What does a script supervisor do?
Script supervisors sit in the gallery during live and pre-recorded TV shows and count, or count down, to ensure that the show runs on schedule. They are responsible for live shows starting and finishing exactly on time and for making sure pre-recorded shows are completed within the scheduled record time and logged for the edit. They oversee the durations of all the segments and elements – including pre-prepared films (VTs), interviews, music performances, outside broadcasts and more.
Before broadcast, script supervisors work with the producer, who writes the script, to decide on the running order of a show, and with the director who creates a list of camera shots and directions. Script supervisors format the script into a coherent document and create a timed running order by assigning a duration to all the items, making sure the show adds up to the required overall duration.
During broadcast, they sit alongside the producer and director in the gallery.
Script supervisors constantly recalculate timings to account for any changes to the schedule that happen during the show. For example, if an interview runs longer than allocated, a game is played quicker than expected or a guest doesn’t turn up, the remaining item durations need to be adjusted so the programme still take ups the allotted amount of time.
Script supervisors and the director often create a separate camera script for music performances. The director allocates specific camera shots throughout the performance and the script supervisor’s job is to ‘shot call’ each shot in time to the music. For performances without lyrics, script supervisors break the song down into sections and count down the number of musical beats and bars.
Throughout a show, script supervisors talk directly to the presenters via their talk-back and count them through each item; for example, telling them how long they have left to complete an interview or how long is left on a VT clip. Crew from all departments, including floor managers, camera operators, Autocue operators, video tape (VT) operators and sound and lighting crew, listen to and rely on the information given by the script supervisor.
Script supervisors also talk to the director of the broadcast channel, who provides the on-air and off-air times of the programme. For commercial channels, script supervisors tell the channel when they are about to go to a commercial break and count the show off air and back on again.
Like so many jobs in broadcasting, this role can go by different names, depending on the type of programme being produced. In a small company, the script supervisor role might be done by a production assistant who is doing a lot of other things like, helping to set up filming, supporting the director on the shoot, making shot notes on what is captured, liaising with the crew on directions to the location and organising the snacks. As the production gets bigger and the roles more specialised, they are likely to be called a script supervisor or shot caller.
They tend to be employed as freelancers.
What's a script supervisor good at?
- Timekeeping: working with minutes and seconds, be able to do mental maths quickly and accurately
- Communication: clearly relay timings to presenters and liaise efficiently with producers, directors, outside broadcast units and the network
- Staying calm: do your job in a high-pressure, sometimes live, fast-paced and changing environment
- Preparation: be thorough in allocating timings before a show is filmed, have a plan B
- IT skills: be able to use a variety of software across different productions