Why Accurate Script Timing Can Save a Lot of Money

Posted by Rena Sternfeld on February 14, 2013 in The search |



Being a television director, aside from answering thousands of questions a day and making decisions left and right that will impact the quality and the look of the episode, you are constantly fighting the clock.

12 hours don’t pass as quickly in any other profession I know.  If you want to continue working you have to be on time – not to create overtime and cost the production extra money. You have to shoot every line of dialogue as written, and if the actor resists, call a writer to the set to suggest solutions. That takes time. Time that otherwise would have been devoted to shooting the plan you know so well and ready to execute.

Balancing the anxiety of being on time with not compromising the quality of the episode and enraging the actors is what every director struggles with.

The truth of the matter is that some producers make it a losing battle.

An example of a show I was involved in (it doesn’t matter in what capacity, I have seen it happen many times in different positions on the set).

A one hour episode of a dramatic series is actually 42-44 minutes long. The rest of the time is devoted to commercials. It is shot in 7-8 days.

This specific episode came, at it’s first director’s cut,  13 minutes too long.

What does it mean?

– it means that 2 shooting days have had to be cut out of the episode. Yes, two whole shooting days! The average screen time per day is around 6 1/2 minutes.

– Cutting the episode to size required taking out a whole story line. It left the characters a little ‘leaner’ with details missing.

– It left holes in the episode. In some cases you had to make a ‘leap of faith’, hoping the audience will get it.

– It wasn’t shot to look like that. All the transitions from one story to another looked different now.

– The very experienced director, who has over many hours of TV under his belt, was ‘running behind’ – creating overtime. He was worried and was struggling to cut corners to make it.

All that could have been avoided if the script was timed correctly and/or the script supervisor’s script timing was taken seriously.

I have worked on many shows as script supervisor. I’ve timed hundreds of scripts. Only few of the producers gave my script timing a look. In some cases I drew their attention that the episode we are about to shoot is very long. Smart producers went to the writers and asked them to trim the script down. Not so smart producers shook their heads and dismissed me, only to come to the set at the end of the day and yell at us ‘doing overtime’. As if 12 hours of work is not long enough for  crew members and we are still there just to spite him and fuck up his numbers.

Accurate script timing can save a lot of money, pressure, discord and misery. If only producers took it more seriously.

I’ve opened a script timing site to provide this service to people who are about to embark on this adventure called making movies. I figured this way I might save some director the agony of not being on time.


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