Stacy Rowe is a Script Supervisor whose credits include "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," "Escape at Dannemora," "Broad City," "Sinister," and "The Following."
I first met Stacy in video village on the upcoming thriller Leave the World Behind. Every chance I got, I would sneak into the tent to eat snacks and bother her while she made her notes. I was struck by how calm, collected, and fun she remained while working such a high-stakes position. A true class act.
We recently discussed all things continuity, communication, and keeping cool.
Hey! I just got out of the shower. You’re not taking pictures of this, right?
Absolutely not, look at me.
[laughter] Okay, good.
Stacy, break down the role of a Script Supervisor for us.
The main role of a Script Supervisor is to help maintain the continuity of the film. Every department keeps track of their own continuity, but the Script Supervisor oversees all of it.
Are we getting everything that is written on the page? Is the dialogue correct? Did we get that one detail we need to tell the story? We want to make sure everything will cut together seamlessly.
Paperwork is another big part of the job. With our script notes, we communicate all of the information that happens on set to the Editors who are not present during filming. What scenes did we shoot each day? How many takes were there? Which takes did the Director like and why? Were there dialogue changes? Technical issues? Did we owe any shots? This information helps Post-Production get a head start on the edit while we are filming.
Now, what does prep look like for you?
Before filming, I really need to know the story inside and out so I can be prepared for any question that comes up on set. I go scene-by-scene and look for every detail I may need to track. What day of the week is this? What time of day? Does the actor have a bruise on his face? Is there a hole in his shirt? With this information, I create a breakdown and send it out to all of the departments to make sure everyone is on the same page before day one of filming.
Another part of prep is providing a script timing to give a general idea of how long we anticipate the episode or film to run. That’s where the stopwatch comes in.
I love the stopwatch so much. If I had to draw a Scripty, it would be a stick figure with a stopwatch and a pencil.
We are the keepers of time. The studio may want to know if we have enough material to fill up an hour time slot. Or maybe the script is too long, and we will be filming more than we need and spending unnecessary money.
If you have a 50-page script, typically it's about a minute-per-page of screen time. But that can change. If you're on a comedy, the pacing is faster. Like, on "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"—they are talking so fast. On that show, five pages might equal three minutes, where on a drama, those five pages could take seven minutes.
Based on my knowledge of the Director’s style, and the tone and pace of the dialogue, I will read through the script, act out the action, and estimate how long I think each scene will be.
With your trusty stopwatch.
Does your timing in prep last throughout the entire shoot? Or are you estimating day-to-day?
Each day, I track how long each scene actually runs. Then I compare those times with my estimates to see if the overall estimate looks accurate.
Right. Let’s talk about comedy for a second. Often, there’s improvisation. How do you, in the moment, keep track?
I’ve mostly worked on projects where the actors tend to stick closer to the scripted material. But when working on shows with more improvisation, I try and write any new lines as fast as I can and note the changes with each take. If the Director or Writer likes the changes, it’s important to make sure you record the same dialogue in future shots so the coverage of the conversation can cut together.
How do you handle multiple cameras? I have no idea how you do this job.
There are times when it's overwhelming. Some television jobs use multiple cameras every day, and it’s almost impossible to focus on more than three cameras at once. You have to do your best. Prioritize which camera is getting the most important coverage. Is the second or third camera just getting bonus coverage or a wide shot that will only be used at the top of the scene? Maybe Take 2 focuses on the other cameras. Playback is always a very helpful tool, but you don’t always have that luxury.
Have you ever been invited to a shot listing session with a DP and a Director?
Yes, for sure. And a lot of times they will discuss coverage during rehearsals.
Okay, good. I feel like, a lot of times, Script Supervisors will not be invited to those things.
And that is usually the Director’s call. Some Directors don’t shot list at all before a shoot. Some prefer to keep their ideas private. Is it helpful for me to have an idea of how they plan to tackle a scene? Absolutely. Any extra information ahead of time helps me anticipate what to focus on while filming the scene, whether it’s eyelines, crossing the line, matching actions, etc.
Explain ‘crossing the line’ for us real quick.
Crossing the line refers to the 180° rule in filmmaking. It basically says that two characters in a scene should always maintain the same left/right relationship with each other. If you draw an imaginary line between two characters in a scene, you want to keep your camera on the same side of that 180° line. If you follow this rule when filming your close ups, one character will look right to the other, and the other character will look left. It’s clear that they are looking at each other. When you cross the line, both characters will be looking in the same direction. You will have two floating heads not looking at each other, which will be confusing to your audience.
For a dinner scene with tons of people, you are going to cross the line, inevitably. And so, you gotta think: What are the most important beats of this scene? Who is talking? If everybody's talking, what's the main conversation right now? If there is a continuity issue, but I know the Director plans to use another shot where we don’t see that mistake, I may not bring it up on set. It will only slow us down.
You want to have a good relationship with your Director. They have to like sitting next to you. You want to gain their trust and not overstep. It’s your job to speak up about any issue, and if the Director says they’re okay with overlooking something, at least you did your job and you move on. At the end of the day, I’m there to help them get everything they need. The more information I have about coverage, tone, and pace, the more I can relay to the Editor.
But a lot of times, it's just flippantly said as the Director is walking out of village, and you have to catch it.
Oh yeah. And for me, that is about always paying attention. I’m listening to conversations constantly, and the less I have to ask, the better. It also helps me relay information to other departments, who might have not been there on set in that moment.
It's so crazy that we all just get snippets of information and that's it. As a crew member, especially a day player, you don't get the full picture when you show up on a day. You get the call sheet, you get sides, and that's it.
It’s all about communication. Changes happen all the time on set and it’s impossible to be present for every conversation that is going on. Sometimes it’s hard to get the Director’s attention because he’s focused on setting up shots or speaking with the actors. That’s where I can step in and help with the questions.
Oh, if I have an important continuity question, I bypass my supervisor and go right to the Scripty.
Any questions that come my way are great! Maybe I was focused on something else, and now I know I may need to pay attention to a different detail. Overall, I have a pretty good idea of what the big picture is, and I can help decide if something is an issue or not.
Last season of "Maisel," we were on the ice at 30 Rock, two or three days of overnights. I was covering all the stunt women and the whole scene was them falling down, ice skating drunk. And I'm losing my fucking mind trying to keep continuity because they're all wet, ripping their pantyhose. At one point, I went up to the Script Supervisor, and she was like, "We're gonna chop this so fast, nothing matters. Go lay down."
So then when the shoot is done, are you involved in Post-Production in any way?
During filming, my notes go out to the Editors each night. They are already cutting together scenes as we shoot and reaching out to me with questions. Perhaps there is an insert we need or a certain shot doesn’t cut very well with the other coverage. Maybe we need to reshoot something. But for the most part, once I hand in my final script with all of my notes at the end of the shoot, I am done.
How do you know in the edit they're not going to do some crazy shit that's going to change everything?
Well, you don't. Anything can happen in the edit. After filming, the Director and Editor may decide to rearrange the entire script if they choose. Maybe they needed to adjust the pace or they felt like they were missing something. They can also choose to use the one take that had a continuity error; a glass in the wrong hand, or an actor’s Starbucks cup left on the table. Every other take could’ve been correct but in that specific take, maybe the Actor gave the most amazing performance. In the end, the performance usually takes priority over the continuity.
It's so crazy because the jobs of writing, directing, script supervising, and editing are all a continuation of the same thing. It's all an extension of writing, but none of the final aesthetic choices are written into the script, you know?
You’re operating under the assumption that everybody sees the same thing in their head, but that's impossible to know until the thing comes out.
What happens if you make a mistake? The stakes are really high for a Script Supervisor.
Sometimes it's not until you shoot something later on that you're like, "Shit. We never saw him grab that jacket. Can we believe that he got it off camera, or do we need to reshoot something?" The stress that comes if something went wrong and needs to be reshot is super high. I've been lucky where it hasn't been on me a lot. But early on, I definitely made mistakes.
It happens, though! You get tired. You might have been focused on something else, and you just missed it. You hope it doesn't happen. But at the end of the day, you're making a movie. You're trying to do the best you can and people make mistakes. It’s just about being able to communicate and own up to things.
So, what are you looking for when you take a job? Knowing that you’re going to be spending most of your time sitting right next to the Director, I would assume they’re a major factor.
The Director is a big factor in my decision-making. A great script and cast are important, but you are sitting with the Director each day, and that relationship can really affect how the job is going to go. I have worked with some incredibly talented people over the years, and I am fortunate to be able to choose which projects I take. Back when I was starting out, I said yes to every job that came my way.
Were you a Scripty on those early jobs? Like, how do you start being a Script Supervisor? I genuinely have no idea. You’re a department of one.
After school, I didn’t know one person working in film. I just knew I needed to get a job on a set. I applied for any film job I could find online. A few months in, I was hired as an unpaid Production Assistant on a very low-budget indie feature in New York. Boy, did I learn a lot on that shoot. Film school doesn’t quite prepare you for Channel 1 on the walkie or locking up the streets of New York for 14+ hours a day.
Oh, you have to be a pit viper to lock up any street in New York City.
[Laughter] Yeah, it wasn’t for me.
Later that year, the 1st AD from that job asked if I would like to come to Massachusetts to work as a Script Supervisor on a student film. He knew I had an interest in directing, but also that I was curious about the Script Supervisor role.
After watching a few Script Supervisors, I thought it was a job I could be good at. They’re in the middle of all the action; sitting at video village with the Director, watching every take, discussing coverage, speaking with the actors. And I loved editing in school, so I understood what it took to piece together a scene.
I also realized that working in production, personality-wise, was a struggle. I was a little bit more introverted then, a little bit sensitive, and it was just a lot for me. Getting yelled at, everything being out of my control. So, I saw the position as an opportunity to be in charge of my own thing.
I just needed to figure out what exactly those squiggle lines they drew in the script meant.
I did some research and spoke with a few Script Supervisors who gave me advice. I survived that shoot and went on to Script Supervise several indie horror films over the next couple of years. I learned so much along the way.
Then one day, a coworker invited me to a lecture at NYU where Martin Scorsese's Script Supervisor, Martha Pinson, was speaking. She discussed the job, breakdowns, working on projects like Wall Street, The Aviator, The Departed. I was in awe. She was so cool. At the end of her talk she gave out her email and, of course, I reached out. I said that I had been doing this for a few years but would love to learn more, and if she ever needed any help with paperwork or organizing, I would do anything I could. A few weeks later, I got a call from the Key PA on Shutter Island saying Martha mentioned me and he could use some help up in Boston.
I drove up the next day. My first day on set, I was so nervous. It was February in Boston, and I didn’t know about layering yet. I turn the corner, and I'm walking down a railroad track with frozen dead bodies flowing out of a railcar, razor wire everywhere, fake snow falling. I turn another corner into the Dachau concentration camp. Hundreds of background soldiers. Bob Richardson, the DP, is standing there. Leo passes me. I thought, 'Oh my god. My dreams are coming true.'
Yeah. It was wild. I was so excited to be there. I worked as an additional Production Assistant during the shoot, and Martha would take the time to chat with me in between setups or at the end of the night. Even on her days off, we would get together and talk about coverage and eyelines. She’d say, "Okay, we got a table with 10 people. Now, how do we cover this? What side of the line are you on for this? How do you track this?" And she would draw diagrams, and we would talk it out.
What an amazing resource.
I really couldn't have been luckier to have met her. She is an incredible person, and she taught me so much. I will always remember that. Anytime someone asks if they can chat with me about my job, I make sure that I find the time to sit down and chat with them.
You’ll find that so many people are willing to help you if you work hard and tell people what you want. We all had to start somewhere. You just need the confidence to speak up and make it happen.
And that’s true for every department in film. But specifically, for Script Supervisors, that is the only way to do it. You have to be willing to teach because there's no track, really.
There are workshops, articles, and books out there but nothing is like firsthand experience on set.
Now, you’ve sat next to so many directors at this point. Do you feel like you could do the job? I mean, you've seen better than anybody what it actually entails. Do you still have that desire?
Oh boy, this is the tough one. [laughter]
Yeah, this is the one.
I do think that creative desire is still there. I still light up when I talk about films that I love.
I’ve learned so much over the years, watched incredible performances, witnessed beautiful shots. I know what it takes to shoot, I know how to set up a camera, I know what shots I would need to tell a story.
I would like to push myself to direct a short, just to prove to myself that I can do it, and then see how I feel after that. Is there also part of me that considers a different career path away from set with a little more stability and reasonable hours? Yes.
I think probably every single crew member is feeling that to some degree, especially now with the strikes and COVID and all that. It puts everything into perspective.
How do I want to be spending my time? Do I really want to spend 80, 90 hours a week cold, outside, on set, getting yelled at?
[laughter] We keep doing it! We keep going back!
We do. It's addicting, that's why.
I sometimes wonder about, statistically, how often we all cry versus people in other careers.
[laughter] I've started watching some "Below Deck" in my free time during the strike. It's funny—every season, the crew walks in looking all happy and excited to be there. Weeks later, after working insane hours, dealing with big personalities and crazy demands, they are utterly exhausted and can’t wait for the season to be over. But then the next season starts, and the crew has returned! They’ve gotten their rest, had their time away, and they come back to do what they know and love. Sound familiar?
Working in the film business creates plenty of stressful moments, but then there are times when I walk onto set and can’t believe that this is my life. I loved going to the movies as a kid. I never dreamt that I would be standing behind the camera with people I used to watch on the big screen growing up. It’s crazy thinking about it. I’m incredibly grateful.
*Feature photo of Stacy Rowe by Luke Taylor