Crew Role Profile: Jane Burrows, Script Supervisor

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Jane Burrows has worked as a Script Supervisor of a range of productions including HBO mega-hit ‘Game of Thrones’ and Marvel’s hammer-wielding sequel, ‘Thor: The Dark World’.

But what does a script supervisor actually do? To find out, we caught up with Jane and asked her to take part in our regular crew profile feature.

Below, you’ll glean some inside advice on how to get into the role yourself and work your way up the ranks…

What is your role?

Script Supervisor.

What does that involve?

My role is centred around the script: from timing drafts (of which there may be several) and the final shooting script.  Depending on the Production, there will be a maximum timing slot allowed and it would be both costly and stupid to shoot lots more material than will actually be seen on screen.

I’m expected  to break down the shooting script into story days (if the Script Editor or Writer hasn’t already done so) and add times of day and dates (in case there is a clock, a calendar or even a watch, which needs to be set on the shoot day).  Other departments (such as Costume/Make-up/Art Department/Props) will have done their own breakdowns, but I’m a great advocate of sharing information as filmmaking is a collaborative process.Production, there will be a maximum timing slot allowed and it would be both costly and stupid to shoot lots more material than will actually be seen on screen.

The Script Supervisor also works very closely with the Editor/Camera department in terms of scene and slate numbers, which identify each shot.  There may also be visual effects which need to be logged. I will also need to produce progress reports at the end of each day’s shoot which will provide the production office with details of the day’s schedule: how much material has been shot, and how that compares with my estimated timings; whether there are additional shots which would need to be picked up at a future date, etc.

Ultimately, since most films are scheduled based on locations/artistes availability, etc. my job is make sure that a series of scenes, shot out of story order, seamlessly cut together in the edit and, wherever possible the continuity matches the different shots, although you have no control when a shot is selected in the final edit for performance over continuity!

How did you get into becoming a Script Supervisor?

I joined Carlton Television when it moved into a new studio complex in Nottingham and after working in various departments I became a Production Secretary. After a few years of working across a range of programmes I decided to train as a Production Assistant. I worked on ‘live’ news programmes, children’s drama, music shows (including shot calling and bar counting) and ultimately drama. This was when we worked on film with no monitor or playback – in fact, sometimes I was lucky to get a look through the camera! The pace was however much slower and I had no problem keeping up with the paperwork.

What training have you had?

I was trained in-house by shadowing experienced Production Assistants (as they were called then), which gave me a good breadth of genres: Children’s, Plays, Drama’s, Sit-Com’s, but I decided to concentrate on Drama. I also did the BBC ‘Continuity in Film and Television’ course. I went freelance in early 2005, although, whilst still a Carlton staff member, I had been hired out to work on “Silent Witness” and “Catherine Cookson” drama’s, which gave me an insight into the freelance market.

What key skills do you need in this position?

Attention to detail, being able to organise yourself, communication with other departments, a calm manner (the drama should be on the screen!) and a sense of humour.

What tips would you offer those interested in this role?

In this digital age you need to be computer literate: Word & Excel are a must.  There are also digital Script Supervisor Software platforms for shooting notes, which will save you time at the end of the day and allow you to send your notes digitally to Production and Post-Production from your iPad:  systems such as ‘Script-E’ and ‘Peter Skarratt’.  However you will have need to fund these packages yourself You should also be aware that some of the major film studios are uber security conscious about their scripts, all paperwork is encrypted and they are very nervous of these packages. I was unable to use it on “Thor: The Dark World”.

What’s the one thing people should be aware of when pursuing his role?

The long hours! There’s a lot of paperwork and invariably you won’t be finished when they call “Wrap!”. You will need a car to drive yourself to location, as transport is not usually provided. Depending on the production, and where you live, you will not get any financial help with the cost of accommodation if you are working away from home,. You may be working away from home for weeks/months at a stretch and, without a partner who is also in the business or supportive of your job, this could be a cause of tension.  You should never go into the job thinking that you will be best buddies with the cast – and you also won’t get used again by that production.

What advice would you offer people looking to do what you do?

There are some good training courses run by the Bristol Old Vic which include Stage Management, Continuity, etc. and that may prove useful as a way in but, it is still a difficult role to break into. It is, however, very enjoyable and the ultimate accolade is when you develop a rapport with a Director who trusts you and then asks for you for their next production(s).

Is working on a TV Drama very different from working in Film?

Yes. The pace of shooting on a TV Drama is very fast by comparison to a Feature and sometimes with more location or set moves. However, some drama’s, such as “Game of Thrones” have as much production value as a Feature, just at twice the speed! Depending on the Feature, there can be a lot of Visual Effects, which need careful monitoring as you could be shooting on the same location for several days/weeks (and not consecutively), so good Continuity is vital and your notes critical. You might also need to do a sketch of the set, denoting where fires or wind machines are sited, as you may be picking up the shots on a different location or needing to pass information to a 2nd or 3rd Unit shoot.

Are there any special skills that you need to work as a Script Supervisor – ie. reading music, languages?

You need to be organised, a good communicator, calm and with an eye for detail – and have stamina! Depending on the project: bar counting on a musical number is useful (but there will be a Musical Director & Choreographer so it’s not essential). Languages don’t really come into it unless you are working with a foreign cast or prompting in Dothraki (as on “Game of Thrones”), and then there will probably be an interpreter.

What do you wish you had known when starting out?

You might want to try getting some experience of theatre work, which will help with being around actors. There won’t be a Script Supervisor, but you’ll get an insight into what it takes to put on a production. If you do apply for trainee jobs you won’t always get the position. – it can be quite demoralising when you don’t succeed but it’s usually not personal, sometimes it could be that they already know who they want but feel they have to interview other people. If you really love the industry and are prepared to persevere you can succeed – just hang in there!

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Images © HBO and Marvel Studios.

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