Following the shelter-at-home orders placed around the nation and around the globe, Hollywood and the world of filmmaking froze; leaving many unfinished productions on hold indefinitely as experts, unions/guilds, and governments are discussing how best to operate on set in a post-COVID world. Many productions are utilizing advances in technology and are becoming innovative in their approach to complete their television series, commercials, or films.
Recently, shows like Parks and Rec, Saturday Night Live, CBS's All Rise, and more have turned lemons into lemonade when it comes to producing content during this time of quarantine. Even late-night television has moved to working remotely. But what does the behind the scenes look like? And how does this affect the role of a script supervisor when working on productions like these?
Having had remote production experience on recent productions, Tanya Lefebvre, Natalie Sloan, Roe Moore, and Nicole Binnall are going to break down how our role as a script supervisor has evolved, and what to expect if you find yourself working on a production remotely.
Project: Carol (Dark Comedy Web Series)
Script Supervisor: Tanya Lefebvre - Vancouver, Canada
Tanya Lefebvre's script supervisor journey began when she returned to Vancouver three years ago after living in St. Louis. She looked for where she could employ her skills behind the camera rather than being in front of it and found the role of a script supervisor as a perfect fit. Since then, she has worked on indie features and shorts -- her favorite being Box of Freedom. When she was approached by director, Tiffany Rhodes to work remotely on the dark comedy web series Carol, Tanya jumped at the opportunity.
Turning the COVID pandemic into a positive outlet for creativity, Carol involves crew and cast from around the world! Even though the show takes place in New York, the cast was based anywhere from Italy to North Carolina to Los Angeles. The crew includes: an art department in Europe, a director based in Los Angeles, and a script supervisor, Tanya, based in Vancouver. This method of unconventional filmmaking also proved to be more flexible in the casting of roles. The production was able to use a real-life artist's studio for the actual production because of the remote filming abilities and the actor's personal connections.
Carol is a narrative docu-like series that plays as an unstructured interview-like concept, making Tanya’s prep work essential. "I allow myself to experience the process of breaking down the script, creating the continuity one-liners and character actions. But more for flow and to establish how dialogue would match the direction/action with eye-lines and the perceived contact of a second off-camera presence.” Lefebvre shared, "Our cast has to maintain the authenticity of interaction and eye-lines need to be relative to the camera's perspective."
During normal circumstances, communicating this type of information is done in a conference room. However, the team made use of Zoom, which made the situation much less interactive than if everyone were physically present. For instance, the props written into a scene that would normally have been provided by the art department or props department, had to be changed based off of what was available at the actor's location.
Tanya mentioned Rhodes had been incredibly open to collaboration and creative input from everyone in the cast and crew. There were a lot of conversations about how best to ensure the depth of field for shots, in order to make the interview feel more realistic. When it came to guaranteeing the eye-lines were properly set, the crew offered unconventional solutions like using sticky notes, or other available items, to focus on rather than a taped cross on a C-Stand. Also, since the production was reliant on the actors' phones to record, there were creative ideas given for how to best mix the different camera looks and resolutions. This was ultimately found to have helped enhance the storytelling of the show.
Their particular production relied heavily on the actors and the director. Unlike normal circumstances where the script supervisor would be on set, the director chose to do the filming without Tanya present and had her provide detailed notes on the dailies. However, Tanya voiced why being present would have been a great asset. In watching the footage, because our job requires meticulous observation, she could recognize when actors may have been referencing their scripts and their eyelines weren't locked in as much as they could be. This is normally an easy fix on set; however remotely, this issue has been a challenge. Rhodes overcame this by bringing Tanya in for rehearsals and, similar to the on set environment, they were able to run a few lines with the actors, see the action, direction and positioning of the camera, and then with a little re-working and coaching, the eye-lines were nailed!
Overall, Tanya felt she was more of a creative partner to the director, rather than a secretary taking notes -- one of the biggest fears that has been voiced by script supervisors. "The process has been very exciting and I've been very fortunate conferring with our director and production departments about direction, performances, set-ups, and even suggesting editing ideas for the final cut…I wouldn't have been as involved to this degree while on set," Tanya explained. Having the creative input to suggest how to best approach the filming and editing of this project, with the current limitations present during production, was more than enough to show that script supervising is not just sitting back and taking notes. The remote nature of the production offered more creative discussions, than may have occurred working in a normal production environment.
Project: High Profile Commercial
Script Supervisor: Natalie Sloan - London
Natalie Sloan started her career in New York City doing indie films back in 2004. Shortly after, she moved to London where she's continued to work in the film, television, and commercial industry. Nowadays her primary focus is in commercials for companies like Nike, but her favorite shows to work on were Misfits and Top Boy.
"For a production to have a script supervisor is the same no matter if you are on set or online," shares Natalie, "you have to keep an eye on the continuity, be sure they get the script, and keep an eye on the timings." With everyone finding their footing in remote shooting, she found there were minor technical issues - growing pains rather, but overall, the experience was positive.
Through using WhatsApp and Zoom, the production connected the camera to a remote laptop which was screen shared through Zoom. Natalie was able to watch the monitor feed and provide feedback as necessary.
Even while working on set, Natalie had used WhatsApp to effectively communicate with other departments. Now working remotely, the use of WhatsApp, and its capacity to create private chats and groups, proved its value in this environment too. She had a private and direct line to the director, as well as a “chat” to speak with everyone else on the crew. A dedicated ScriptE user, she was able to script supervise as normal.
The other benefits, she noted, were the savings on catering and travel costs. "I think it is impossible to replicate the on set experience. However, I did find it an efficient way to work. People are forced to be clear and direct in their communication. On a different note, everyone knows that hours on set can be punishing and travel to and between locations can be time consuming," Natalie noted. On her shoot, they covered three locations in different parts of London with zero travel. That alone would have saved production several hours and she finished with work and home at a reasonable hour -- which was a first!
The primary drawbacks to script supervising remotely are: needing top class internet and a fast computer to run the Zoom, WhatsApp, and ScriptE simultaneously. Even with top internet and a fast computer, there were still delays in messages being sent and received. Natalie’s advice is to find ways to have time to communicate during the shoot. Long takes tend to make it harder to communicate because if there is a delay, the feedback to the crew cannot always be communicated fully. A major reason she sees for returning to being on set, is if the director is also on set. That relationship and ability to communicate urgent information is something that technology has not been able to replicate.
Project: RuPaul Drag Race, Reality TV
Script Supervisor: Roe Moore - Los Angeles, California
Roe Moore's been script supervising since 2011. Having worked in various above and below the line positions in film, television, and commercials, Roe was recommended to work on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Weeks prior to this, she had the opportunity to work remotely on AXS's Laugh Aid 2020: Comedy Gives Back.
On a project like this one, the role of a script supervisor is quite different. The role is heavily involved as a script coordinator in addition to the script supervisor tasks comprising of formatting the script, correcting any grammatical errors, creating rundowns, facilitating the video playbacks, and ensuring changes were made on the fly in TelePrompTer and for talent. The editorial notes are still a part of the job, but highlighting the differences from a traditional script supervising gig to this type of production is important.
Similar to the previous productions from the colleagues described, internet was a necessity. Because of the type of show Roe worked on, the production used BC Live as the hub for the multiple camera and audio feeds. They then output the feeds through an Open Broadcasting System (OBS). This process allowed the director, associate director, producers, and myself the ability to see all the on-screen talent, all at once. The feed was then transmitted through Zoom. The equipment that was provided to the talent and the recording capacity available at BC Live allowed us to record not only the direct inputs but also the isolated recordings on the cameras themselves.
In order to communicate between departments, the production used a phone intercom system known as Unity. This system functions similarly to a traditional walkie talkie with various department channels, and the ability to privately ping individuals with notes or changes. The talent was able to use their phones, along with a set of headphones, to receive direction and feedback from producers and the director privately on their own channel.
In order to keep everyone aware of what segment we were filming, we used ShoFlo as our rundown software. Roe highly recommends getting familiar with this program. "It allowed for the changes in TelePrompTer, script, and the rundowns to be instantaneous," Roe describes, "this helped us avoid delays and miscommunication over the Unity Intercom system."
Possibly due to the luxury of time and budget, this production was afforded the opportunity to do a dry rehearsal and tech with each talent prior to taping. The rehearsals helped with the logistics, ironing out the script, and in essence made the filming process seamless. This is a process that when we return to on set film production, Roe would like to see continue to happen.
The major disadvantage of filming in this manner was not hearing the everyday conversations between the other members of the crew and executives. These conversations included hearing about changes to the segments or talent before a script revision was sent to me. Given that everyone was discovering how to work remotely together, there was an overabundance of communication emails and texts to ensure everyone was on the same page during the prep days. Overall, though, the experience was a positive one because everyone was trying to navigate the unknowns of working in this manner. She could see something like this being a way the industry works moving forward.
Project: Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Video Series
Script Supervisor: Nicole Binnall - Los Angeles, California
After graduating with a Bachelor's degree in Electronic Media and Film, Nicole moved to Los Angeles and worked as a production assistant on shows like Shameless and Silicon Valley. Her curiosity about the script supervisor role on those shows is what helped her find mentors that have taught her in addition to reading every book available on the career. Now many years in, she's in love with the position and is very motivated to become one of the best script supervisors in the industry.
To make the project possible, the production company sent the actors a camera, lights, and audio equipment. Google Hangouts is the choice for the production crew and talent to communicate. Nicole's setup includes multiple items: a laptop for the Google Hangout to watch the framing; an iPad to take notes using ScriptE; her stopwatch, phone, and a second iPad to reference the script.
The process of working remotely on the choose-your-own-adventure video series has been extremely different from being physically on set. Nicole mentioned the production limitations have required her to take on responsibilities that would normally be done by a 2nd AC. "I instruct the actor what to write on the slate, what everything means, and [explain that] I will ask them to change the slate number per shot," Nicole replied, "then, we do a test shot and once approved, we begin rolling!"
Even with the challenges of figuring out how to create a setup that allows her to work as fast as possible, Nicole found the process surprisingly easy and comfortable. Going forward, this is something she sees could be sustainable for lower quality content.
So, would we do a remote script supervising gig again?
Overall, absolutely! As seen above, there are technical tricks of the trade that need to be learned in order to grow, but it is another opportunity to discover a new and exciting way to do our job in the industry. Whether this will be sustainable, and remain how we do our job going forward…responses vary. It is vital to our role as script supervisors that we are on set with the key creative personnel. When it comes to the energy of being on set and the magnitude of the hands-on collaboration, nothing in the remote side will offer anything close to that experience.
About the Script Supervisors Mentioned...
About Tanya Lefebvre
Tanya Lefebvre is a Canadian Script Supervisor currently based out of Vancouver, BC. Having a diverse professional background, she has over three decades of periodic industry experience as a performer and life-style photographer, along with a well-rounded skill set and knowledge base that she brings to her merit. She is an active member of Women in Film & Television (WIFTV), Graphic Designers of Canada, Women in Focus, St Louis, and volunteers for a local theatre group in Delta, BC. She has worked within the entertainment field in St Louis and Vancouver, and remotely on projects from Los Angeles. Presently, she is script supervising on a dramatic-comedy web series, ‘Carol’, based out of LA, and most recently completed “Box of Freedom”, a feature film; “Daddy Issues”, an indie short; and the web series, “The Imaginaries”. The best way to reach her is by email.
About Natalie Sloan:
Natalie began her career in New York Script Supervising independent films and working at Tribeca Film Festival. She moved to London in 2006 where she continued to work in Film, tv and commercials. In her years in the industry as a Script Supervisor, she worked on 25 feature films, over 40 TV episodes on shows like Top Boy and Catastrophe, 250+ high end commercials for companies like Nike and Virgin. In more recent years, Natalie has turned her hand to directing and editing projects for charities and good causes at her production company Little Red Hen Films. The best way to reach her is by email.
About Roe Moore:
Born and raised in Aurora, Colorado, Roe's multi-hyphenate career has taken her in front of and behind the camera on multiple film, television, and commercial projects. These projects include television show favorites like VH1's RuPaul Drag Race, CW’s Masters of Illusion, upcoming Disney+ talk show Earth to Ned, and El Rey Network’s Lucha Underground. She produces and directs the award-winning game show Buzz'd Out! as well as multiple shorts, theater plays, and web content. Her most recent directorial achievements have been directing theater – including winning for Best Play at the 2019 Hollywood Brisk Festival. To give back to the community, Roe volunteers her time to mentor with the PGA Power of Diversity Master Workshop and at Pasadena Media, one of the few remaining community run productions studios. She has been a speaker at SXSW and many high schools and educational seminars about the filmmaking process. The best way to reach her is by email.
About Nicole Binnall:
Nicole's childhood dream was to work as a director. Working as a script supervisor has allowed her to use all her skills and enjoy the filmmaking process. She recently wrapped on a film with director McG and excited to work with many similar to him. If there was a film she could have script supervised, it would've been Memento. The best way to reach her is by email.