Master Of ContinuityThe fact that the script supervisor was dubbed during the early years of cinema as the “script girl” tells us two things—first, that the film industry was sadly characterized by sexism, and second, that the value of the script supervisor was largely undermined.

Over the years, the term has been replaced with “script supervisor” or, now increasingly, “continuity supervisor.” This, again, means two things—first, that the film industry has grown to appreciate the role of the woman on the set, and second, that the immense importance of the script supervisor has become undeniable. This invaluable member of the production crew is, after all, the one who makes sure that the film gets cut.

The task of the script supervisor, in a nutshell, is to ascertain the film’s internal continuity—to make sure that its innumerable scenes flow seamlessly from one to the next. S/he does this by serving as the team’s resident note taker, the point person for all production information during the filming. Throughout the production, the script supervisor takes notes on the various aspects of the movie and distributes these reports to the different departments, thus allowing them to ensure that all aspects of the production, including script, photography, costume, set design, and sound, are synchronized with the story’s chronology.

Through these reports, for instance, s/he serves as the essential middleman between the director and the editor. The script supervisor makes sure that the director’s notes are effectively communicated to the editor, who is almost never present during the actual filming but who has the job of cutting the film into cohesion. As there is commonly only one script supervisor on the set, this job requires someone who is able to multitask and deal with a tremendous amount of paperwork, and who knows how to very quickly adapt to various situations.

Pre-production

The job of the script supervisor begins during pre-production. A week or two before production, s/he is given a copy of the script, which is then assessed and prepared for filming. The script supervisor breaks the script and its scenes down according to the following: page count, scene synopsis, and timing breakdown (time of day and day in story order), and forwards these notes to the different departments, helping them to determine the most feasible and expedient shot order.

During rehearsals, the script supervisor’s job is to take note of any changes in action or dialogue for the various departments and cast members. The goal is to ensure, before filming begins, that all continuity details are cohesive. If an error that may disrupt production is uncovered, s/he meets with the department concerned so that it may be resolved before shooting.

Production

As the script supervisor is responsible for collating all production information and coordinating with the different departments to prevent errors in continuity, it is absolutely necessary that this person know how to pay close attention to detail. For instance, an integral part of the script supervisor’s job is making sure that the script is executed seamlessly. He makes sure that the action and dialogue match.

He aids the actors in case of mistakes in dialogue and, if there are continuity errors in the script, he brings them to the attention of the director so that they may be remedied. Another integral part of the script supervisor’s job is to make sure that all the visual elements of the film are consistent. The hair and makeup, props, and set should match, and the lenses and filters used in the cameras must be uniform. S/he keeps track of the position of the cameras and actors’ eyelines, thus making sure that the scene coverage is consistent and that the actor is always looking at a precise person or object. When shooting sequences, the script supervisor makes sure that the scenes flow continuously.

If the first scene shows the actress carrying a bag on her left arm while leaving the house, for instance, the next scene should show her out the door with the bag dangling from the same arm. In order to aid the process of matching the elements of various scenes, photographs are taken for reference. All the while, the script supervisor closely coordinates with the second camera assistant (or the clapper loader) and the sound department in order to ensure that the film’s sound and pictures match.

Note-taking

The script supervisor is an indispensable member of the production team primarily because this person is responsible for providing each department with the daily production notes. All the production notes are transcribed and organized according to the needs of each department.

The lined script. The lined script is the script that the script supervisor tinkers with during the filming. It contains notes on the different camera setups—a description of the shot, where the setup starts and stops, and whether or not the shot contains dialogue. This gives the editor a quick overview of the coverage of each shot.

The daily editor log. The daily editor log contains continuity reports and information that the editor will find pertinent when cutting the film. It contains the exact duration of every take, the position of the actors and the orientation of their movements with regard to the screen, information on lenses and filters used for the cameras, camera speed, description of shot and important action or dialogue which takes place during the shot, and an annotated script which indicates the shots and scenes that were covered for the day. This report also contains the director’s notes on which takes s/he prefers as well as other information that may assist the editor in the cutting room.

Production reports. The script supervisor prepares a production report for the production team at the end of each shooting day. This contains, usually, the day’s shot list, the day’s script (broken down into pages, scenes, and minutes), the number of good takes and scenes due for retakes, a log of the shooting times and breaks, and the entire script and the record of shots that are yet to be done. The purpose of the daily production report is to keep track of time. It should communicate the total amount of work accomplished for the day, the total amount of work accomplished so far, and the total amount of work that has yet to be done. It also contains notes on any changes and deletions on the script.

The script supervisor’s goal in creating these notes, basically, is to make sure that every department in the production team has all the relevant information they need in order for them not just to get their job done, but to do so in tandem with the other departments. The script supervisor makes sure that the editor knows how to cut the film, that everyone knows about any changes in the script, that there is continuity in the production and costume design and in the photography, that the sound matches the picture, and that each scene flows smoothly into the next. The script supervisor aims to tie the film together.

From a job that was at first considered merely auxiliary and unworthy of the men, the position of the script supervisor has come to be embedded with importance. It has become a stepping-stone to future careers in directing, writing, producing, and editing. While one is not required to have a film school degree in order to become a script supervisor, the job demands years of experience and a good knowledge of film production, as well as the ability to multitask, pay close attention to the littlest of details, and think on one’s feet. It is an utterly demanding job, but the reward of seeing the film’s final cut flow seamlessly and smoothly on the screen is priceless.