Roe Moore‘s vast experience has taken her both in front of the camera and behind the scenes on familiar television shows like Lucha Underground and Wives with Knives as well as indie film favorites like Entertainment and The Escort. She’s worked as a script supervisor alongside many highly acclaimed directors. As founder and producer of PiePie Productions, she has produced multiple award-winning projects including short film Dark Specter and narrative web content for Funny-or-Die. Roe was recently awarded a women’s Filmmaker-in-Residence with Her Film Project. Twitter: @Roe_Moore
When a script goes into production, many variables can change your story.
Today is a special treat from two of the most misunderstood positions in the film industry: script supervisor and script coordinator. I have been a script supervisor for over four years and I am joined by script coordinator Cole Fowler (currently the Script Coordinator for How To Get Away With Murder) to provide insight to writers of what to expect when a script goes into production.
Script Supervisors are responsible for multiple tasks in the day-to-day operations on a production set: taking notes for the post production team; ensuring the actors say their lines and hit their marks repeatedly take after take; and confirming the coverage of the script so the story can be told as written when the footage hits the editing room while documenting any changes.
Script Coordinators are the liaison between the writers and the studio/production company. Like a script supervisor, script coordinators are to keep track of the broader picture of a show’s continuity and timeline; are responsible for coordinating the discussion regarding script changes from the Standards and Practices as well as creative changes from the studio, director, or actors; and are the point of contact when the writer isn’t available. The position is also responsible for formatting, proofreading and tracking changes to the script drafts.
Here are a few things writers can consider when their script goes into production from our perspective:
Differences Between Television and Film for a Writer
Cole describes the difference between film and television the best: “For film, you have to know all the answers before you go into production. In television, everyone gets to figure things out together as you go.” Both mediums lend themselves to high collaboration between the writer, director, and the actors when it comes to the story and the characters. The primary difference is the involvement of the writer once the script goes into production.
In television, the writer is on set and available for all questions pertaining to the characters, the story arc, and other details needed to fill the world. Cole suggests a writer must know and understand the character and story of the episode so well that they can simply answer any question brought to them from the creative people who are bringing their words to life. Often if the writer doesn’t know the answer, there is a high possibility the actor and/or director doesn’t know either. Depending on the show, the writer may also be needed to write other alternative dialogue lines – especially for Comedy. Cole may step in when the changes or details.
In film, it is a rarity to have the writer available for clarifications. In the event something isn’t clear, the director is the one making decisions. As a script supervisor, I assist the director in making sure the choices do not affect the continuity of the script or the character. This includes heat-of-the-moment decisions like: “Would the character carry his skateboard with him in this scene?”
In that instance, the director may decide to change what was written. If the director chooses to have the character no longer carry his skateboard, our positions will go through the script and determine if this works with the story and the character’s arc. As a script coordinator, Cole will reach out to the writer directly and confirm the information. As a script supervisor, I will review the script as written as well as the footage that has already been captured on camera. This will ensure if the director’s chosen moment for the character to no longer carries his skateboard would make sense. From both of our perspectives, we are responsible for providing solutions to how the director’s vision can work based off the writing. This may include providing alternative dialogue lines, adding an additional shot that isn’t written – maybe we see him put the skateboard in his closet.
What Changes Can a Writer Possibly Anticipate?
There are many variables that can cause a script to change once it is put into production. From budgetary constraints to location availability, these changes can be anticipated. From his experience, Cole mentions that, particularly on his show, they often look at the characters of an episode and determine if the character has to be a woman or a man or if it can be an open casting.
In my experience, sometimes a script change can happen when the production runs behind on the schedule. I’ve seen where they will cut or change the character’s scene because they only have an hour to film what would normally take two-three hours. This means simplifying the dialogue and the action so we can complete the scene. Particularly in action genre films, sometimes the script’s action will need to change because the location doesn’t have enough space to complete what was described. When this happens on set, I advocate for crucial story points and character actions that need to be met to keep the story’s integrity.
Both of our positions are responsible for the continuity of a script. At the end of the day, not everything has to make sense; but the awareness needs to be there in the event it does create an issue. For example, if there are certain props with restricted quantities mentioned like a gun, I will count how many times the gun fires and do my research on the type of gun. This helps ensure whether it makes sense to see the gun reloaded on screen and whether props is providing magazines for the actor to reload the gun. It doesn’t necessarily need to be written that the character reloads the gun between rounds, but it’s helpful to keep in mind that a character using a double barrel rifle wouldn’t necessarily be firing the rifle 10 times in a row immediately one after another.
Our responsibilities include tracking the film or show’s timeline. This helps us determine what the calendar in the character’s bedroom or office should say. If there are mentions of injuries or time-specific things, I document the progression of how these would heal through the following scenes/episodes. I review the dialogue to see if a character says, “I’ll see you next week” or similar items to give a relatively logical timeline for the film or show.
Our Best Advice for Writers
When you’ve written your script, consider multiple options of where your story could go. Sometimes the first instinct is right, but there may be an interesting story nugget is overlooked and may be more interesting. Cole’s best advice is something he’s learned from his boss: “Surprise yourself, and you most likely will surprise the audience.”
From my perspective as a script supervisor, the best thing a screenwriter can do is to include all vital information in the script. When there is a discrepancy or a change that needs to be made during production, I run a checks and balances to ensure major points of the script and what has already been filmed are not affected by the changes. If a piece of information isn’t included – like a character should always carry his skateboard with him always – it most likely will be overlooked.
We’re Here in Service to the Script and Production
The overall job of our positions is to work in service of the script and the production. We each develop a sense of what is right and what needs to be addressed either with the writer or production. For example, if there is a character written with bad grammar, a script coordinator may confirm the choice with the writer.
The end goal is to have the writer happy with the script and end product.
Learn about all the different career options beyond writer in
Career Opportunities in the Film Industry