The Craft

A Brief History

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On the 28th of December 1895, the Lumière brothers’ 10 short films were screened in Paris to a paying audience of forty. Their films are seen as the beginning of motion pictures being established as a commercial form of entertainment. They consist of a single shot lasting approximately 50 seconds and depicting a single action played out in front of the camera. These short films were shot in black and white and without sound, but in that single motion shot they told snippets of stories. These had a significant influence on popular culture. The Lumière brothers brought their films on tour and played them for audiences in Europe, North and South America and the Middle East. Other filmmakers since the 1890s, such as Georges Méliès, were already experimenting with early types of special effects in film. It was not long before filmmakers began to string multiple motion shots and effects together to tell more intricate stories. By 1906, feature films had reached the length of 60 minutes. Synchronised sound recording became mainstream by the late 1920s. Colour became main stream in the 1930s.

From a very early stage it became clear that a person was needed to track the action both within the shots and from shot to shot as they related to each other. There was a need to make sure that the shots, when put together, made sense as a whole to tell a coherent story. From around 1918 until the late 1930s early 1940s, this person (predominantly female) was known as the ‘script reader’, ‘continuity clerk’ or ‘script/continuity girl’. Sarah Yeiser Mason, a script writer in her own right, is considered to be the first Script Supervisor. She is thought by some to have invented the role for director Albert Parker in his film ‘Arizona’, released in 1918, for which she is credited as the Continuity Girl.

As a practice, shooting scenes out of order became the standard for efficiency. As elements such as sound recording, colour, multiple cameras and special effects were introduced, the importance of having someone tracking continuity was heightened. Thus the role of the continuity girl/script reader became essential. The title of the role changed to ‘Script Supervisor’ by the 1950’s as more men started to take up this position. Through it all, the role of the Script Supervisor, though evolving to allow for the advancements of technology, has at its core remained the same: the tracking of continuity from shot to shot, encompassing everything from the enormity of the overall story to the minutiae of the actors’ actions and words, the camera moves, lighting and every detail that can be seen within each frame, to name but a few!


The Role Today

A Script Supervisor is a Head of Department, and is responsible for the continuity of a film or television drama. They work very closely on set with the director and other departments to help maintain continuity while shooting, and they also take detailed notes on what is shot each day for the editorial department.

Below is a cursory look at the responsibilities of a Script Supervisor.

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A) Pre-production Work

    Responsibilities include:
  • Script timing.

  • Determining the page and scene count.

  • Story day breakdown.

  • Continuity breakdown.

  • B) Shooting Work

    Responsibilities during the shoot are divided into two categories: observation and paperwork.

      i. Observation:

    Script Supervisors are responsible for making sure that what is shot on set can be put together by the editor to ensure continuity of story and action. While every department is responsible for their own continuity such as costume, make-up, props, and set dressing, a Script Supervisor will liaise with each department to help ensure overall continuity. Their main focus is on:

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  • Script accuracy.

  • Continuity of artists.

  • Screen direction/eyelines.

  • Continuity of shots.
    • ii. Paperwork:
  • Daily notes for editorial, including setup information and marked up script.

  • Daily progress report for the production department.