Script supervisor (Unscripted TV)
Also known as: Gallery production assistant (PA), Production assistant (PA), Shot caller
What does a script supervisor do?
Script supervisors sit in the gallery during live and pre-recorded TV shows and count, or count down, to ensure that the show runs on schedule. They are responsible for live shows starting and finishing exactly on time and for making sure pre-recorded shows are completed within the scheduled record time and logged for the edit. They oversee the durations of all the segments and elements – including pre-prepared films (VTs), interviews, music performances, outside broadcasts and more.
Before broadcast, script supervisors work with the producer, who writes the script, to decide on the running order of a show, and with the director who creates a list of camera shots and directions. Script supervisors format the script into a coherent document and create a timed running order by assigning a duration to all the items, making sure the show adds up to the required overall duration.
During broadcast, they sit alongside the producer and director in the gallery.
Script supervisors constantly recalculate timings to account for any changes to the schedule that happen during the show. For example, if an interview runs longer than allocated, a game is played quicker than expected or a guest doesn’t turn up, the remaining item durations need to be adjusted so the programme still take ups the allotted amount of time.
Script supervisors and the director often create a separate camera script for music performances. The director allocates specific camera shots throughout the performance and the script supervisor’s job is to ‘shot call’ each shot in time to the music. For performances without lyrics, script supervisors break the song down into sections and count down the number of musical beats and bars.
Throughout a show, script supervisors talk directly to the presenters via their talk-back and count them through each item; for example, telling them how long they have left to complete an interview or how long is left on a VT clip. Crew from all departments, including floor managers, camera operators, Autocue operators, video tape (VT) operators and sound and lighting crew, listen to and rely on the information given by the script supervisor.
Script supervisors also talk to the director of the broadcast channel, who provides the on-air and off-air times of the programme. For commercial channels, script supervisors tell the channel when they are about to go to a commercial break and count the show off air and back on again.
Like so many jobs in broadcasting, this role can go by different names, depending on the type of programme being produced. In a small company, the script supervisor role might be done by a production assistant who is doing a lot of other things like, helping to set up filming, supporting the director on the shoot, making shot notes on what is captured, liaising with the crew on directions to the location and organising the snacks. As the production gets bigger and the roles more specialised, they are likely to be called a script supervisor or shot caller.
They tend to be employed as freelancers.
What's a script supervisor good at?
- Timekeeping: working with minutes and seconds, be able to do mental maths quickly and accurately
- Communication: clearly relay timings to presenters and liaise efficiently with producers, directors, outside broadcast units and the network
- Staying calm: do your job in a high-pressure, sometimes live, fast-paced and changing environment
- Preparation: be thorough in allocating timings before a show is filmed, have a plan B
- IT skills: be able to use a variety of software across different productions
Who does a script supervisor work with?
Script supervisors work directly with series producers and directors and communicate closely with presenters, Autocue operators, broadcasters and any external units. They also ensure the production management team has a final copy of the show’s running order and all the elements used.
How do I become a script supervisor?
Script supervisor is a senior role. Before you can do this job, you’ll need a lot of experience working on an unscripted TV set and have a strong understanding of how a show works.
Script supervisors often come up through the production management route. They might start off as a runner and then become an autocue operator or production coordinator. They usually begin on simpler programmes before building up to complex live entertainment shows.
At school or college:
You can take A-levels or Highers in any subject you enjoy, but English, media studies or maths would be useful.
If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:
- BTEC National Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production
- Aim Awards Diploma in Creative and Digital Media
- BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Production
- UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Creative Media Production and Technology
- OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
Get an apprenticeship:
An apprenticeship is a job with training, so it’s a great opportunity to earn as you learn. You’re unlikely to find an apprenticeship as a script supervisor as such but you might try an apprenticeship in another role, as a way of getting into the industry. Go to ScreenSkills information on apprenticeships for the main apprenticeship schemes in television. Check out What’s an apprenticeship? to learn more about apprenticeships and find an apprenticeship to learn how to find one in your region, or approach companies directly.
Get a degree:
You don’t have to have a degree to become a script supervisor, but if you’d like one, you might want to have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in unscripted TV or search for "production". We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the unscripted TV industry.
Get work experience:
Try to get work experience by writing to local production companies and asking if they offer any. Keep an eye out for work experience opportunities at the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and the PACT Indie Diversity Training Scheme.
Get to know people in the unscripted TV industry by attending events. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest in and knowledge of the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this.
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there are Facebook pages or other social media groups for people making unscripted TV in your area. There might even be groups for runners and trainees. Join them. Create a ScreenSkills profile. There are a lot of crewing agencies that will charge you to be on their books. Sign up to the free ones initially. Wales Screen, Northern Ireland Screen and other areas offer free crew databases. Find a film office near you and get connected. If you do sign up to paid sites, make sure they specialise in the areas in which you’re interested.
Search for jobs:
Research unscripted TV production companies that you’d like to work for and watch the programmes that they make. Regularly check their websites and job listings websites to see if they are advertising for roles. You can also send in a short speculative letter with your CV to the production manager. Register your CV on websites like The Talent Manager, which is used by most broadcasters and independent production companies when looking for staff. StartinTV offers tips on creating your CV and attending interviews, as well as some advice for your first day working in TV.
You might also be interested in...
Being a production manager or a line producer in the unscripted TV industry. You might also be interested in being a script supervisor in the film and TV drama industries. Alternatively, you could consider being a production coordinator in the animation industry or a production coordinator in the VFX industry.