That’s a conversation opener I’ve encountered more than once.
I can still hear my little ol’ Auntie basically asking the above. Well, at least this shows there’s an awareness of someone on set at the helm of the script! More than likely this comes from movies about movies themselves, like Singin’ In the Rain, 8 1/2 or Get Shorty, to mention a few off the top of my head.
Particularly in older movies, when a film set was shown in the story, the only woman sitting by the Director as part of the filmmaking process was a secretarial gal with a script on her lap (a more professional example than, uh, what was portrayed in the picture above).
My husband jumps in with enthusiasm as to what an important and influential position this is. I then fill in the gaps, that many men also hold this position, and that it entails much much more than following lines in the script.
In general terms I explain how this is about managing several simultaneous streams of information in a highly organized way, sometimes creating systems to do so. Yes we support, and correct, gently, the Actors, with their dialogue and with continuity to help things match. Continuity causes us to guide or coordinate with several departments, as Hair, Make Up, Props, Set Dressing and Wardrobe, to keep everyone on the same timeline page and matching looks. We work to keep the Directors on point, inform them as to the coverage or shots needed to tie the story together so they can choose how to proceed, and we keep track of their preferences while we are shooting.
All this while also keeping track every time each camera rolls, notating information for each take on each camera, watching for technical errors, and essentially transcribing a map for Editorial, in a way being on-set eyes for the Editor with the goal to get all the pieces necessary to put the project together appropriately, elegantly, if possible.
We keep tabs on what’s been filmed and what’s yet owed for each scene in the script, applying mathematical calculations that translate into scheduling our production days for the AD Department. These numbers also go to the Producers to help them gauge the budgeting for those days.
Our shoulders also bear the responsibility to our fellow crew and cast members in legally documenting our production time on the clock, to ensure everyone gets the appropriate pay, meal penalties and overtime contractually agreed upon by the Union.
On top of the pure logistics, a bit of psychology is involved for there are a lot of egos involved. One must adapt and learn how to earn trust so that people will allow you to help them.
…My Auntie stares at me blankly.
“It’s like being a Junior Director to help get everything right.” Bah.