As you work closely with a director, there will be times when you’ll know what he wants to say and what he’s feeling without having to exchange a word. One time, even though the director had told the assistant director about changes to be made after the test and after the shoot, he hadn’t picked up on it, and I couldn’t understand why. In speaking with other script supervisors, I used to complain about crew members who couldn’t pick up on things, but I realized recently that this is a script supervisor’s special skill. It’s not a supernatural power; it’s a skill that is honed through on-the-job experience.
Though the script supervisor is always by the director’s side receiving instructions, we ask lots of questions, too. Things like, “The dialogue is different, but do you want to make any changes?” or “The continuity looks choppy – do you want to reshoot or re-edit?” or “The actor changed his performance – does it look ok?” I also relay any questions from other departments to the director. Directors have a lot of considerations to weigh, too. Not just about the scene in front of them, but also character development and other scenes, the look of the whole movie. When they’re asked questions in the midst of their thinking process, it’s not helpful if their process and their ideas get interrupted.
So I take a lot of care when figuring out the best time to tell directors what needs to be said. I learn to read their faces for when they’re deep in thought. I avoid those times, and ask questions and offer suggestions once we are in sync.
I get to know a director’s preferences as the production progresses by noting modifications to items like the actors’ performances, and I can eventually predict when he’ll call for another take during shooting. Then the changes I anticipated happen. I can tell from the way he says “Cut!” whether the scene was good or not. For an hour-long series, for example, there will be about 400-500 shots. Even if he says it once for the test and once during the shoot, he’ll end up saying it nearly 1,000 times, so it’s not surprising that you start to pick up on these things.
In cases where a director and script supervisor have worked together many times, the script supervisor might be able to suggest, “Should we send it off to editing?” immediately after the director calls “Cut.” There are some script supervisors who can tell you a director’s vision without the director having to articulate it, having worked in the business for a long time. Occasionally you might hear a comment like, “The script sup on that team was like the director,” which means the script supervisor has been working for so long with the director that the director can trust the script supervisor to tell the cast and crew what needs to be done.
The Importance of Knowing What Doesn’t Work
One time when I was still new to the job, I groaned “hmmm” when I was with the director. It didn’t have anything to do with work. It just slipped out, but it was unsettling for the director. I was surprised by this, and was told, “When the script sup finds something troubling, it means there’s a big problem.” In this moment, I realized just how much influence a script supervisor can have on a director, and that directors know how well script supervisors understand their vision.
There are some directors you’ll be compatible with, who are easy to talk to, with whom it’s easy to build a rapport, and then there are others who aren’t like that. They don’t talk a lot, so it can be hard work figuring out what type of script supervisor they’re looking for, but I’m starting to figure things out.
The first thing I do when I work with a new director is to ask him about his favorite scene in the script. I can decide how to build our relationship based on this.
The most important thing is to know what a director doesn’t like. It’s easy once you know what has to be avoided at all costs. Once you know this, you’ll earn the director’s trust in your work.