Harmony Book Reviews

Guest Blog: C. Leigh Purtill on Hollywood

Posted on: September 29, 2008

We’re joined today by C. Leigh Purtill, author of Love, Meg and All About Vee. My review for All About Vee can be found here. Enjoy!

Hollywood plays a big role in both of my books, LOVE, MEG and ALL ABOUT VEE and it’s not because I’m obsessed with the entertainment industry, although at times it certainly feels like I am. Actually, I’m just following the common advice given to writers: write what you know. And I happen to know film and television.

I’ve held several positions on film sets, including assistant director and director, but the one in which I have the most experience is script supervisor. Lots of people call this person the continuity clerk (and in the bad old days of male-dominated movie sets, it was called script girl – blecch!!) because much of the job involves maintaining continuity within a scene, from scene-to-scene, and from beginning to end.

Most people think of continuity in terms of props because that’s the easiest error to spot. For instance, in the movie “Pretty Woman,” Julia Roberts is eating a pancake in one shot and then when they cut to another angle, she’s eating a croissant. That’s a continuity error and one that is usually corrected by a script supervisor on set. It all begins with the “master shot,” which is usually the widest shot of the scene. If the action in the master shot had established that Miss Roberts picked up a croissant, then every other time we see her from all the various angles and close-ups (which together are called “coverage”), she needs to do just that.

If I had been on that set, I would have told the director, Garry Marshall, that in a close-up, Miss Roberts picked up a pancake instead of the established croissant. I also would have reminded Miss Roberts to pick up the croissant before her close-up was shot. However, several factors come into play that I have no control over:

1. Mr. Marshall (like many directors I worked with) could decide he doesn’t care about continuity within the scene, that an actor’s performance is more important than which prop is used and when.

2. Miss Roberts (like many actors I worked with) could disregard my reminder or simply not wish to listen to me at all. And the reasons for that are also many and varied: some actors don’t want to be bothered by crew between shots because it throws off their focus, some insist they know better than someone who was watching them, and some just don’t like to listen to script supervisors. I have also had the converse be true: many actors relied on me to tell them what they were doing in a scene – some even tested me!

So the coverage is shot and everyone rejoices and Mr. Marshall is especially pleased at how charming and sweet the lovely Miss Roberts is and he turns to me and says, “I want that one” which is my cue to make a note for the editor and the assistant director is about to yell, “Moving on!” but I have the disheartening news for our director that the coverage doesn’t match the master shot.

I have to tell him. It’s my job. So I take a deep breath and say, “Garry (because we would probably be friendly and he wouldn’t make me call him Mr. Marshall), the coverage doesn’t match the wide. Julia (because she would probably let me call her that since she seems to be really nice) picked up the pancake.”

All eyes would be on Mr. Marshall and some would probably glare at me for making them stop what they’re doing and we would all wait. And Mr. Marshall would say, most likely, “I’ll deal with that in post,” meaning he will handle it in post-production when the editor has assembled all the footage from the chosen takes. When this sort of thing happens, the editor and director work together to minimize the continuity error as much as possible. But you see, sometimes these things simply cannot be helped.

Aside from the continuity of props, there is also continuity of wardrobe and hair and special effects, as well as action within the scene with all of these things (such as, when did Miss Roberts pick up the pancake? On what word did she take a bite?) and that’s just the stuff you can see. Much of my job as a script supervisor regarded the script itself: ensuring what was on the page actually was shot. It’s very important that the director has all the footage he needs to make a scene work, to be edited together properly, because when you’re in the editing room and you realize you didn’t get a close-up of the pancake in Miss Roberts’ hand, it’s super expensive to recreate that set and get everyone back to do it again.

Working as a script supervisor is one of the best ways to get to know all the jobs on a set. You have to interact with so many different departments: art, hair and makeup, wardrobe, camera, etc. Plus you have to work closely with the director, the actors, and the assistant director who runs the whole set. I highly recommend this position to anyone who is interested in becoming a director. It’s a tough job – and a lonely one because there’s only one of you on any set – but it’s an influential one. A good script supervisor is a director’s best asset.

In television, I worked as a broadcast standards editor for The WB and The CW Television Networks. Maybe I’ll post about that someday. If anyone has any questions about the jobs I’ve had, or about specifics of a movie set, or just wants to know more, please feel free to email me!

Thanks for letting me post on your blog, Harmony!



4 Responses to "Guest Blog: C. Leigh Purtill on Hollywood"

Wow being a script supervisor sounds hectic, so much responsibility! But it would be definitely fun to be one for one day.

haha I love pointing out errors in the scene during movies. Like in one movie (forgot the name) Ben Affleck had a red scar on and the next second it was gone.

Loved the guest blog!

WOW! I knew it was work, but I didn’t realize how much work.

[…] Guest Blog: C. Leigh Purtill on Hollywood « Harmony Book Reviews (tags: guest-blog c.-leigh-purtill) […]

On a technical level, I agree completely. ,

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