One of the many roles on the writing side of a television show is a script coordinator. While the script coordinator doesn’t write the show themselves, they do interact with the script frequently to make sure it is appropriately formatted, is grammatically correct, and that continuity remains intact from scene to scene, episode to episode. The script coordinator liaises between the studio, network, and writers, obtaining legal clearance, conducting research when necessary, and filling out paperwork to ensure the correct writers get credit on the show.
It’s a big job, but somebody’s got to do it. And for several big-time network shows, that person has been Marc Gaffen.
Gaffen most recently was the script coordinator on “Mare of Easstown” for HBO and “New Amsterdam” for NBC. Before that, you’ll find his name in credits for TV shows such as “Grimm” and “Lost.” But, like many script coordinators, one of his aspirations is to use his script coordinator position as a stepping-stone to the writers’ room. So far, he’s been able to do that a couple of times, pitching and writing an episode of “Grimm” and earning a Story By credit on “New Amsterdam.” He also created a comic book series based on “Grimm” and recently published the graphic novel “Tuskers.”
So, what does his day-to-day life look like as a script coordinator?
Every TV show is a little different as with anything, but you won’t usually find the script coordinator in the writers’ room. That’s where the writer’s assistant will be, taking notes as the writers discuss story ideas, working the board to help outline the episode.
In other words, a script coordinator needs to be organized, like, super organized. And there are a handful of other qualities that someone should have if they’re going to take on this job and succeed.
Qualities to be a good script coordinator:
Energetic: Script coordinators log very long hours, and Gaffen told me that he could be called on at all – yes, ALL – hours of the day once a script is ready for his review.
Detail-oriented: The script coordinator’s job is to sweat the small stuff, including script formatting, grammar, spelling, and whether Johnny had a backpack in the last scene. Did the studio’s notes make it into this draft? And how about the showrunner’s revisions that she accidentally added to a prior draft? What draft are we on, anyway?! Catch the errors early and often before you get to production, where 100 people will point out the mistakes you didn’t see.
Forward-thinking: To be good at this job, you’ll need to be able to anticipate any problems that may come up, any confusion that may arise, and tackle it before it does.
And backward-thinking, too: The script coordinator acts as the keeper of the script library and should be able to quickly recall everything about the current and past episodes to know if the continuity is there. Does this episode track? Is the continuity there?
Script coordinator job description:
Manage distribution lists, so everyone that needs a particular draft gets one: Certain people have access to specific scripts. Not everyone on the crew receives every draft. You’ll need to know who needs to be on the distribution list at the network and the studio and who gets the first draft of a script versus who gets the fourth draft. You will also need to develop a system for naming drafts in a clear way that everyone can understand and that you can keep track of.
Proof and format everything according to the showrunner’s preferences and AP style: Ensure every draft follows the template and style guide first, then AP style third so that the script is grammatically correct.
Track clearance issues, production problems, story notes. Know the script inside and out. Be able to answer any questions about the script. Some script coordinators will create a show Wiki, so it’s easier to track what’s happened in past episodes.
WGA Paperwork: The script coordinator is responsible for filing the “Notice of Tentative Writing Credits” with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) so that the WGA knows who to award credit to on each episode.
Research: You may be asked to research facts for an episode, or your gut may tell you that something needs to be researched … if something sounds off, look it up or make a phone call to the appropriate agency or organization.
I came across a document written by an unnamed script coordinator that thoroughly describes the script coordinator’s job and how to do the script coordinator’s job. It goes in-depth into Final Draft workarounds, how to stay organized, how to troubleshoot, and how revision colors work. It is worth the read, even if SoCreate will make all of the headaches of Final Draft that the writer describes obsolete. So much of the guide will remain relevant 😊 Take a look at the Complete Guide to Script Coordinating (for Drama).
Other things to know about the job of a script coordinator:
IATSE Local 871 Union
In Hollywood, the IATSE Local 871 union represents script coordinators, writer’s assistants, script supervisors, teleprompter operators, production coordinators, art department coordinators, stage managers, graphics coordinators, and more. This union provides several benefits for these roles, including health care, a pension plan, education and training, and representation should issues arise with the employee’s employer. Collective bargaining ensures that workers are paid fairly according to minimum compensation requirements and overtime provisions. Dues are required, though, as well as an initiation fee and an application fee. To apply, script coordinators must be able to prove that they’ve worked 30 paid union job days.
According to Glassdoor.com, which calculates average salary ranges based on user data, the average salary a script coordinator can expect to earn is approximately $47,000 per year. Of course, salaries as low as $34,000 and as high as $66,000 have been reported. Some script coordinators complain of long hours and a struggle to make ends meet, especially in high-priced Los Angeles, so keep these experiences in mind before applying for the position.
Some script coordinators describe the task as “thankless,” and I’ve even read stories about script coordinators who had to explain what they do to their showrunner. It is a behind-the-scenes job, but nonetheless, a critical one that you should feel accomplished about – even if no one recognizes your hard work. Things are changing, in part thanks to unionizing, but a job in entertainment is still synonymous with hustle. Be ready to work hard, get your hands dirty, and learn a ton. Just like anything worth doing, it’s not going to be easy, but I hope it eventually lands you in a writer’s chair or director’s chair or anywhere on that production ladder that you want to be!