BY: Carol Badaracco Padgett
Before 2020, Jennifer Carriere found herself struggling to find available script supervisors for second units. And since she couldn’t be on two sets at once, she would scour Atlanta, New Orleans, New York—but there simply weren’t enough script supervisors to go around.
So when Covid wrote itself into the scene and Carriere found herself with forced time off-set, holed up in her Atlanta and New Orleans homes, she realized something: the film world needed more script supervisors, like her.
“I asked myself,” the veteran describes, “if a second unit pops up and I have a unit production manager (UPM) tell me, ‘Get somebody,’ what are the essentials I need to train someone to maintain continuity, do what the job requires, and earn their paycheck?”
Carriere realized from experience that what she really needed was a script supervisor with the skills of a CEO all rolled up into one capable, willing individual. And from there, her company, Script Supervisor CEO, was born.
“There’s a lot involved, but you don’t need a doctorate or years of experience.”
- Jennifer Carriere
“I went straight to the meat; this is what you need to learn,” she says when describing how she constructed the company’s training, pulling from her heavy-hitting career as a script supervisor for most of the major film and TV studios in the country. “And then when my students can do one successful day on set, it goes from there to five, to ten, to 25 days—so that my script supervisors can do a feature film.”
Carriere describes her personal process as foolproof, rinse-and-repeat. “There’s a lot involved,” she concedes. “But you don’t need a doctorate or years of experience. You just have to have a system, focus on what matters and not on everything else, and get to the results every time.”
So what exactly do successful script supervisors do while they’re on set?
“The script supervisor touches on so many influential and creative roles,” Carriere says. “We have to think like a director and wear a director’s hat all day, so that when the director turns to the script supervisor and says, ‘What do I need,’ you can give answers—and they have to be right.”
For instance, while one side of a film or TV set is lit, has the director gotten all the shots they need from that side? Imagine the crew tearing down all that lighting and equipment and then figuring out: ”Oh yeah, we still need a shot back over there.”
“There’s not really room for error in this fast and furious world of digital cinema that we’re living in now,” Carriere emphasizes.
While the script supervisor is keeping the director on track, they’re also interfacing with every other person and department involved—actors, producers, screenwriters. And they’re making sure that the continuity is rock-solid from one scene to the next. Was the actor’s hair disheveled or smooth in the scene before, was their top button buttoned up, and was that window shade open or closed? (Script supervisors, not surprisingly, take volumes of pictures and notes to document every element of a scene and to inform the ones that will follow.)
Despite the fact that the job of script supervisor is routinely looked upon as the hardest job on set, the ideal candidate will figure out how to strike a balance between know-it-all and there-to-serve.
“We have to go forth in the spirit of service, serving the team members first, and never come across in a punitive way. We must have problem-solving abilities and be organized within the confines of a system,” as Carriere describes it. And when a script supervisor can consistently work this way, “it reflects on us, gets us rehired, and gets us paid higher rates.”
One more interesting note Carriere makes about the role of the script supervisor is that it’s a role that people can start at any time in life, from their 20’s to their 70’s. It’s the rinse-and-repeat process and the skills to do it that count, she says, adding that she stumbled into her role in the film industry with a non-profit and engineering background, using a simple binder and a pencil as her tools.
“I didn’t even understand fully what the role was for two years, as I bounced around film departments looking for my breakout role,” Carriere says of her early days on set. “But when I found out how powerful and cool the role was, I flew to New York with not a lot of money in my pocket to learn how to do this professionally. Fifteen years ago, that was my only option to get trained fast.”
“The position is amazing. You get to observe everything and get involved in many aspects of the project and interact with every department on set.”
– Duyen Nguyen
Another professional script supervisor, Atlanta-based Duyen Nguyen, was a graduate student in film school at Full Sail University in Florida when she happened upon the role. Working on her Master’s in film production, she got to try out a number of different roles on set.
She quickly realized that there wasn’t a whole lot of competition for script supervisors. “Usually in school everybody wants the same thing,” she notes. “But not script supervisor.”
She found the job to be especially interesting—one she really enjoyed and wanted to pursue. So she took advantage of every opportunity to practice the role on the school’s film projects and to gain valuable industry contacts along the way. After graduating, she moved to Atlanta and into the role of a professional script supervisor.
“The position is amazing. You get to observe everything and get involved in many aspects of the project and interact with every department on set,” Nguyen notes. “You get to have a deep connection with the director and learn from their vision, in-depth.”
From the experience she has gained, she adds, “I got to learn how a production runs, what kinds of issues might come up, and how to predict and avoid them. And I feel like, moving forward in my career, it will be really helpful to me if I decide to be a director or producer.”
Early out of the gate, Nguyen says she picked up ScriptE software and learned the program as she went. With the ScriptE app and an iPad, she could do things like import digital scripts and revisions, enter dialogue changes from rehearsal, share information with production, capture timecode and attach it to her notes, and a number of other critical tasks.
She is quick to note, though, that there are numerous other software options out there that other script supervisors may use and prefer, as well as the old-school pen and paper method. It all depends on individual preferences, she adds.
Nguyen says her work on any film or TV series today always begins with the script itself.
“I read the script multiple times and each time, I break down different layers of elements,” she describes. “The first read through is just for me to learn the story. Then moving forward to later reads, I start to break down page counts, story days, how many and which characters are in each scene—along with props that are needed, costume requirements, and all the things I’ll need to notice, continuity-wise, between the scenes.”
Sometimes scripts have a lot of time that passes in the story, she says, and she’ll be breaking down calendar dates and times; for example, figuring out, “What season is this?”
Action films require a whole different level of detail breakdown, Nguyen shares. “In these films, sometimes a lot of people get shot, or injured, so I’ll have to track how much time passed from one scene to the next, and the progression of their wounds,” she describes. “I break it down by layers, and I’ll write down all my questions. If I can’t answer them from the script, because it’s not clear on the page, I’ll have to see what the director thinks and update my breakdown accordingly.”
Chris Evans and Jennifer Carriere
When asked for the top strengths a professional script supervisor needs to succeed in the film and TV industry, both Nguyen and Carriere note similar attributes.
Carriere, for instance, says being detail-oriented is obviously critical in the role. However, she tells would-be script supervisors not to sell themselves short if organization doesn’t seem to be their forte.
“I’m not organized in my private life. I’m a free spirit,” she states. “But in my work, I focus on my steps and rinse and repeat. I’m organized within the confines of a watertight system.”
Great communication skills and team spirit are also high on Carriere’s list of superb script supervisor attributes.
For Nguyen, it’s the people skills and innate flexibility she possesses that prove to be uniquely invaluable to her as a script supervisor. “There are different directing styles, personalities, and environments, and each production is run differently. You must be able to get along with everyone,” she stresses. “You need to help the actors feel comfortable around you, [which] will help when feeding lines or giving continuity notes, and make it so much easier and more efficient.”
With so much focus on the attributes a script supervisor must possess and the value they must deliver for hours on end on a film or TV set, there are, of course, some things they need personally.
Jennifer Carriere & Winona Ryder on set
“It can be all-consuming,” Carriere notes. “You have to establish a self-care routine and have boundaries. Though we’re locked in with the director all day and may be reluctant to step away, don’t skip water breaks, snack breaks, or bathroom breaks.”
Both pros agree that healthy nutrition and rest at home, too, are critical to thriving as a script supervisor.
Nguyen and Carriere are also in agreement on the sentiment that moving forward, the role of the script supervisor should be above the line.
“We are involved so deeply into the film, and the great thing about being above the line is you’re involved early in the process,” Nguyen says. “Sometimes I only get one day of prep.”
Carriere notes, “We have creative influence over the piece, from figuring out stories and flagging a performance issue, like an out-of-context actor not knowing where they’re coming from [in a scene], and then I must flag it for the director so they can make a decision. We’re protecting the story and representing the screenwriter on set.”
The script supervisor, as it turns out, is a singular creative dynamo.