Film Director, Bryan Forbes' appreciative view of the Script Supervisor's role.


The Script Supervisor is a crucial member of the team whether on a feature film, a commercial or a series - a fact which Producers forget at their cost.  

Here's a tip for all film Producers, Directors and Production Managers who want to avoid breaking their budgets through spending thousands on reshoots:  hire an experienced Script Supervisor and heed her advice, both before and during production.

This tip is common knowledge to the industry's most experienced Producers and Directors, but in the last few years some of the new film makers appear to have lost sight of it.

The Script Supervisor is the backbone of any shoot, encompassing just about every aspect of the current shot from set-up to print, then absorbing this information into making the completed film.   Timing the length of each scene of a production with a stopwatch is only a tiny proportion of her job:  the most important aspect is to try to ensure that there are no inconsistencies at all at any point in the film.

The Script Supervisor starts work perhaps some weeks prior to filming, breaking down the script to ensure that everyone knows, for example, exactly when day becomes night and therefore when associated changes of clothes, light, makeup and so on should happen, in order to make the film work coherently.

During filming she takes detailed notes of everything that happens during a shot.   Here the experience of this grade makes all the difference to a production:  Script Supervisors not only list - even draw - for example the position of props and actors and itemise their costume and jewelery;  they also note down every last detail, such as how many buttons are done up on someone's jacket;  in which hand they are holding their cup, and in which direction each person is looking.

Discrepancies can easily arise.   It only needs an actor to hold his cup in the other hand, unbutton a shirt or be standing in a different place in the following shot for the sequence to be rendered unusable, not to mention wearing the wrong costume.   The Script Supervisor's role is both preventative - planning so that the inconsistencies don't arise - and curative:  spotting any that do happen and, with a quiet word to the director, having them corrected.

Their detailed, typed-up notes become a bible for the Director and Editor when the film goes into post-production.

Script Supervisor Brenda Loader comments:   "There is no doubt that, at the time of shooting she is valued by every department for her watchful eye and observation.   But it is the relationship between her and the Director that is the most important."

Script Supervisor Angela Allen MBE says:  "If done properly the Script Supervisor's role can enhance a production greatly.   She can offer constructive criticism before production starts and an accurate timing, if needed, can help prevent overshooting.

"When shooting actually starts, a good Script Supervisor should be another pair of eyes for the Director, pointing out things that he may not have noticed.   He or she can save a production thousands of pounds by telling a Director when extra shots are needed to make a sequence work."   Unless those shots are made, it may not prove possible to edit the film properly which would mean hugely expensive reshooting.

"She is not there just to be a print taker or a stopwatch clicker which, in commercials, many personnel seem to think is her only function.   The job, whether in commercials, features or series, is infinitely more complicated involving collaboration with all departments and frequently being asked the most extraordinary questions and, as one normally works alone, permission has to be sought even to go to the loo!"

However, Script Supervisors (who in years past were called, patronisingly, continuity 'girls') are becoming increasingly concerned at what they feel is a subtle downgrading of their role.   One Supervisor comments:  "Once upon a time the Script Supervisor was a clearly defined and respected job.   She normally worked with an assistant, which served two purposes.  

"The first was, obviously, to assist the Script Supervisor, for example by typing up the copious notes on which the whole production and post-production relies.

"The second purpose was training - to learn the job properly by working under an experienced professional.    Many Supervisors are worried about the quality of future personnel in their grade if few new entrants have had the chance to see how it is best done.

This article and photograph, first published in 1996, is re-printed by kind permission of Stage Screen & Radio, and Film Director/ Writer/ Producer/ Actor, Bryan Forbes, CBE.