MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: LARA FOX

iatse891 | Nov 29, 2023 |

Lara Fox retired this year at the age of 89, after decades of working as a Script Supervisor for major motion picture productions in BC. With more than 60 years in the industry, she shares her journey and tricks of the trade.

Growing up, Lara Fox was extremely shy. That didn't stop her, however, from boldly working her way into a role in motion picture production that gets into everybody's business. 

Being a Script Supervisor / Continuity Coordinator involves telling every department on set when something in a scene isn't right.

“As the Continuity Supervisor, I'm in the foreground. Everybody has to make room for me to see,” says Lara, a member of 891’s Script Department since 1981.

It's a role that puts you in the heart of the action on set and is integral to making sure the story flows smoothly.

Details are everything in this role, which requires a keen eye for observation and an ability to work well with people across many different departments.

“I tell Props, and Set Dec., and Costume, and Makeup if they're not correct. I'm supervising everything on the set.”

“I have to watch everything. If an actor does something at a certain place in the script, I have to tell them they did that before the camera rolls again. If they are eating, I have to know what they picked up on that fork, or if they used a spoon. I have to make sure that if it's a clear cup or glass that the amount of liquid in the glass remains the same.”

Lara worked as a Script Supervisor for major motion pictures filming in BC and other locations for more than 60 years, before retiring just this year at the age of 89. Her career highlights include working on Legends of the Fall and Jumanji, and with actors such as Brad Pitt and Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Her watchful eye and attention to detail made her notably good at her job. How good? Sean Penn once lost a bet with her over a continuity question, and Robin Williams crowned her the Countess of Continuity.

“After filming Jumanji, I got a parcel in the mail from San Francisco and opened it up and it was a leather-bound copy of the Jumanji script with my name in gold on it. When I opened it up, he had written: To the Countess of Continuity. Love, Robin.”

Often seen with stacks of binders full of meticulous notes, and a stopwatch in hand to track the timing of scenes, Lara developed a forensic attention to detail over the span of her career. She loved getting to be in all kinds of environments and help tell all kinds of stories. Every show, every film, and every day was different, even if she thought she knew the script inside out.

“I get bored very easy. With film it never gets boring. You've always got to be on your toes and thinking the whole time, so it suited me.”

Lara on set with Sean Penn and Robert De Niro during the filming of 'We’re No Angels'.

HOW IT ALL STARTED 

Growing up in Ottawa in the 1940s, Lara says she was known for being extremely shy, having a mind for mathematics, and an ability to learn quickly. Her intelligence propelled her into graduating high school early. Before long, she got a job as a clerk at Manulife after a friend went with her to an interview to help settle her nerves.

Over the years that followed, Lara took on secretarial and accounting work for the government, a lumber company, and a private television station.

“The television station was in a small building, and I was watching people going in and out. I sort of stood in the doorway listening to the action and one of the directors asked, ‘Are you interested in this?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ So he told me to come watch in my spare time.”

She shadowed producers and started learning how to time live television segments. Soon her career in television had begun. Lara eventually made her way into working for the CBC in Ottawa, Toronto, and then Vancouver, where she grew intrigued by the film industry. 

Being shy, Lara says, at this point, was an afterthought. By the time she started working on film sets, she says the work was so all encompassing she had no time to be shy.

“Shyness doesn't enter into it, because when there’s something I have to do, my feelings can't interfere with it.”

When starting on a film project or TV series, the first thing Lara would do is break down the script. She’d note the date, and time of day or night when the story is taking place. In the script, she’d pay attention to when things happen, where things happen, and take notes on questions and answers.

She’d also do a read-through to estimate the timing of scenes, the dialogue, and how the actors might react to the words on the script. She’d then pass her calculations onto the editors and directors to help determine if scenes need to be added or cut.

All of this important preparation would take place before filming.

“Did the character get a gunshot wound? Where was the wound? Did he get punched in the face? Where? If the script states that he got hit in the right eye, I write in my notes ‘bruise on right eye’. That way the Makeup department knows because they also get my continuity notes.”

You have to know the script thoroughly, she says, and when filming starts, be able to react in the moment.

“You have to be dexterous. You have to read a script, be on top of the dialogue, and you've got to be writing at the same time as watching what the actors are doing.”

“We were in the railroad tracks shooting at an approaching train,” says Lara about this photo showing her taking notes in the middle of a scene for the film ‘Distant Thunder’.

WE ALL WORK TOGETHER

When asked what she misses most about working in motion picture production, Lara responds without hesitation: the people.

Film and television sets in BC bring together dozens of people from all kinds of backgrounds and there’s strong respect for each other’s craft.

“Nobody is stepping on anyone to get anywhere because you’ve got your own skillset and everybody that's hired has their own skillset... Being on a film set, nobody is trying to be the president. Grips, Electrics, Props, Set Dec., Makeup, Hair — everybody has each other’s back.”

She recalls a time at work when they were filming on a skating rink and she had eaten something that didn’t sit too well. She needed to rush off the rink, but they were in the middle of a take. With no back-up for her role, she quickly handed over her script and stopwatch to one of the makeup artists, who covered for her on the fly. It’s a moment of support that has stuck with her all these years.

The community that builds between unionized workers is crucial, she says, to health and wellbeing. The hours on some projects can be gruelling and challenging.

“People get tired. You're always travelling. It's very difficult on families.”

Lara stresses the importance of good planning and organization to building better working conditions. On one series, for example, she says, good planning and coordination allowed for 10 to 12-hour workdays instead of 14 to 16-hour workdays, showing what’s possible, even when shooting in multiple locations, including on the water.

“It was scheduled properly. If you had to move from one place to another, then where you ended you went back the next day to that place, so you didn't have to tear down your set.”

As a Union member since 1981 who has always been one to advocate for her fellow colleagues in departmental meetings, her hope for the future is to see film workers continue to stick together and build a strong sense of community and to share ideas on how to make things better for each other. That solidarity can help workers push for collective gains that benefit everyone working in the industry.

“The most valuable part of being part of the Union for so long I would say is the security. The Union in BC has a very high reputation of being top notch, and that's because we all work together and help each other.”

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Email Spotlight suggestions to communications@iatse.com to help us feature more 891 members who inspire and make BC’s motion picture community shine. Read more 891 Member Spotlights here. Visit Ourwork.ca for more on the benefits of being a member of the Union.