This series of posts highlights some of our local industry talent: on-screen and behind-the-scenes, established and up-and-coming.
Penny Johnson has been working as a script supervisor in Utah since 1985, making this her 34th year. She has worked on many productions, including Touched by an Angel, Blood & Oil and Extinct. In between film projects, she loves to bake, read and spend time with her husband, kids, cat and corgi.
Tell us about your role as a script supervisor.
My job as a script supervisor consists of two major categories; I am responsible for the continuity of a film and I keep track of everything for the editors. I work with wardrobe, hair, makeup, props and sets to make sure that the continuity matches for each scene. I work with the camera and sound departments to make sure that all our info, such as roll numbers, scene numbers and lens size, match. I keep detailed notes about each shot of the film with director’s notes and other department’s notes as needed. I help the DP with screen direction to make sure we are not crossing the line. At the end of the day, I provide a daily report to the AD department to be included in the daily production report. I confer with the 1st AD to make sure we have covered the entire script. I run lines with actors as needed, cue them during takes if needed, and remind them of continuity of actions as needed.
Did you always want to get into the film industry, and how did you initially do so?
My love of film started early in life. When I was 7, we moved from Massachusetts to California and went to Knotts Berry Farm for the first time. They were filming a Ball Park Frank hotdog commercial there with Pat Boone. I had no idea at that time who Pat Boone was and I couldn’t have cared less about Ball Park Franks but I was entranced by the whole thing! My parents were irritated that I didn’t want to ride any rides but just wanted to stand and watch. I thought it was so funny that they had a spit bucket for him so he didn’t have to eat the hot dog every time. I was amazed at all the people it took and how it looked like chaos but wasn’t. I loved everything about it and I think that was the beginning for me.
I majored in Film at BYU and during my junior year they taught me how to script supervise at the LDS MPS. At that time, I was the only girl in the film program so I’m guessing that’s why they asked me if I wanted to learn because there are a lot of female script supervisors. Karl Wesson (of hair and makeup fame) taught me how to do it and then they let me work on all the little projects at the studio until I graduated which means I ended up working for free for a year and a half but it was totally worth it because I graduated with a full resume, made an enormous amount of contacts and was able to continue working after graduating.
Can you tell us about your experience working in Utah?
Utah has been really good to me. I’ve had some lean years but overall, I have worked steadily. I have worked on several TV series – Touched by an Angel for CBS, Hollywood Detective for A&E, Encyclopedia Brown for HBO, Extinct for BYUTV, Blood and Oil for ABC, as well as lots and lots of movie such as Don Verdean, Unicorn City, House of Fears, The Jerk Theory, Outlaw Trail, and lots of commercials – Honda, Coke, Cadillac, Walmart, Mazda, Sara Lee, GMC.
How do you typically prepare for a job?
I read the script over and over and over, memorizing it as much as possible so that I can answer questions as quickly as possible because I get asked a lot of questions on set! I make notes through the whole script, tracking the continuity of props, clothes, hair, makeup, etc. so that I can work faster on set.
Can you tell us a cool or funny experience that you had on one of your Utah film sets?
Here are a couple of memories:
We were filming a horror movie called House of Fears in an actual working haunted house and you had to go through various rooms to get to the room we were filming in. I got into this one room and couldn’t figure out how to get out and had to start yelling so that someone would come and get me out. Everyone thought it was pretty funny but I was a little freaked out! I didn’t like filming in there – it was creepy!
I worked with Kurt Douglas on Touched by an Angel post-stroke, and he had a hard time with his lines as a result of the stroke. When I would help him, he would bite my head off and bark at me; I didn’t take it personally. On the last day of filming, in front of the crew, he apologized to me. ‘Spartacus’ apologized to me and had the set photographer take a picture of us, so I have a picture with ‘Spartacus’!
If you could work with anyone, who would it be?
I’ve been pretty fortunate and have gotten to work with a lot of great actors and directors. I got to work with the Emmy award winning director, Timmy Van Patten, on Touched by an Angel and would love to work with him again.
Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?
I love to bake and cook and generally just play with food. And since I love all things food so much, I started a food blog called Penny’s Food Blog (super creative name, I know!), so check it out and let me know what you think.
What advice would you give to a local who is trying to get into the industry?
Get on set as much as you can! Make sure you really enjoy being on a set – you’ll either love it or hate it. Be realistic about your goals; not everyone can be a director/writer/producer and you probably aren’t going to start out as one of those, so get in there and learn about all the departments and what they do. You’ll probably find one that appeals to you. Plus, if you do get to be a director/writer/producer, you’ll need to know what everyone does. I’ve worked with many producers who have no idea what my job entails, which makes it hard for me and hard for them.
Debra Vago is a publicist, writer and film enthusiast. She resides in Salt Lake City, having relocated from London, England.
Contact Debra for any Utah Film Commission press and media inquires at firstname.lastname@example.org.