contributor for Final Draft and in the Story Broads Community on ScriptMag. Moore’s career as a Script Supervisor has been profiled on the No Film School Blog.
Feel free to follow her industry adventures through #ScriptyRoe or on her Instagram (@roe_mo).