Being Script Supervisor II

Posted by Rena Sternfeld on August 30, 2011 in It makes me MAD, promises |

From time to time a script supervisor is asked to time a script.


Usually it means a producer is considering producing that movie. Since every shooting day is very expensive, they ask for the script to be timed – meaning estimate how long the movie will be if it was shot as written. If the timing comes out too long (the movie will run more than 120 minutes) he can ask the writer or director to cut some scenes out of the script. What’s the point of spending money on shooting days if it can be cut beforehand?

For the script supervisor it means reading the script very carefully, envision the action, read the dialogue out loud and deliver a scene by scene timing and page count. The script supervisor then counts the pages (each page is broken into 8 units. A page is 8/8. the first line of this blog will be counted as 1/8) and count the time (by 60 seconds of course). The math is a little complicated, but after doing it many times, you know to change page when you reach 8/8 and change the number when you reach 60 in the second section.


A few years ago, a producer I knew fairly well called from the Cayman Islands. He is working on a movie there, he said, and feels they can save shooting days by cutting a few scenes from the script. That will allow the director to have more time to concentrate on things that are really important.It’s time consuming and many script supervisors hate to do it. Not me. I love to read a script and envision how it will look at the end. Many producers along my career have complimented me on being so close to the timing of the end product.I timed the script and indeed it came out long. Having e-mailed the results to the producer, I got an angry phone call from the director.

He was a young guy, fresh out of film school. After making a short and taking it to film festivals, he managed to get a named star and money to direct his first feature. He was angry because it came out too long.  No-one is going to mess with his vision. Not the producer and definitely not a script supervisor. He complained that I allotted the same time for each establishing shot therefore my timing is wrong. I said it will be an average of 10 second per shot,some will be longer and some shorter. He argued it would be 3-4 seconds only. He wanted me to time the script again.

When we talked I heard voices in the background. Sounded like a party. People laughing, music playing, doors slamming… Not the atmosphere for a serious conversation. When I asked the producer about it, he said the director brought his film school friends to work on this feature. I told the producer I stand by my timing. Even if I’ll shave 6 seconds from each establishing shot it will still amount to no more than 60 seconds – 1 minute difference. But the director insisted and the producer hired another script supervisor to do the timing.

Her calculations showed the script was too long as well, but the director would not cut a comma from his script. The producer eventually left the production before they started shooting.

Cut to a year later. The movie was finished and on the strength and fame of the cast, was screened in the Toronto Film Festival.

It bombed terribly. People left the screening in the middle and those who stayed until the end complained the movie was too long and slow. The reports from Toronto talked about the director standing under a lamp post after the midnight screening, trying to convince the producers to let his re-cut the movie and make it much shorter.

The producers refused to invest any more money on this production and the movie opened in 24 theaters making a total of $197,000. About the cost of 1 day of shooting.

So when the same producer called me on June 28, asking for a script to be timed, I was happy to oblige.

They wanted the timing asap, so during the 4th of July weekend I stayed home and did the timing.

Usually I get paid within a week or two, as is customary in the film industry, but when the payment did not arrive, I sent the producer (who contacted me from South Africa were he was working on another project) an e mail asking about the payment.
He sent an e mail to the production company and cc’d me. What about the payment? he wrote.
A week late still no answer. When I contacted him again he said he just got back into town and will find out. A few days later he wrote to me that the head of the production company was out of the country, but is back now and the payment will be sent.

Another week and no check. By now it’s over a month since I’ve done the job.
“isn’t it about time for a payment?” I wrote the producer.
“What? You haven’t been paid yet? I’ll call them and demand the payment. Don’t worry, I’ll keep on top of this.”

Almost 2 months have gone by. I called the producer again.
“If you won’t get paid until the end of the week, I’ll send you a check and I will chase after them.” he said, the proper thing to do. After all, I had no contact with the company that originated the request.

By Friday afternoon a week later there was no check in the mail. I called the producer again and got an e mail back. It will happen tomorrow. He is to meet the head of the company on Saturday and will get the check from him. The meeting will be not far from my home so I’ve asked him to swing by and drop off the check.

He did! When I came back from running errands the check was at my house. “Thanks a million” I wrote the producer. “I’m looking at the check which is on my desk. Finally. Thank you.”

I didn’t want to deposit the check in my account fearing it might bounce. It takes the banks so long to check for fund availability that I didn’t want to use that money and have my check bounce if his check is not honored. Instead I waited till Monday and went to the bank to cash it.

Wells Fargo is not my favorite bank (on that later) but I waited in line for 15 minutes watching the 2 tellers take a long time with each customer. When I finally got to the teller, she asked for 2 forms of identity, asked me if I bank with them and offered to open an account for me with the funds of this check. It took a few minutes to explain I do not want to do business with Wells Fargo anymore.

Then she looked up, with what seemed like a triumphant smile.
“I can’t give you the money.” She said.
“What?! Why?”
“The check is not signed.”
I looked at the check. There was so much written on the check that I neglected to see that the signature was missing.
“And let me check…” she continued. “Even if it was signed, I couldn’t have given you the money. There are not enough funds in the account.”

I was very upset. How could the producer/friend who deals with money all the time, not look at the check he was handing over?

That was no mistake, even though I’m sure the head of the company will try to paint it this way. That was an attempt to cheat and cause me more damage had I deposited it through an ATM over the weekend.

I called the producer’s cell and his home, phone calls he didn’t pick up. So I left a message.

Finally I got an e mail back; “Sorry, I should have looked at the check more closely. I’ll call him this afternoon.”

Two month have gone by. Does he really think this guy will pay?

“I think it’s gone far enough.” I wrote him. “Please be a man of your word and mail me a check”.

I’ll keep you posted.

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