I wanted to work in the business of making TV dramas and movies. When I was little, I excitedly watched behind-the-scenes shows and outtakes. To see what goes on behind a production is to be privy to a private world, like having a secret, and I became interested in this industry because I wanted to make my a movie and move people.
I didn’t have a specific department in mind when I entered film school. So, I enrolled in a production class because I thought I had to get a special skill.
The only thing I knew was I wasn’t cut out to be a director. I’m the type who performs best when working for others. I do better supporting the leader rather than being the leader guiding my team. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I am part of a team.
What made me want to be a script supervisor was listening to my teacher’s talk about what a script supervisor does. “They are there from the beginning right to the end.” “They stay by the director’s side and give advice.” I thought, “This is the job for me!”
Movie-making can be roughly divided into three major categories: “Pre Production”, “Production” and “Post Production”. I’d always wanted to be involved in producing a movie from beginning to end. I wanted to have as much say in storytelling as the director and be at the heart of the action. I didn’t know there was a department like that other than directing. It turns out “script supervisor” was the perfect job for me. But the school didn’t have courses that trained students in all of the aspects of a script supervisor’s job. None of the graduates had gone on to be script supervisors, so I pursued a career in script supervising without really knowing what it would entail.
On a Japanese TV or movie set, there is one script supervisor per production. No superiors and no subordinates. The only way to learn the job is by shadowing a script supervisor on set. That’s how I learned. I was shocked at how much the script supervisor does.
The script supervisor’s responsibilities
The first thing the script supervisor is responsible for is noting the time. The supervisor reads the script and calculates exactly how much time is required for the production. To determine the length of a performance, the supervisor uses a stopwatch to predict how long it will take to read the dialogue, recording how much time is needed for each scene, and reports on the total time required. For TV dramas in particular, where airtime is measured in one-second increments, if it’s too short, there will be trouble, and if it runs over, then it has to be cut. The majority of the time, the running time is calculated using the preliminary manuscript, using it as reference later when editing the script.
During pre-production, the supervisor attends the costume fittings, discusses the look of the characters, participates in art department meetings, and relays the final look to the director.
Once shooting begins, the job is to work closely with the director. The director tells the script supervisor how the scenes should be put together. The script supervisor relays this to the editor, who isn’t on set, and checks the continuity between the scenes that the director indicated should be edited. If there are any inconsistencies, they will be fixed.
The script supervisor uses a stopwatch to measure the length of each take. This is to find any discrepancies between the time calculated prior to shooting versus the length of the actual shoot, and to verify the running time of the finished product. If it looks to be a big difference, the director is informed and adjustments are made to the script.
The script supervisor is also responsible for the “take number”, like “Scene 15, Take 3”. Once the information is recorded on the slate, it makes it easier to request the necessary props. It’s common for TV dramas and movies to film scenes out of sequence. They need to be numbered so they can be put in order later. It’s the script supervisor’s job to prepare and supervise the prop list.
Once shooting has wrapped, then the editing work begins and the supervisor joins this task, too. First, the editor consults the script supervisor’s breakdown report and watches the scenes, but it doesn’t get sent off just yet. How can the movie/drama be edited to make it more interesting? The director consults with the editor and script supervisor, exchanges ideas, and starts editing.
The script supervisor then oversees the combined takes and checks for inconsistencies. If ADR is necessary, then an ADR script is prepared, and depending on the production, a final script is written. The final script will be rewritten to include the additional ADR. The script supervisor has various responsibilities.
Seeing the Future
A script supervisor in Japan is generally known as “Kiroku”, which is what they say in TV, but in the movies it’s more common to say “Script Supervisor.” The duties include keeping an eye on the continuity between scenes, but the essence of the work is to understand the director’s final vision and manage the set to connect the images in telling the story. It’s a concept that all storytellers in the movies and TV can understand.
I’ll give you an example from something I’ve worked on. A man is reading a book by the window. The book is in the foreground and the camera is at a low angle. The man is engrossed in what he’s reading, but at the sound of a voice, he turns around in surprise. The scene is cut, and now we see him from the reverse angle. It’s from the POV of the woman who spoke, and we see him handing her the book. When you edit these two shots, it isn’t even 20 seconds, but it took 20 minutes to shoot. When you shoot the scene from different angles, the situation has to be exactly the same. The window, how the curtains are drawn, the man’s hair, where he’s sitting, his posture, the amount of light in the room, the look of surprise on his face. Each department is responsible for each item, as they will all be connected. Then the two scenes are edited to make it appear seamless, so you don’t realize it was a 20-minute shoot.
The script supervisor takes an objective look at the edited shots to ensure nothing is amiss. If the director says the scene where the man turns around is where he made the cut, then you need to check for continuity. If the other shot is cut mid-flow, maybe the curtains will be fluttering too much. Once the script supervisor has checked for continuity, then it’s OK. The script supervisor needs to see how all aspects of the shoot come together in editing. She / he needs to see the future. The script supervisor’s judgment and comments have a huge impact on the director and on-set.
There are many ways to connect the takes, but the ideal is for all of the possibilities to work. Sometimes when the script supervisor is too caught up in the story, it is possible to overlook the fact that a glass, which originally was in the actor’s right hand, is now in the left after the cut. But no doubt the audience will subconsciously pick up on this error. It’s like when you realize how hard the seat is that you’ve been sitting in, or why you are looking at your watch. The job is to remove even one negative implication to preserve continuity.
Love the work, adopt the director’s style
I’ve experienced lots of hardships in my career. Going on set alone, I wasn’t sure how a script supervisor should act. During my apprenticeship, I was with my mentor, and the director, crew and even the actors came up to us to ask us questions and advice. But once I was on my own, I wasn’t sure how to communicate with the director or the crew. When I heard the director’s instructions on set, I wasn’t sure what we ought to be discussing, who I should tell when I noticed continuity inconsistencies, or how I should say it. It was lonely being a one-person department, and I remember being envious of the lighting department, who were talking back and forth over their walkie-talkies, laughing and having a good time.
There’s nothing worse than being thought “incompetent” or “useless”, so I gave the job my all. “The power to see the future.” In order to train myself to do this, I thought about what ought to come just before and right after a take. That’s when a director directing a comedy said to me, “I wish you had enjoyed yourself more.” I was so busy working hard on set that I’d lost sight of the process of creation. I was concerned with making sure there were no prop errors, writing clearly enough so that the editing department could understand the report, and of course the script supervisor’s main job is to check for accurate continuity, but I realized that it was necessary to show up on set in the right frame of mind. I’d forgotten the importance of working together as a team: laughing together, making things more enjoyable, keeping in mind the director’s style and whether the audience would appreciate it. My mentor had told me to “love the work” and “see things from the director’s viewpoint.” I knew what those words meant now. Funnily enough, once I changed my attitude, directors started asking for me by name.
I began to realize that the script supervisor ought to be the director’s navigator working alongside the director. The supervisor understands the director’s desires and conveys them clearly to the crew, and if there is confusion about how to proceed, the job is to propose alternatives. Understanding what the director values most, the supervisor should work towards that goal on set. If the supervisor relays continuity info to the actors, depending on the director, it can sometimes affect their performance. I had such a case and felt it was important to keep quiet because the director valued the emotions in the performance over movement.
Having been a script supervisor for over ten years now, I believe this is the perfect job for me.
Changing with the times
When I first entered the industry, there were still a lot of film movies, but things quickly changed over to digital. The TV screen ratio that was 4:3 became 16:9, all the data began to be managed by a server, and now images are shared wirelessly. This technology continues to improve every year. Some aspects of the job have gotten easier: you can now easily take pictures with a digital camera to check things, which makes it less burdensome to record continuity issues on set. It’s easier to check props, the editing department can email images, and it’s possible to call up props while on set. You can also scan your requests and send data to the editing department, eliminating the need to pay a visit to the editing room.
Though the administrative work has lessened, some things have remained unchanged. And that’s the connections between people. As a script supervisor, I make a conscious effort to nurture “the unbreakable thread that ties the entire crew together.” It means that we can all feel a tug when someone on the team has an idea or feels inspired to do something. The people in each department are pros at what they do; they all have experience. The script supervisor’s role is to tell the director about everyone’s opinions so that there are more alternatives. It’s important to be aware of and create an atmosphere conducive to discussion. It would be nice if that aspect of the job doesn’t change even if the system on set does. Taking advantage of the current advancements in digital technology will deepen the bonds forged between people. The internet has made it easier for the crew to contact one another, and by sharing on-set information, it will lead to more ideas.
There are so many digital tools to oversee information suited for the movie and TV industries. The script supervisor’s work tools are “the script”, “a pencil” and “a stopwatch.” Three items. But soon these items will be upgraded, and it is up to script supervisors to determine how the role will change along with the times.
Yuko HONZU (script supervisor)
2006 Joined Atelier 117. Studied under Mariko KARASAKI.
2008 Debuted in movie “Kung Fu Kid” (dir: Issei ODA).
Representative work: “Chihayafuru” movie series (dir: Norihiro KOIZUMI), “TAP THE LAST SHOW” (dir: Takeru MIZUTANI), “Life Is Hard, Tabun Happy” (dir: Hisashi KIMURA).
TV dramas: “Ossan’s Love” (dir: Toichiro RUTO, Daisuke YAMAMOTO), “Video Girl AI – 2018” (dir: Kazuaki SEKI, Yukinori MAKABE, Kenji KUWAJIMA).