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Melva McLean

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION: A Book Editor in the Land of Cinema

Filmstrip negatives overlaid upon a background script whose text is too obscured to read.

Filmstrip negatives overlaid upon a background script whose text is too obscured to read.(The first in a series on working as an editor in the film industry.)

In 1966, my older sister snuck me into the Windsor Theatre to see an R-rated movie, A Man and Woman, starring Anouk Aimée as a script girl and Jean-Louis Trintignant as a car racer. After that, whenever someone asked me what I wanted to be, I answered “script girl.” It took me 40 years, but over the past three, I’ve been working on and off as a script supervisor, or scripty (“script girl” is no longer politically correct).

I started in Vancouver when a director I met asked me if I wanted to be the scripty on her short film. I immediately said yes and drove to the nearest bookstore—Francis Lai’s memorable theme song from A Man and Woman playing in my head—to look for books on the subject.

I found Pat Miller’s Script Supervising and Film Continuity, Third Edition, and any trepidation I had about doing the job went away when I flipped to chapter two and saw the heading “First Comes the Word.” I can do this, I thought. I’m an editor.

Indeed, the first read-through of a film script by a scripty is like the first read-through of a novel by an editor. Does the plot makes sense, or do readers have to make huge leaps of faith? Does each character have enough of his or her own “verbal rules” to be distinctive, or does everyone sound the same? Is there really a Burger King on the corner of Broadway and Vine in Vancouver (no), and can a couple in a 1972 wedding scene have their first dance to Paul Stookey’s Wedding Song (There is Love) because it was written by then (yes)? Is the language in the script consistent with the time and setting? It had better be, or it’ll end up being talked about on websites such as and Recently, viewers of Masterpiece Theatre’s Downton Abbey discuss whether the dialogue in the previous week’s episode was correct—were, for example, the terms “boyfriend” and “professional woman” actually in common usage in 1913?

After a scripty’s queries are dealt with by the writer and/or director, the script supervisor breaks down the script regarding a number of considerations including location, running time, and the all-important back-matching of scenes. Movies are rarely shot in narrative order. The shooting schedule is often dictated by location issues. As in fiction, film continuity is the consistency of the character, plot, objects, and places over the length of the shoot.

But that’s the subject of my next post.

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