Career Day: Script Supervisor

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name’s Emma Anne Black. I grew up on a small farm in Helper, Utah, and then moved to Pleasant Grove, Utah as a teenager. I’m the youngest of 3 kids: one brother, one sister. I love travel, adventure, cookie dough, and good puns. I’ve been married almost one year to the love of my life who I met when he was my waiter at Tucanos Brazilian Grill in Provo, Utah. 

I always enjoyed making little movies as a kid but had no idea I would end up making a career out of it. After experimenting with several majors at Snow College, I decided to take a film class. It was there that I discovered my passion and realized a real career could be built from it. I applied to the BYU Media Arts program and graduated with my BA in Dec. 2011. It was in film school that I learned about the position of a script supervisor. It’s a very specialized role on set and BYU had limited information on it, so the summer before my last semester I spent a couple of months in Los Angeles training and shadowing with other script supervisors on and off set. For two years after graduation, I slowly worked my way up the ladder in the Utah film world and became one of the top script supervisors in the state. Then in January 2013, I made the move to Los Angeles in search for more consistent work and bigger projects. I’ve been here ever since working on movies, commercials, TV shows – you name it!

What does your job entail?

A script supervisor is essentially the director’s right hand and the editor’s representative on set. It’s my responsibility to make sure that what’s in the script gets shot, and that it gets shot in a way that can be smoothly cut into a film. To accomplish this, I take detailed notes for the editor about what’s being shot, how it’s being slated – on what camera cards, sound cards, camera lenses, filters, etc.- and which takes work or don’t work. I make sure we get all the shots we need to cover a scene and that all the shots can cut together in a way that doesn’t confuse the audience. This includes a lot of fancy film grammar having to do with eyelines, blocking, and camera placement. The most important part of my job, however, is continuity. 

When a movie is filmed, it’s filmed completely out of scene order. Logistically, when scheduling, it’s far more efficient to choose a shooting order based on location and actor availability, day vs. night scenes, and daily workloads. So it’s my job to make sure that the actor we filmed walking out of an elevator three weeks ago has the same exact wardrobe, hair, makeup, props, and emotional attitude when they walk into the elevator today… in a completely different location. This includes even the smallest of details like:  Was their top button unbuttoned? Does the light look like the same time of day? Was the actor holding his or her bag with the logo facing out or in? And in which hand?

Additionally, there are several shots that make up a scene. Usually we’ll shoot a wide or “master” shot of the entire scene, and then we’ll move the camera(s) in closer to shoot individual shots of each actor, group shots, over-the shoulder shots, close-ups of objects they’re using, and whatever other shots are needed for the specific scene. It’s also my job to match continuity from shot to shot within a scene. I help actors with their dialogue and blocking to make sure they repeat the same lines and actions in each shot. That way no matter where the editor wants to cut to another shot, everything will look the same. Was the woman crossing her left leg over her right or right over left? Which line did she stand up on? When did she take a sip of her drink? Which hand did she use? How much water was in the cup? Was her hair in front of her shoulders or behind? Were the chairs at the table in the same position? Were her sleeves pushed up? When the man across the room turned around to talk to her, did he turn left or right? What line did he walk over to her on?

To sum it up, if you are ever watching a movie and see someone’s arm up and then it’s suddenly down, or someone’s hat facing one way and then suddenly the other, or a similar mistake, that would be the script supervisor’s fault, or the editor decided to use a take where a mistake was made for some reason.

All these little details make script supervisor one of the hardest jobs on a film set.

Why did you want to work in script supervising?

I think I was intrigued by the level of difficulty. I was drawn to a job where I would know for certain that I am really making a difference and being utilized. I also loved that it is a position on set that works so closely with the director and also with every department. I get to dip my hands into a little bit of everything and be the safety net for everyone. It’s a job that really gets up close and personal with the creation of a project and even presents opportunities to contribute creatively as I discuss things with the director, the director of photography (DP), and the actors. When I learned about the position in film school, I also recognized how detail-oriented and organized a script supervisor has to be and felt like I had those skills to offer. 

What kind of education/training is required? What skills/personal characteristics are important to have/develop?

You’ve got to have a lot of focus, attention to detail, and organizational skills. You have to know the script better than anyone else and it’s up to you to notice even the tiniest of problems. One daydream during shooting and you could miss a dozen important things. 

Adaptability and social skills are important, too. Every director, every crew, and every set is a little different which makes my job a little bit different every time. I have to be able to figure out quickly how each set works and be the best kind of script supervisor for that specific set . For example, some directors prefer me to give notes to actors directly and others prefer me to talk to them first. Some directors want lines delivered word for word and others are okay with just the gist of the line. Some directors shoot fast, others slow; some are well prepared on how they want to shoot a scene, others aren’t; some don’t care that much about little continuity problems, others care a whole lot; etc. You’ve got to be able to adjust how you work easily. 

As far as social skills go, it’s a job that works, as I said, with every department on set. It’s a fast paced environment and things can get really intense so you’ve got to be able to communicate clearly and quickly but also be able to keep a good relationship with everyone. You’re with these people until the end of the show and you rely on each other to succeed, so you’ve got to figure out how to work together and do your best to make it a good experience for everyone. 

Education and training was pretty limited at BYU. They have a good film program but since a script supervisor is such a specialized role, there wasn’t a lot taught on it. That’s why I came out to LA to learn from other script supervisors in a private classroom setting as well as shadowing on different sets. The best place to learn is definitely on set. It’s also an ever-changing job. Especially with new technologies, every script supervisor finds the best way for them personally to accomplish what’s expected. Some use paper and pencil to take notes and others are digital with a tablet or laptop. I’m digital but even then there are so many ways to take your notes and organize your system. You don’t just learn, you learn and then find the best way of doing the job for you.

What kind of job opportunities are there in your field?

Technically it’s a freelance job. I’m not employed by one company. It’s all about word of mouth and networking and then whoever calls calls. As more and more producers, directors, and crew members got to know me or worked with me, they started using me for all of their projects or recommending me. I did join the The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 871 union in L.A. a few years ago, however, and they help me get my benefits, negotiate contracts, and make sure I don’t get taken advantage of.

A lot of script supervisors move up to director eventually. I’ve gained a lot of skills to be able to direct after working so closely with a variety of directors throughout my career, even having to step up and take on some of the director’s responsibilities in dire times, but I am so happy where I am. Less pressure – but maybe one day.  

What types of jobs have you had within your profession?

To gain the connections I needed when I first graduated from BYU, I took whatever job I could in the film industry. I was an assistant to the Utah Film Commissioner at the Sundance Film Festival; an office assistant for a TV movie shooting in Salt Lake;  a boom operator for a few short films; and then eventually, after telling everyone I worked with what I really wanted to do, I started getting some script supervisor job offers and that’s all I’ve done ever since.

I feel like already I’ve had so many amazing opportunities from working with Robert Duvall on Wild Horses (the western he wrote), helping TC Christensen capture the struggles of Mormon pioneers in Ephraim’s Rescue, hanging out with goofy superheroes in The Aquabats Super Show, to helping out on major films like Secret in Their Eyes, The Revenant, The Meddler, and hit TV shows like Lethal Weapon and Flaked, and so much more. I’m currently working on a Netflix Original Film. I can’t say too much about it but it’s going be a fun one!

Check out my IMDB to see everything I’ve worked on: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4261177/

What is the best part of your job?

It’s so much fun! I get to go places and meet people I never would have and create a story that goes out into the world! Even though it’s extremely hard, that feeling of accomplishing something so difficult is always worth it. I also love that feeling of putting something good into the world. In my own life I’ve had films affect me in amazing ways. The Spirit can be shared through film and that’s something I hope to do as often as I can.

I think my favorite part is all of the amazing people I meet. There’s such a variety of people in this industry with all kinds of different backgrounds and stories. When you film for 14 hour days for months at a time, a real camaraderie forms. You go through a lot together. There are so many people I’ve met that feel like family to me who I probably would have never hung out with in regular life had I not bonded with them on set. From each person I meet, there’s knowledge and perspective to gain. Because of how many different jobs I do, I  meet hundreds of new faces every year, and with each new face comes a new, insightful conversation for both of us.  

What is the worst part of your job?

HARD. WORK. Films and TV shows shoot for months at a time with an average 14-hour day, 5 days a week, and at all hours of the day, too. Sometimes you work all the through night. There are no such things as “time off” or “sick days”. Unless you’re basically on your deathbed, you show up especially when you play such a vital one-person role as script supervisor.

It takes a lot of perseverance. You basically have to check out of the world for a few months because all you have time for is working…and sleeping, but a lot of times you don’t even get enough time for that. You’re working in the elements a lot of times, too. Heat wave, blizzard, thunderstorm – you name it. A couple of my hardest jobs were the freezing cold of Ephraim’s Rescue and the crazy heat, humidity, and mosquitoes of a film I shot in Tennessee called Brave New Jersey. 

What’s the work/family/life balance like?

This question relates to the worst part of the job because it’s extremely hard to balance everything with the schedule I just described. Sometimes I go weeks without seeing my husband awake, and I’ve missed so many fun opportunities with friends and family because I’ve been working, but I’ve learned to make sure I don’t let it get in the way of anything too important. When I first started this career it was so hard to say no to jobs. It felt like the most important thing in the world and I wanted as many contacts as I could get, but in the end, it’s just a movie, TV show, or commercial and those things never should trump family or the gospel. I try hard not to work shows back-to-back so that I can always have a break to catch up with loved ones. I also avoid scheduling jobs over planned vacations or important family events. Even if it means losing a little more sleep, I try never to skip my prayers and scripture study. It’s vital that I have the Spirit with me in such a challenging job and environment as this.

What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

I think because not a lot of people have ever heard of it, they don’t think it’s anything super important. It’s also such a hard job to explain that people assume I write or edit scripts or edit scripts. They don’t realize that I’m on set every day helping the director and being the glue that holds everything together. It’s kind of fun being the woman behind the curtain though.

It’s also hard to understand my job if you don’t understand how films are made. When I explain what I do, the most common response I get from people is “Oh, I would be good at that! I notice those little continuity mistakes in movies all the time!” What they don’t realize is that you have to notice those little things days, weeks, or even months apart after shooting dozens of other things in between, and with the pressure of ruining a multi-million dollar movie on your shoulders if you don’t notice them. Even writing that down makes me feel crazy for doing this job,but I weirdly really do love it.     

What opportunities have you had because of your education and profession?

The places I’ve traveled, the interesting people I’ve met. Because of how many new people I meet each year, I have so many good missionary experiences, too. People ask where I’m from or where I went to film school and as soon as I say I’m from Utah or attended BYU they start putting the pieces together and eventually start asking questions, or they just notice the differences between things I do and how I act compared to others. It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to be an example of a Latter-day Saint so much. There’s some pressure there, too, but hopefully I do okay.

I also have the opportunity to work with and even become close friends with a lot of celebrities and I’m extremely grateful for the perspective that brings to my life. Realizing that they’re just people (and honestly some of them are not the best of people) keeps me from getting distracted by any kind of idolization in the media, and any kind of “wealth brings happiness” beliefs as well. They all have their imperfections just like other people and their personalities are often very different from the characters for which we know them best.  

What stereotypes or criticisms have you faced as an educated Mormon woman with her own career?

99% of the people I work with are not members of the Church so I mostly get a lot of uneducated questions and criticisms like: “How many wives do you share your husband with?” or “Aren’t you not supposed to be drinking soda?” or “Shouldn’t you be at home having a bunch of kids?” And some people have tried to talk me out of the church by bringing up anti-Mormon literature or whatnot and acting confused that “such an intelligent girl could follow a cult religion like that”. When I first started working in this industry, I tried to hide the fact that I was LDS just so I wouldn’t have to deal with all that, but the hard fact is that we stand out in the world as it is now. People almost always figure it out. Whether it’s when I order a Shirley Temple at the wrap party, when I pass on the offer of coffee going around to the crew at 3am on a night shoot, or when I trip over a light stand and say “fudge!”. hen comes the observing, and then the questions. Oh, have I had some crazy questions,but now I embrace it. I pray that I can know the right words to say to the questions asked or the comments made and hope that the Spirit will do most of the work. I guess I’m just used to being the weird Mormon girl at this point and laugh. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I accept people for who they are and hope that they will accept me for who I am. Usually it creates a fun and safe environment to talk about each other’s views of the world without any judgement. 

One thing that I still struggle with a little bit though is the professional credibility loss that comes with being Mormon sometimes. Sometimes people tend to associate drinking, swearing, dirty movie knowledge, partying hard, etc. with a certain level of maturity. Because the world is more open to these things as people get to certain ages, me not doing any of those things can make them view me as less mature or inexperienced. I’ve felt it hinder the ability for people to take me as seriously in a professional role even though I’m well qualified for the position. 

What spiritual guidance have you felt as you have pursued your education and developed your career?

This question is paramount.

The film industry is a hard place to be for a Latter-day Saint. So much of today’s television and film content is filled with vulgarity, immorality, violence, and pornography. Each time a job opportunity presents itself, I prayerfully consider whether or not it’s the sort of project or story that Heavenly Father would want me to take part in. If the answer is no, I turn down the offer. Sometimes this means turning down jobs with attractive pay rates or exciting locations. This is especially hard in a freelance job when you don’t know when your next job may be, but I have faith that by following God’s guidance, my life will be happier and He will help me to succeed. 

I have no idea how I would navigate this career without the Spirit. Sometimes it’s so hard to judge a movie by script alone. There are so many gray areas and so many things you can’t predict about the overall experience. Even if I stuck to only working on G-rated movies, the crew may be rated R. It’s not just about the content. Sometimes it’s an obvious no from the script but I’ve also turned down a few clean scripts for no reason other than it didn’t feel right. Sometimes I have learned why from talking to people who worked on it, and other times I never find out. I’ve also accepted films with questionable language or scenes because I got a strong answer to a prayer. One time I felt strongly I should say yes to a film with a graphic skinny dipping scene, and the scene ended up being omitted from the script during production. Another time I said yes to a film with questionable language because of an answer to prayer and during production they decided to change the rating and not only did they take out most of the swear words, but it was my job to remind the actors not to say them (which felt great!). Even one of my very first films had some strong language that I didn’t like and I was going to turn it down until I felt strongly that I shouldn’t, nd on that film I had some of the most amazing missionary experiences of my life. 

Overall I feel like I’ve been so blessed in being able to work on a lot of wholesome content and even some powerful spiritual films, but this gospel absolutely directs me through this crazy career.

Any other thoughts, advice, or stories you’d like to share with other women?

I’m a woman; I’m a Mormon; I’m the breadwinner of my family; AND I work one of the hardest jobs in the entertainment industry in one of the largest cities in the world. “We can do it” 🙂   

4 Comments on “Career Day: Script Supervisor

  1. I was completely captivated by this article. What a fascinating job along with VERY challenging. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this too Emma – in fact, there were many times I felt like I was reading my own story! I am a Mormon script supervisor in Vancouver BC – at least I was for fifteen years until I very recently had a career change and went to law school. (I just graduated, but I did the odd script job even while in law school). Yours is probably the best and most complete description I’ve seen of script supervising, Emma.

    Script supervising on tv commercials was a fantastic job for me as a young mom. My husband works in film too and somehow we made it work (really well, if I do say so myself), balancing work with church responsibilities and four young children. I had my last two while I worked as a script supervisor, and was very grateful for a well paying and fairly flexible part time job to supplement our household income. Working six or seven days a month and earning a comparable full time salary was a real blessing. It was tough (I remember pumping on location in the middle of the woods with a breast pump up my jacket) but I loved the job and the experiences but especially the people I worked with. And now I’m in my early forties embarking on a new exciting chapter and I know that as a lawyer I’m going to be able to draw on those skills – being detail oriented, the work ethic and the stamina – I developed and honed in no small part as a Scripty.

    • Joanne, it is so so incredibly good to hear that there’s another member of the church out there who was crazy enough to do this job. I haven’t come across any until now. Thanks for your kind words and for giving me hope that I can still balance everything as my family grows 🙂 Best of luck in your new career! That’s awesome!

  3. Emma, I’m glad I came across this article. I thought I knew what you did but I really had no idea. Thanks for sharing. You are awesome.

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