On Keep the Lights On, script supervisor Veronica Lupu played a crucial part in translating an elliptical script, set over ten years, into a movie that could be deciphered by an audience.
Lupu started working as a “script girl” in Romania in the early 70’s before moving to New York in the 1980’s. She worked with some of the top-Romanian directors at the time, including Radu Gabrea and Geo Saizescu, and it’s clear she has a a rich understanding of cinema history. Her American credits include We Own the Night (2007), Enchanted (2007), and previously with Ira Sachs on Forty Shades of Blue (2005). She also serves on the board of the Local 161, a production union that includes script supervisors.
When we met, Veronica was in pre-production on the Katie Holmes-vehicle, Molly (this took place before it became her divorce/defection was publicized). Her pre-production binder is is one of the most incredibly organized I’ve ever seen.
What is a script supervisor?
Someone who is in charge of continuity of the movie. The movie is being done in little pieces – it’s not done in the consecutive order according to the script. So the script supervisor is the one who makes sure that when these pieces will be put together, everything has to match.
And it’s not just narrative, it’s also performance related.
Everything! Camera angles…the right dialogue…wardrobe, everything matches from the scene you shot previously two weeks ago and is continuous in the story.
Do you usually work on features?
I work on everything. I work on features, tv series, commercial, industrials, student movies, everything that comes.
Since I was three years old, I was watching two movies a week. Most of them were foreign movies, since I was three years old. Some of them I watch twice, and some of them three times.
Do you remember any of them in particular?
There was one about Louis Armstrong… and I said, “Look, he’s singing, a trumpet!” and I so fall in love with him. Even now, I absolutely love jazz…So then, between 14 and 18 during high school, I was in Cineclub. And then I passed the exam to go to college, and I had four months to kill until the [school] year would start. My brother was working in the film industry. He did fine arts, and he was working there actually as a graphic artist. And he said, “Why don’t you come to the studio and hang around?”
So I went there, and I went to hang, and I said, “Let me go to the library!” The library was in such a disarray. So I fixed that library and the storage room… and she [the librarian] liked it so much she called the director of the lab. He was her friend, and she said, “I have this girl that is pretty smart and…” whatever. She thought that I was smart. “Can you give her a job?” So he says, “Does she know how to type? Do you know how to type?”
“Yes!” [she shakes her head, “no”] And then I went there and I was doing, I learn how to do the lab reports in which were saying how the paper were processed, how the film was processed and all that, so I learned some about film and about post-production.
And about a month and a half later, this director is promoted to technical director of the film studio. And he called me there and said, “…starting tomorrow you are gonna work as a script supervisor.” “Script girl,” as was called then.
Were there a lot of movies made in Romania at that time?
About 25 a year.
And when did you move to the US?
December of ’81, the Securitate [the Romanian secret police under the communist regime] called me to be an informer.…my brother immigrated a year before me to United States… it was almost a year since he was here and the Securitate called me and they wanted me to be an informer. They kept me about 11 hours there. And I totally refused.
I said, “I’ll never do that.” I didn’t say “never,” but I said “I can’t commit.” They wanted to meet every two weeks and to report on people and I said, “I can’t, my schedule is different according to the shooting schedule. I cannot commit to come, but I can promise you that if I hear anything, I’ll come to you.”
That night, I went home and I told my boyfriend, I’m gonna talk to everyone and get a visiting visa [to the US], and that’s what I did.
Is the community of supervisors small?
The problem with us is we never work with each other. I mean even if it is second unit, second unit is in one area, first unit is in the other. Rarely we are on the same set… Almost never.
How did you come to work on Forty Shades of Blue (2005)?
I think one of the producers was a friend, a production manager from The Sopranos. And they’re talking and they say, “oh, I know this script supervisor.” And then I heard they’ll be shooting in Memphis, and I love travelling. I love being on location and seeing new places.
How long were you shooting for?
I think two or three months, and it was so great. That place was so fantastic and what I like that while the film crew go play bowling, I go to the juke clubs (jazz clubs).
The narrative timeline of Keep the Lights On changed a bit from the first draft to the shooting script.
Oh my God. That was one of the most challenging story-wise because it went around 10 years and you want to produce 10 years within an hour and a half of film. And to say the story and its arch and for people to understand how the relationship progressed. So that was one of the the most challenging things.
In Ira’s case, there were so many days and so many stories that he wanted to put in the script which is very hard to put the relationship if two men, two people, of twenty years in an hour and a half for [the audience] to understand. So I did it myself. Ira had each scene on cue cards on the wall and then when I went to him with my breakdown he said “Oh my God, now it makes sense.” So we put [the cue cards] into perspective. I said we had to change things because the dialogue would say something but it’s not pertinent.
Also, none of the characters really change their hair or styles. Was that a choice?
Yes that was a choice because, you know, one thing I remember actually when I spoke to Ira after I read the script I told Ira ‘this is going to be so challenging for makeup because there has to be this transition. And he said one of the smartest things: “there is a period of age in which people do not change too much over 10 years” and I know that myself. From 21 to 30 I didn’t change all that much. And I have known Ira for 10 years and he hasn’t changed at all!
Do you see the films that you work on typically once they’re done?
If they invite me to the premiere or something [laughs]. I always make this joke – I don’t go to movies, I make movies.