TV Detail

Script Supervising and the Importance of Small Things

Recently I helped design a letterhead template consisting of just a couple images and panels, our company logo and, in teeny font, our address. I had felt there was no need to check spelling because there was no text to proofread.

After emailing it out, boy, did I hear back. In a practically blank template, I had managed to misspell one of just seven words?our street.

Don’t sweat the small stuff, my eye
My little discrepancy was seen by only a few dozen people. Which, humbling as it was, didn’t quite make the evening news. But take Seth Copans. As a New York based script supervisor for movies and TV shows including Ed, Law & Order, The Sopranos and Third Watch, his work is under the watchful eye of millions. That’s because Copans is responsible for details that most of us take for granted. Missed belt loops. Disappearing lamps. Inappropriate attire. Like, say, if a Swatch wristwatch should appear on Brad Pitt. In ancient Troy.

“People love catching these things,” said the 33-year old in a recent telephone interview. “My job is necessary because the way we make movies is very fragmented. I have to keep up the illusion that what you’re seeing on screen is really happening and is continuous in that time and space.”

Part of Copans’ job is to anticipate issues. This can be a challenge since scenes are often shot out of sequence. “You have to know what to look out for,” he says. “If a character throws the pillows off a couch in one scene, I have to ask myself where I think he might throw them.” That information becomes relevant when the next scene is shot hours or even days later.

Cross your visible t’s
Copans says prioritizing is key. “I have to decide what’s important versus what I think I can get away with. Subconsciously the audience wants it to be real, so they aren’t looking for mistakes. People fill in the gaps for themselves. They assume the reality is what they are seeing.”

So has Copans ever experienced his version of my misspelled street name?

“Game Day,” he groans. “It’s a movie about a basketball coach taking his Cinderella team to the championships.” He describes one scene in which the team is in the locker room where the coach is giving his pep talk.

When time stood still
As they began shooting Copans recalls noticing a big clock behind the coach. It read 6:00. “The clock wasn’t working and I thought of powering it up, but the director didn’t think it was necessary. I didn’t either, even though it was bugging me. Well, it turns out the coach’s talk lasts three minutes and every time the camera pans the clock it shows 6:00.” He cringes, “Now whenever I watch the movie I always notice that darned clock. I don’t know why I didn’t deal with it.”

Sage advice
Probably for the same reason I didn’t deal with the misspelled street name. Both were seemingly insignificant little details that didn’t warrant our attention. And both ultimately came back to bite us on the ass. This is why today Copans insists that even the most diminutive detail is worth paying attention to. “You have to account for everything,” he reasons. “It comes from experience.”

God in the details?
Butmaybe getting caught with your details down isn’t the only reason to pay attention. Sure, most of us never have to worry about detail to the level that Seth Copans does (thank goodness, I say). But letterhead and locker room clock faux pas aside, isn’t there something beautiful about viewing things in glorious detail? Doesn’t going at life with the precision of a mathematician or the discipline of a Marine say that we really care about living?

I know what you’re thinking. Calm down. It’s only television.