You’re going to make a lot of stops on your journey to become a television writer, mainly to take on writing-adjacent jobs first. These jobs are still crucial to creating a TV show, but you rarely hear about them. One essential job on a television show is the script coordinator, and if you’re good at the role, there’s a need for you in this golden era of TV.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find much information about a script coordinator’s job duties online, let alone an interview with one. They’re not often given the glory. But, once you hear what script coordinator Marc Gaffen has to say about his job duties, you will wonder why! I’m not sure how any television show could function without him.
A script coordinator’s job is to manage script drafts, make sure all changes are incorporated, distribute scripts to whoever needs to see them and maintain continuity across episodes and seasons. But that definition is probably an oversimplification.
Marc has spent the last two decades working on shows including “Lost,” “Grimm,” “New Amsterdam,” and more. We wanted to know: What does a day in his life look like?
The answer? Well, that depends on the day.
What is a script coordinator’s schedule?
There’s no typical schedule when it comes to writing or TV production. Our normal day is about 12-hour days.
There’s an old saying in the film business, “You get paid to wait, and you work for fun,” because a lot of the business is about waiting for scripts to happen, for shooting to happen, for actors to arrive, for special effects, physical effects to be ready in order to do their stunt. So, there’s a lot of a waiting game.
You can’t really put on a schedule how long a writer writes or how long it takes for inspiration to happen. You’re there waiting to get things done as soon as you get a script. Then, it usually takes about two to three hours to go through the script and make sure, you know, check for continuity, check for spelling and grammar, check to make sure the story makes sense. Maybe the writer had an idea, and that idea is not coming across properly or clearly enough, so you tell the writer, “You know, you wanted Bob to walk into the room and meet Melissa, but it seems like Bob’s in one room and Melissa’s in another room and they never really meet up.” You tell the writer, “You need to streamline a little bit more to make sure your ideas come through in the best possible way.”
I’ve gotten scripts at 10 o’clock at night, 2 o’clock in the morning, 10 o’clock in the morning. It all depends on how soon something films that you have to work on it. If something shoots the next day, no matter what time you get it, you have to drop everything and work on it. If something is just a draft that goes to the studio or network or goes to the other writers, you have some leeway. So, you can normally get that done in the next business day or the current business day that you’re in.
You’re on call 24-7, and especially in TV, because you’re not just working on one episode.
Is the role of the script coordinator always the same?
The script coordinator job changes with every show because every show is different.
The Length of the Show
Like right now, I’m on a network medical show that’s 22 episodes … but a lot of shows now are going eight, ten, twelve episodes. I’m also on a lot of HBO shows like “Here and Now” or “Mare of Easttown,” and those shows kind of have a different schedule compared to network shows or other normal shows. They have the showrunner and writers come up with the stories, and they write the scripts all at the same time as one block. Once all the scripts are done, and that block is done, then they go, and they shoot all the episodes at once in one block, which enables them to cross-board, meaning they can shoot at the same location for different episodes, which saves them money.
And that’s when the script coordinator comes in to basically be in charge of the script and be the showrunner’s righthand person when you’re shooting because that’s when a lot of changes need to happen because of production, locations, or other problems. COVID was a huge problem where we had to have multiple, multiple drafts and revisions during that time in order to make sure that we film properly.
A script coordinator would usually come in and work throughout the whole shooting process, while the writer’s assistant would basically just work during the development process but then leaves the show during the production process.
So, the way the writers’ room works [for “New Amsterdam”] is, when someone is breaking an episode on the board, someone else is in pre-production on an episode. And pre-production on an episode takes normally seven days of prep, and you have eight days of shooting and about two to three weeks of post-production. That’s the normal timeline.
In one day, the show is sending out a story area, which is usually a two-page synopsis for what the script is going to be for the studio network to approve. At the same time, you’re doing another episode that’s on an outline. And then there’s usually a third episode that’s on another outline version. At the same time, you have a script that’s in its first writer’s draft. At the same time, you have another script that’s shooting, and you have two other scripts that are in post-production. So, you basically have eight to ten scripts all at the same time in different drafts that you have to keep track of.
At the same time that’s going on, you have different revisions of the scripts that are shooting. So, the different revisions are usually white, blue, pink, yellow, green. Those are the colored revisions so people can tell them apart. … So, it’s a lot to juggle. If no one’s juggling it, pages go missing, things go missing, continuity gets messed up because maybe an important object in one episode, where someone had a backpack that has a bomb on it, and then suddenly, because of production problems, that backpack with a bomb on it becomes a suitcase with a bomb. And you have to make sure that continuity makes sense. Now, it seems like a little thing, but sometimes that thing goes by people because they’re not really paying attention.
So that’s my job as a script coordinator is to make sure all the items in the script line up – from everything that’s shooting and also that’s in pre-production, and also everything that’s in development.
The Type of Writers’ Room
[On “New Amsterdam”], the way the writers’ room works is that they collaborate on every single script, so every writer is working together. Then basically, they send these scenes, and I compile all those scenes into one script that has a start, beginning, and finish.
Other shows, like “Grimm,” it’s more of a single-writer-centric show. The writers pitch an idea to the showrunners. The showrunners approve it and work on it. And that writer goes off for about two weeks, two weeks if they’re lucky, to go write the script. And then they send it to me when they’re done. Then I work with the showrunners to edit it and keep it moving through the process through shooting.
What the Show is About
"New Amsterdam,” since it’s just a basic medical show, there’s not a ton of mythology or continuity to keep track of besides the characters.
Now on a show like “Grimm,” it’s heavy in mythology. Or, I worked on a show called “The Event,” which was very much like “Lost,” which is heavy in mythology, with different timelines. For a show like “The Event” or “Grimm,” I was more involved by creating Excel spreadsheets to keep track of all the monsters we used in “Grimm” and make sure the foreign langue we created made sense.
On “The Event,” which was very timeline-heavy, I created an Excel spreadsheet timeline of the years that we used, the days that we used, because it’s so flashback-heavy, so you want to make sure that if a person goes back to August 5, 1995, we didn’t already use that date for that person, or that person was in Russia when they’re now supposed to be in America, so it doesn’t really line up.
Those two shows are mythology-heavy shows and are more heavy-duty when it comes to the script coordinating.
What skills does a script coordinator need to have?
It’s funny because I was never a detail-oriented person growing up. It was something I kind of learned on the job.
The basic skill for anyone in the writers’ room or in this business is it’s all a personality-based business. You have to be able to get along with the people you work with and be able to have the trust of the people you work with. It’s all personality-based that way.
And just being able to see how everything comes together as a whole. If I’m reading a script and I see that the character has a prop and is going to be running and jumping and is going to be saying this dialogue, I have to properly understand how that’s all going to be implemented in production so I can deal with the clearances, deal with the continuity by saying, “Oh, so this person is going to jump from building A to building B, so in the next scene when they’re in building B, it has to have a little continuity to it to make sure that it all seems like it’s the same place or it’s the same action and same scene headings.
You have to love storytelling and know the basic elements of storytelling to make sure that everything reads properly. If you love storytelling and you see the mathematics that it takes to create the story that you want to see, it really becomes easy to become detail-oriented because you understand the mathematics of it. You understand that A + B = C.
It’s something that, for people who have a real passion about it, you’ll be able to do very easily.
Sure, Marc, sounds easy enough!