In March, I was given the opportunity to work alongside some of my fellow filmmakers new and old on a student film called Found and Lost. At first I was beyond excited to work on a project that would see the light of day when all was said and done. Then, almost immediately, I was blindsided by an equally energetic sense of confusion and fear. I didn’t know what a script supervisor was, what they did or how they did it. All I knew was that I now had the job and it involved a chart with a lot of empty spaces.
The film is about a woman who comes to terms with her addictions and tries her best to over come them. It was a three-day shoot, though I was only present for only two of those days. They were hot days, they were long days, but they were great days. I met a ton of new people and learned a lot about how a proper set is run. It was akin to being at Disneyland for just under twenty hours and having the fast pass to everything. We started with the interior scenes, which presented us with the very interesting task of recording and filming in close quarters with about ten people, various props, and a variety of sound and lighting equipment.
My job during this entire process was to supervise the set’s continuity and check in with the sound unit, the camera operator, and the director. Now: It took me a relatively long time to figure out how to do this job right. I had issues understanding the language used on set, I had trouble keeping track of objects in the many shots and takes we took, I had even more trouble figuring out what information to tell (or not tell) the director when I was checking in. Being a script supervisor taught me an important lesson in how to identify true problems versus things that look like problems but really aren’t.
The Sound Guys:
These guys were pretty awesome. In fact, they were probably some of my favorite people on set, because they were always nice and always quiet. For this part of my job I basically had to wait for the director to yell, ‘Cut!” then ask the sound techs something like this, “Hey was that good?” It was really that simple. Strangely enough, this was a hard thing for me to do and when I started asking my first questions I made it way more complicated than it needed to be. It all really is just a dialogue…no pun intended. After that question was asked, the sound mixer would either give me thumbs up with a verbal yes or he would say no and assign blame to passing airplanes, cars, a noisy refrigerator or whatever the issue was. (I was thoroughly surprised with the sensitivity of the boom mic we used. It picked up every noise possible from flies to dogs barking from across the street).
And for all of you who don’t know how the sound unit operates let me explain: There are two people, one with a bag containing a multi-channel sound mixer that can be manipulated on the spot. Another person holds a boom mic over the area in which the actor (or actors) operates from a distance. This person is attached to the sound mixer the entire time by cords that input the noise from the boom into that very mixer. It is as interesting to watch as it is funny.
The Camera Operator:
Now the camera operator, in this case, was a single person. A very smart and talented individual whom moves the camera, creates the desired image on the display, and manages many different types of lenses. For Found and Lost we stuck with both 15mm and 25 mm lenses. This detail was a hard one to pin down as the days went on, because more often then not I was behind a wall of reflectors, camera stands, techs and props. Which means that as the area became a more lived in space and the angles demanded a new lens or an even more intense angle of attack; I was not close enough to be keeping an eye on the camera much less the actors or the many other things I was meant to keep an eye on. Likewise, on the second day of filming I ended up writing down the wrong lens type for the entire day and never knew that I was doing it wrong!
That moment is a perfect example of what I meant when I said that I was unaware of the language that a film crew uses. Often the camera operator would talk about using another lens then just as soon decide not to. So, in my confusion I was under the impression that she was using the 15mm when really she was using the 25mm or vice versa! This sort of situation was a great situation to be in, because it forced me to distinguish a discussion from a decision, which is a hard thing to do with so many things happening at once.
With the director my job got a little bit more complicated. Well actually…it got a lot more complicated. Let me tell you why. When you approach the director in the heat of the day, (half way through a shoot, possibly at wits end) they can be a different person than the one you got to know. This is not at all a bad thing; I mean everyone has, what I call, a work personality and a social personality, of which stand separated from one another. It is very important to know this and understand this, because if you don’t then your skin can become very thin and then every little thing can be taken the wrong way. With that in mind, I would definitely say that it took me a while to both know this and understand it. It’s hard to do. Honestly. I found myself being stung multiple times during the roughly twenty hours we spend filming. Could you believe that I might have even taken it personally at times as well?
The truth is that it is not personal, it’s just business. When you are working with someone who has not only the entire crew to worry about, but also the set, equipment, deadlines and whatever else you can think of. You (me) have to take a step back and see the whole picture. I am one part of this rather large machine and because of that I have to know that people are going to be tense, they are going to possibly be dismissive, but most importantly they are going to be invested, heavily. This is their vision. They have more riding on this film than arguably anyone else involved with it.
[I am proud to note also that I never had a moment on set where I felt like I wasn’t being heard and I never felt like I would rather be somewhere else.]
It gets complicated, because you have to express everything that you learned from each scene, from every department and tell the director in the most productive way possible. This dilemma led me through the timeless moral question of how much information is good information. Do I tell them that there was a barking dog recorded over the last scene? How do I tell the director that even though it is my job to keep continuity, I just can’t remember which red cup was used in that specific scene that we shot four hours ago? Do I even bother to mention that I wrote down the wrong lens information for every take of the last three scenes? Should I? How do I tell the entire crew that we have to film another take of a scene, of which we have already shot five times, because there is this one stupid fly that we cannot seem to kill and it keeps flying right past, into, on top of the damned boom mic? Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.
The answer to these questions are simple really, you just say them out loud. I just don’t want to be hated for breaking this news over and over again. I don’t want to be that guy. But also it’s my job and it was a very fun job. I loved this job! Being a Script Supervisor taught me that it is so important to have a dialogue with the people you associate with. It really showed me that I need to be more communicative in my own life and that it is better to have said something than to not have and better yet it gave me better understanding of what to say and what not to say when it matters most.