I have been working on a Lifetime movie of the week, (MOW) with my good friend Ron Oliver as director, for the past two weeks (and he is the only reason I am working on this show for reasons that you will see as you read on). It has been a lot of fun (entirely due to Ron), albeit if a challenge, and I am really enjoying it. There are a couple of reasons for the challenge and all seem to stem from one source: for some reason, although the budget is what is normal for these productions, there doesn't seem to be much money to go around. I am working for the lowest rate I have had in 7 years and I was given just one day to prep, normally I get two or three. Consequently, I was unable to do a timing or a thorough breakdown of the script. A breakdown is where I go through the script with a fine-toothed comb and track all continuity as it progresses through the story; wardrobe, makeup (progression of injuries and their bruisings), props, set dec, vehicles etc. and then place it all into a one-line description of each scene. HERE is an example of one I created for a movie I worked on several years ago. This lack of ample time to go through the script and work through continuity has resulted in a few issues on set. Couple that with the fact that low rates usually results in inexperienced crew and it's a recipe for disaster - as we discovered in our first week.
The on-set wardrobe girl seemingly does not understand the requirements of her position and thus, when I suspected a problem with wardrobe continuity after filming a scene where the main character was no longer wearing her suit jacket and I wasn't sure as to why that was - I went to her and asked to see her continuity photographs for three particular scenes. The on-set wardrobe person always takes photos of how the character is attired right before the scene starts. They also make copious notes as to anything that transpires with the wardrobe during the scene, for example: Jessica removed her jacket and hung in on the back of the chair. She fled without her jacket so she will no longer have it for the remainder of the show. When the on-set wardrobe girl couldn't produce any pictures or notes and, in fact stated that she had none, I was flabbergasted. This was a first for me.
Even if I had enough time to do a proper breakdown, there are things that transpire while filming that I am not aware will occur because I have not been party to the meetings between the director and wardrobe (or other department heads) where those decisions are made. Apparently, there wasn't enough prep time for anyone on this show so those meetings never occurred. But, at the very least, the on-set crew of all departments should be taking notes as to what is happening as it is happening. I am there as their safety net but I am not there to do their jobs for them, as I made clear to the wardrobe girl. I told her I needed to see her breakdown for wardrobe and when and where changes would be made. She assured me she would have it when we returned from our day off. She didn't produce any paperwork for me to see until the third day after our return and when she did, it was of no value to me as it made no sense. So now it seems to fall to me to determine when and where wardrobe changes will occur and to track those changes (the story takes place over three days but our main character is on the run and so wears the same outfit for most of the movie - a skirt and matching jacket with blouse, and a camel coat. She also has a sports team jacket and baseball cap that she will wear at one point as a disguise. The camel coat will be left behind in one scene. The jacket issue was resolved by our ingenious director and now needs to be tracked). We had a long discussion at the monitors one afternoon as to when the camel coat will be left behind and I came up with the best scene in which for it to occur. At that point the director turned to the producer and PM who were sitting there listening and said, "From now on you will give my continuity girl at least two days prep and then we can avoid delays like this one and the four hours we wasted yesterday on the jacket issue." LOVE HIM!!!!!
I always time the script as well to give a total - scene by scene - of how long the show is running. Based on my timing, scenes will often be added or trimmed to bring the script to where it needs to be time-wise. Because I had only one day of prep, and almost half of that day was tied up in a production meeting, I had no time to do a timing. I informed the producers and director of this in an email and received no reply granting me an extra day, so no timing was done. Once I was on set, the producer questioned me as to when they could expect to get a timing. I informed her that there would only be the running timing of the scenes as we filmed, that there wasn't, nor would there be, a pre-timing as they didn't give me any time to do it. This did not sit well with her and she claimed she never gives script supervisors more than one day prep. I have been doing this for too long now to be giving away my expertise as I did when I first started out and I told her that I don't work for free as her other script supervisors surely must have, as it is not physically possible to do a timing and a breakdown and attend a production meeting in a 12 hour span.
I really love what I do, especially when I get to do it with Ron Oliver and his DP Kim Miles, but it's stuff like this that makes me want to get into another area of film. Either makeup where all I have to worry about is MAKEUP, or producing where I get to make the big decisions. I am kind of ready to phase out of script supervising. It's a pretty thankless job (except for the odd director, like Ron, who really appreciates the effort and tells you so) and often only get noticed when you miss something. It really irritates me how we can go again (roll on another take) for the focus puller time after time because he didn't get the subject in focus, and no one seems to mind; going again because the camera operator didn't like his move is never an issue; but if we have to go just once again for continuity - disapproval, frustration, and sometimes out and out anger is the norm (I actually did a series where we had not one single continuity error in 22 episodes, until the second to last day of 8 months of taping, and it was because I couldn't be in two places at once - 'B' camera had been left behind to get an insert shot while the 'A' camera moved to a new location for a new scene. I went with the A camera, making sure with props that they knew the position of a basket that would be in the B camera insert before I left. When we got set up at the new location and the monitors were turned on, I could see on the B camera monitor that the basket was in the wrong location so I ran back through the studio, dodging equipment, crew, and sets to find that they were just finished and wrapping the camera. When I told them they had to go again and why, the Production Manager screamed at me and demanded to know what happened and why I made such a 'huge mistake'. It was humiliating to say the least but I was furious to be treated in such a manner for my first mistake, which wasn't really my mistake in the first place.)
It's time script supervisors got the grace and same consideration that the camera department gets. After all, each of those people are dong ONE task. A script supervisors role is multi-tasking in the extreme and no one seems to realize how difficult and stressful a job it really is, even those who should know better, like Production Managers.
I wanted to shake up my life and go sailing (or learn on the job, so-to-speak) so headed to Florida to crew on a catamaran. This is about how it went or, rather, didn't - and my life since. Hopefully it will lead to a catamaran on the clear aqua blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, watching the sunset, a coconut rum and coke in hand. You must START AT THE BEGINNING of the blog, April 2009, to get the whole story...
All photographs are mine and not to be copied without express permission from me (click on them to see the large version).
Some names have been changed to protect my butt.
Some names have been changed to protect my butt.
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Here's my Amazon Store called Sandra's Selections, full of my favourite things and constantly updating it as I discover more fav's. It's more for fun than anything as I've never made a cent off of it.