“A lot of exciting things are happening right now” – LockitScript at the Set of Berlin Station
The third season of Berlin Station has been released. Again, CIA agent Daniel Miller is on a secret mission from his post in Berlin. For script supervision, the American production company trusts script supervisor Laura Ritter – and LockitScript. We talked with Laura about Berlin as setting for film and TV, about the differences between German and American productions and why binge watching brings a breath of fresh air into the German TV and streaming landscape.
Hello Laura. Thanks for taking the time once again to talk to us.
Your latest project was the third season of Berlin Station, an American production in Germany, which takes place mainly in Berlin, but also in Budapest.
That is not quite right. The studio shootings were done in Budapest, but the series as such takes place in Berlin. Location shootings were completed in Berlin. But we also traveled to Vienna and for “France” shots, we went to Croatia; so we “cheated” a bit. But it remains “Berlin Station”, with parts of the story taking place in Estonia and Russia.
Did you shoot at other locations as well?
I worked in Berlin, Vienna, and Budapest. I shared the workload in Berlin with my colleague Sabine Zimmer: We took turns every two episodes, after that I had a short shooting break, which was when I prepared the next two episodes. In the meantime, Sabine worked on the next two episodes. In the end, I did six episodes and Sabine did four.
Did the two of you work with LockitScript?
Yes, Sabine tried it for the first time last year, in 2018. The year before she tested LockitScript on second unit days during Deutschland 86. Last year, she really wanted to go for it and that worked really well. In the beginning, it feels a bit strange to work with the app, especially when you are so used to using pen and paper. But it has the unbeatable advantage that you can simply send reports digitally. You also have only one interface in which you enter all information. This is an irresistible feature, which she wanted as well.
Were any colleagues of the second units interested in working digitally?
My colleagues are already working digitally, but on laptops. But we rarely meet during work. There is some curiosity and interest, however: just yesterday, I met with a colleague to show her LockitScript. It’s at times when I stand in for someone that the team is a bit confused because I only have a stop watch and an iPad with me. I then explain which apps I use, and people get interested: “our colleague has to work very long hours at night”; which is something I don’t do anymore. Especially with long projects, the long work hours are physically very taxing. Two hours less each shooting day make a big difference, especially when shooting series.
We have not even thought about that – LockitScript as contributor to healthy script supervisors. But what about the learning curve with LockitScript?
Most of the things I learned after the first week on Deutschland 86. Since then, I’ve become much more confident, and I become less frustrated when something is not working – like when clips are not matched correctly. I will simply pull them back up and sort them myself. I do call tech support from time to time and they can help me quickly.
We got the impression that more and more American productions come to Europe, perhaps Berlin in particular, just because Berlin is the current place to be.
I see two developments: American productions move more and more east due to budget constraints, meaning that a lot will be shot in Budapest and Prague. Just recently, I received an offer to work on a German crime story that will be shot in the Ukraine because it is cheaper. This kind of move is definitely a recent phenomenon.
At the same time, there are many more German productions thanks to Netflix, Amazon Prime or Sky. So you can find a lot bigger projects that are German.
Do you notice any changes in your line of work? More internationality or that more German content is marketed abroad? Do you get more jobs?
As a script supervisor, I feel that it is of no consequence since you only need one for each project. Of course, there are more second unit days with large productions. But it is not the same when comparing with other departments like lighting where the crew increases with larger productions.
But there is one thing I notice: the offers become more exciting. There are not only German pre-primetime series, instead we get much more interesting stories.
Actual primetime and more costly productions…
Exactly. All the streaming series that are also exciting from a script supervisor’s point of view. A German series as it would be broadcasted on early weeknight slots, usually has one storyline per episode and a main cast with rather small-scale conflicts. There is no continuous common thread as far as the story is concerned.
Since more people are binge-watching, you have to stay on top of all episodes in a season with ten or twelve episodes. You cannot assume that by the next week people will have forgotten the last episode. Instead, as a script supervisor, you must be able to juggle 600 minutes in your head. Work has gotten more challenging – both when it comes to the job and the stories.
Do you think that with the influence of American productions work on German sets will change?
The job remains the same mostly but there is more overlapping. In Germany, you start working more and more with the AD system. The bigger difference lies in the processes and hierarchies. By processes I mostly mean postproduction – many times, it’s about budget and time. In the German series, the focus has been mostly on the length of episodes to make them fit perfectly into the broadcasting slot with ads. Of course, you could shorten episodes in post, but each scene cut is just pouring money down the drain. You don’t have this issue anymore with streaming series because the duration of episodes has become much more flexible and because you follow a continuous storyline. This way, you can push certain things to another episode, and you are not tempted so easily to sacrifice shot material for broadcasting slots.
What differences do you see when it comes to script supervision in European or American style?
I think that American script supervisors have much more power than a script supervisor in the German system. Personally, I don’t need to sit in the video village with a walkie-talkie and drive the camera department insane until they’re close to cancel a take. I prefer going to each department, explaining them what I need and why that is important. I work with actors trusting me. This way, I avoid huge discussions since I already explained everything beforehand.
Other than that: slate naming and reports are a bit different, although German post-productions will do just fine with American-style reports. The other way around does not work, however. With American productions I have to hand in a lined script at the end including all text changes, which has a facing page to each scene. In LockitScript, you currently have facing pages by shooting day, with only the first paging stating the shooting day. Unfortunately, with this system only one out of ten scenes per shooting day will state the shooting day, meaning that I have to add the number by hand. It would be great if you could update that in the next LockitScript version.
Are there any other challenges? It’s great that everything works perfectly, but storytelling-wise some drama would be nice…
(laughs) – No, everything works really smooth. The product is just too good. Large obstacles would only come about if communication were lacking. I realize that I would like to work even more closely with your tech team. There are smaller things that could be changed: for Berlin Station we shot a lot in the drainage system of Vienna – where you don’t have internet, obviously. It would be great to be able to save manually and having the sense of being safe, even though it has not yet been uploaded to the cloud.
Sabine, a colleague who is new to LockitScript would like to have a feature that can “lock” particular scenes so that you cannot change them once filming is completed. For her, the green cloud icon with check mark is not enough as a saving mechanism. Which I can understand; it can always happen that you work in scene 23 although you just shot scene 22 because you slipped into the wrong line on the menu. It would be good to avoid those stumbling blocks.
These are all doable ideas. In any case, we are happy that working with LockitScript works so well.
I always thought that I would be the last one to work completely with pen and paper because I found the system good. Now I am one of the first ones who work completely digitally. Never would have thought that! But I am convinced. I do have a weakness for good technological advancements.
Thanks for talking to us!