Programs Fri 3.13.2015

Know Your Crew: How the Script Supervisor Keeps It All On Track

The job of a script supervisor was devised around the ten arbitrary things that nobody else on set wanted to do. Aprill Winney, an indie film veteran who is a director and script supervisor herself, made this observation at a recent Film Independent education event. On an effort to shed light on the script supervisor’s role and mitigate some of the mystery surrounding a job even filmmakers often know little about, Winney—who presently is working with Christopher Guest—illuminated what those arbitrary things are.

“One of the things you’re in charge of is continuity,” she explained. Winney describes this process as overseeing each take and camera angle to be able to cut footage in a way that appears to reflect one moment in time. The script supervisor focuses on costume– examining details of a lapel, for example, or ensuring an actor is wearing a wedding ring, or tucking hair behind an actress’ ear. She scopes the scene; “Is the purse on the correct shoulder of an actor [in every shot]?”

The script supervisor is also responsible for taking elaborate notes. The detail of the notes aids as the bridge in the gap from set to post. These observations serve to support the work of the editor scene by scene.  Winney shares, “We are responsible for keeping records of our accomplishments throughout the day and what time they happened, for when the network calls….”   She tracks how many pages have been shot and how many minutes of footage captured.  She will know, “how many minutes of content is done by lunch or 5 o’clock.”   The supervisor at all times must be prepared to report in this way.

Winney broke down the different information needed by different players on the crew.  The AD’s question will focus on how many set-ups were executed in one day. “The AD wants to know what’s the first shot before lunch what’s the first shot after lunch.”  She shared that TV has to be 43 minutes and 20 seconds long. “They want to know by lunch that we’ve shot four minutes. I have to have my eye on the script constantly when an actor yells ‘line.’ They will do it perfectly 25 times and I’ll start focusing on other things because there is a lot to do and then they’ll say ‘line’…. If actors get a line wrong, which happens all the time, I have to go in between takes and tell them the correct line, which can be awkward when you have an actor who wants to say a line their own way.  But a writer or director wants it exactly right. Oftentimes I’m put right in the middle of an argument because they don’t want to talk to each other. When I work with Christopher Guest, there is no script. They improvise. I also work with directors and writers who feel there is a lot of flexibility and want the actor to put [the lines] into their own words. On television, the writers are the bosses, and they want the lines exactly as they’re written.”

Winney advises that when looking for a script supervisor, you want someone who has  a reasonable personality.  (She divulges that she is nice so that in turn, people will do her favors). And the main advice for those seeking to be a script supervisor is to get familiar with the script.

She describes her favorite aspect of the job as clearly keeping track of the story.  “I make notes on Chris’ laughs. If he loves a play, we play it back.”  More of her mantras include “speak up but you have no authority” and “low budget is more fun.”

JB Bogulski / Film Independent Blogger