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Job Title: Script Supervisor

Job Overview

The script supervisor keeps a record of the scenes that have been shot, ensuring continuity with regard to the set, lighting, props and costumes; notes any deviations in the script and dialogue; and records the director's instructions to the editor.

“A script supervisor has three main responsibilities,” explains script supervisor Susan Youngman Hoen. “One: they communicate to the editor the director's vision through notes. Two: they watch over continuity, which may be the most important thing, and they assist all the departments with continuity. Three: I am there for the director, making sure we don't forget a shot.

“All script supervisors take notes in almost the same way. It's a universal language that editors understand. There are lines that go down the script and you write what the shot is called, how many takes and which takes were the favorite.”

Special Skills

A script supervisor must be detail oriented, able to recognize any deviations in the placement of furniture and props, changes in wardrobe and dialogue, and must record those differences. Good verbal and written communication skills are necessary; a calm temperament under pressure is an asset. “No one wants to spend 15 hours a day on a set with someone who is high strung or gets anxious and crazy,” says Hoen. “You've got to be friendly and easy to get along with.”

Script supervisor Thomas Johnston points out the necessity of having a strong work ethic: “It's a business of incredibly long hours. You have to stick in there every hour of a 14-hour day.

Advice for Someone Seeking This Job

Before you can become a script supervisor, you must know the mechanics of the job. There are several schools that teach script supervision, particularly in the Los Angeles area. There are also books that explain what notations are necessary, and how and where to make them in the script. Once you have an understanding of the basics, Hoen suggests contacting a working script supervisor and asking if you can come watch them work. Volunteer to work for free on student and nonunion projects to gain some experience. “You learn from experience.”

Johnston says you have to be willing to work for nothing under sometimes terrible conditions. “Eventually what happens, if you do this enough, is the people you work with tend to move up, remember you, and refer you to other people. You work with them and they move up and you.

“You have to seek out your own work,” he adds. “You can't wait for people to call you. You have to make yourself available. It's sending a lot of résumés out and making a lot of phone calls to production offices. Half the time, or more, you'll call and they'll say, ‘We've already hired somebody.’ Or, you send a résumé and you never hear back. You just have to keep doing it and keep doing it, and sooner or later, somebody will remember you and give you an opportunity.”

Professional Profile: Thomas Johnston, Script Supervisor

Being in the right place at the right time and making the most of the opportunity is how Thomas Johnston became a successful script supervisor. He became interested in movies in his teens, met other high school students who shared his interest, and with them formed a film club to make 8mm movies for school assemblies.

Unable to decide on a career, Johnston completed general education courses at a community college and Arizona State University. In his second year, he took an interest in film classes, later transferring to San Francisco State University where he earned a bachelor's degree in filmmaking. While still in school, he began working as a production assistant at area film companies.

After graduating, Johnston returned to his Arizona home and worked on a freelance basis, primarily as a camera assistant, for a local commercial production company. Hearing that a movie called Raising Arizona was coming to shoot in the area, he contacted the production company and expressed his desire to work on the film. In the early stages of production, Johnston was offered a position as production assistant, working with brothers Joel and Ethan Coen and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld while they shot camera tests. For a few weeks, Johnston drove the equipment van, loaded the cameras, and assisted as requested. Once the film was organized and the production office open, the Coens asked Johnston to be their script supervisor. “I had never done it before, but they weren't finding anyone they were happy with. They felt they could teach me how they wanted me to do it better than if they hired someone who had been doing it.”

Johnston had never considered working as a script supervisor, but soon realized, “It was a job that put me in the middle of the action. I would be there when they were shooting every shot in the movie. I would be working closely with the directors, the cinematographer, editors and actors … It was a great learning experience.”

As Campus Man prepared to shoot in Arizona, the producers got a copy of the crew list for Raising Arizona and contacted Johnston about handling the script supervision. About six months after the picture wrapped, Johnson was again contacted to script supervise, this time for the feature Prison, shot in Wyoming. Upon returning to Arizona, he was hired to script supervise the television series The Highwayman.

“That was the job I truly learned to be a script supervisor on. Television is a really, really demanding way to work. On a feature, you may shoot two or three pages a day. On [The Highwayman] we averaged 12 pages a day. It's a lot more work for everyone, including myself. The difficult part for the script supervisor is that not only do you have to keep track of the current episode, but you're shooting inserts and pickups from previous episodes that you may have shot three or four weeks ago as well. It was a very demanding job, maintaining continuity from scene to scene … I really had to find ways to refine what I did.”

What do you like least about your job?

“Sometimes you end up working in horrible conditions that are very cold or very hot, very dusty and very cramped.”—Thomas Johnston

What do you love most about your job?

“The thing I like most is taking something that is totally artificial and giving it the illusion [that] it is happening in real time.” Johnston also enjoys the fact that his job puts him in close proximity to the director, and sometimes affords him an opportunity to have some creative input.Thomas Johnston

At the time, the Coen brothers were directing a film every two or three years. Whenever they went into production, they called Johnston. During the next several years he worked with them on Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?

“[The Coens] became more popular and successful. Doing their movies and having them on my résumé got me in the door to people, and a lot of people sought me out because of them. You tend to get judged by the people you work with rather than the work you do in this business.”

Until 1988, all of the productions Johnston worked on were shot in his home state or nearby locations, so he remained based in Arizona. Script supervising Barton Fink was his first experience working in Los Angeles. At one point, in the early 1990s, he lived a nomadic lifestyle, shuttling from one location to another.

Johnston first met cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld while working on Raising Arizona. When Sonnenfeld got the chance to direct his first feature, The Addams Family, he hired Johnston as script supervisor. Shortly after production began, Johnston sought out the film's editor and introduced himself. “I told [Dede Allen] how I got into script supervising … She took a liking to me and took me under her wing. She really, really taught me a lot about filmmaking, editing, and about my job as a script supervisor. It was like a dream experience, because she was somebody I really respected. I learned a tremendous amount about filmmaking … Dede allowed me to come into the editing room and watch her cut. She would explain to me why certain things worked and why she preferred certain angles; how to make things go together, not only in technical terms, but in story terms.”


* “Be willing to jump in and do whatever needs to be done.”—Thomas Johnston

Johnston's admittance into the union while working on The Addams Family opened additional doors, brought more choice of projects, and enabled him to pursue work with other filmmakers he admired. He came to know producer Patrick Markey while working on The Tie That Binds and Bogus, and shared his desire to work with Robert Redford. A couple of years later, when Markey was producing The Horse Whisperer, he arranged for Johnston to meet Redford. Johnston was hired for the project and also script supervised Redford's next picture, The Legend of Bagger Vance. “Once you have a good relationship with a director, usually you'll end up working with that same person over and over again.”

From the time he first entered film school, Johnston's goal was to eventually make his own movies. Together with David Elton and Eric Tignini, friends since high school and film school days, the three managed to carve out time between their individual projects to write, produce, and direct an independent film called Jerome. Several years in the making, the film successfully toured film festivals and aired on the Sundance Channel and Showtime.

Although always busy, Johnston managed to squeeze in four days off after wrapping Analyze That, before reuniting with the Coen brothers to script supervise Intolerable Cruelty.

Professional Profile: Susan Youngman Hoen, Script Supervisor

Undecided about what she wanted to do after high school, Susan Youngman Hoen enrolled at Questa College, near her home in San Luis Obisbo, California, to study journalism. She quickly discovered it wasn't for her, but found that the school's radio and television stations did pique her interest. Initially working on news programming, conducting interviews, and producing shows, she came to realize that telling fictional stories was more appealing. Once she decided that she wanted to work in film or television production, she enrolled in the film department at Cal-State Long Beach.

“That was a great experience for me, because that school is hands-on: you're the director, the sound mixer, the editor, or you write the story. You do everything.” While in school, she landed her first internship working on American Bandstand. The production taped four shows on Saturdays. Hoen's assignment was to guard the female dressing rooms during the taping, to ensure that the dancers didn't sneak back and steal one another's clothes.

Her next internship was on the television series Secrets and Mysteries, assisting the writing staff with research. After graduation, she landed a job in the mail room at Fox Television, later moving to 20th Century Fox.

What do you like least about your job?

“What I like the least is that it's a very hard job. You always have to be on. Every single take, you have to be paying attention to every detail. It's exhausting.”Susan Youngman Hoen

What do you love most about your job?

“I like helping everybody on the set. Being the right-hand man, so to speak, to the director. It's a fun position because the director counts on you in so many ways to not miss anything. Sometimes they ask your opinion, so you have some creative input. “—Susan Youngman Hoen

With no friends or family in the film industry, Hoen began the arduous process of looking for a production assistant job. After looking through TV Guide to discover which shows were on air, she sent résumés to the production companies that produced the shows. She also searched The Hollywood Reporter and Variety for films in production and sent out more résumés. Eventually, one landed on the desk of a producer for The Gary Shandling Show on the very day he fired his receptionist. He called Hoen and offered her the job.

Later, she became a writer's assistant on Night Court. “You sit around a table with the writers and they pitch jokes and lines and come up with story ideas. You write down what they say, then you type it up, and put out the scripts.” During this time, Hoen decided that she wanted to be a director, and that the best route to becoming one was through script supervision because, “they work side-by-side with the director.”

She enrolled in a script supervision course and contacted a couple of working supervisors to ask if she could observe them at work. “I would script supervise quietly in the background, and then we would talk and compare what I did with the notes she took. I just learned from being on set.”


* Whether you're working on a small independent film, a series, or a feature, “it's just as important that things match and shots cut together. The job is the same, the only difference is how much you get paid. “Susan Youngman Hoen

* “Some directors are really verbal and tell you what their plan is and how they want to cover everything. With them, it's easy to make sure you don't miss anything. But some directors keep it all in their head, so you just have to go with the flow and make sure that you pay attention to what they talk about. Some directors will just tell their director of photography, and some will tell their AD. You just need to be around and pay attention, without being annoying.”—Susan Youngman Hoen

While continuing to work as a production assistant or writers’ assistant on sitcoms, Hoen gained experience handling script supervision for the show's splinter units. “No one really wants to give a script supervisor their first chance, because there is so much responsibility in the job. The mistakes show on film. Shots won't cut together because they don't match. Your notes are important to an editor; it saves them a lot of time if they don't have to sit and watch every little take.” Experience working with the splinter units enabled her to move permanently into supervision.

Hoen's early jobs were on television specials and variety shows, then came series work, and her first feature, Forsaken. She script supervised a number of children's television series, including The Secret World of Alex Mack, The Journey of Allen Strange, and 100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd. It was one of the executive producers of The Journey of Allen Strange who discovered Hoen's goal to direct and gave her a break. “It was an episode of a half-hour, single camera film. That, by far, was a highlight of my career, to know that people trusted me so much that they gave me a chance to direct.” While she enjoyed the experience, it taught her that she no longer wanted to pursue directing as a career.

Hoen subsequently worked on the Tim Burton special Lost in Oz, and the television series C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigations, Pasadena, and That's Life.

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