Script Supervisor and WFTV Board Member, Emma Thomas, Recognised with British Academy Television Craft Special Award
“Continuity isn’t life and death but it does help if you have a sense of humour when you are trying to do your job efficiently!”
The script supervisor is the “eyes and ears of the director” on set. That’s how Emma Thomas describes the role and she should know, having worked in the industry for over three decades on over 50 productions. A WFTV member for 20 years, and a board member for almost 10, Emma was this week honoured with the British Academy Television Craft Special Award in recognition of her contribution to the industry through her role as a script supervisor but also for her efforts to mentor and support the next generation of talent.
Her career began as a clerk typist in the Elstree office of The Muppets, where she answered the fan mail of her boss, Kermit the Frog, before moving swiftly on to typing the transcripts for each of the shows. Some of her happiest memories of working in the industry come from this period, “It still brings a smile to my face… I always ended up talking to the puppet, even though I knew there was a human being standing there!”
She then moved to the office of children’s TV classic Tiswas in Birmingham “and the rest, as they say, is history.” Emma trained on the nine-month Script Supervisor course at Central TV in Nottingham and went on to work on some of the most well-known and loved film and TV comedies and dramas of the past 30 years, including Birds of a Feather, (1989-98), Goodnight Sweetheart (1993-95), Teachers (2002), The Boat That Rocked (2009), Luther (2010-11), Bad Education (2012), and Catastrophe (2019). She also spent 10 years working intermittently on police serial drama, The Bill.
Emma’s passion for her job is easy to see, but script supervision remains a role that can be underestimated in importance by those who are not fully aware of what a good supervisor brings to a production. “We provide an invaluable link between the director and the editor. We need to have essential knowledge of shot/lens sizes, shot descriptions, screen direction, slating, set ups with single and multiple cameras… knowledge of breaking down a script, page counts, individual scene by scene timings, story day/year breakdowns… we log all pertinent information for each department, detect overlooked coverage, stage direction, action and dialogue…” the list goes on, and that’s just for feature films!
“The job of a Script Supervisor requires a high level of concentration, stamina and an eye for detail. These skills are often required at times when you are at your lowest ebb and it’s the last hour of the day or night shoot. Even with all the courses available it isn’t a job you can learn from a manual. Learning ‘on the job’ is essential because each project is different and requires a number of different personal skills. You need to be a team player but stand your ground, and hold your hand up if you make a mistake. Continuity isn’t life and death but it does help if you have a sense of humour when you are trying to do your job efficiently!”
There are highs and lows in any career, but the thing that Emma still enjoys most is “when I first receive a script or series of scripts that I can’t stop reading.” But what about the long hours and grueling schedules? “There are swings and roundabouts with all the projects I’ve worked on… although I’m used to working up to 14 hours a day, that’s not sustainable on a long-term project. However, if the project is in an exotic location it does make a difference!”
“WFTV has gone from strength to strength since I became a member. It is the go-to organisation for all matters relating to women working in the industry.”
Emma began her career right around the time that the UK chapter of Women in Film & Television was being established as an organisation to support female film and TV professionals and work towards gender equality in the industry. As a woman of colour in a male-dominated and predominantly white industry, Emma is well aware that there’s still a long way to go before we reach true equality in film and TV. However, she has borne witness to the progress that has been made, especially in recent years “It’s wonderful to see more women on set in roles that have traditionally been held by men. I’ve worked with more female directors in the last five years than in previous years.”
She joined WFTV in 1999, the same year she became a BAFTA member, and was voted onto the Board in 2010. “WFTV has gone from strength to strength since I became a member. It is the go-to organisation for all matters relating to women working in the industry.” Emma initially joined for the same reason that many others do. “As a freelancer it’s easy to feel less involved in the industry once a project is over. I joined WFTV to meet more freelancers in all areas of the industry; to network and keep abreast of changes.” But, true to form, she soon went above and beyond the call of duty. “I became more involved by helping at events and volunteering at the annual WFTV Awards. It then became apparent that I could spread the word about this wonderful organisation on set. Crew members, both male and female, always want to know what WFTV are up to.” Whether it was questions about the latest events, the WFTV Mentoring Scheme, or nominations for the Awards (Emma has been the Jury Chair for the Panalux Craft Award for a number of years), she was always on hand to fill her colleagues in… and recommend they join WFTV!
So, after three successful decades in the business, how does it feel to receive the British Academy Television Craft Special Award? “I am incredibly honoured… it’s a privilege to have been awarded (this) in a year where so many women have been recognised by BAFTA in front of and behind the screen.” Whilst an honour of this nature inevitably induces feelings of nostalgia and causes one to reflect on a career gone by, Emma’s time in the industry is far from over. “I have enjoyed working on the majority of all my productions for various reasons, and I’m proud to have been associated with so many. Long may it continue!”
On behalf of everyone at WFTV, we would like to congratulate Emma on her British Academy Television Craft Special Award.
Interested in becoming a script Supervisor?
Emma’s tips for anyone inspired by her story and thinking about starting out as a script supervisor? “Start by doing the homework and researching the role thoroughly. It is not just about taking notes and logging details. Enroll in a recognised course that is taught by script supervisors who are still working in the business… then get training on set in as many productions as possible.”
For more information about the history and craft of script/continuity supervision, Emma recommends Script Supervisors UK, an online resource from Jane Jackson and Diana Dill.