Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dialogue. Sweet Niblets of Mercy. DIALOGUE.

Dear Beloved Hopeful Screenwriters,

Please. In the name of all things good and holy, learn to write good dialogue. Because what I've been seeing is horrible. Terrible. Soul crushingly terrible.

But let me tell you how I really feel.

A well meaning soul sent me a script to peruse. I'm harder to pin down these days, but as a favor for a friend (and you know who you are, and when your poodle goes missing just mail me the ransom for his safe return) I read it.

The dialogue was well, sorely lacking.

First of all, your hero isn't going to KNOW everything, or we CAN'T go on a journey with him/her. And he can't just BLAB out pertinent information because we, as the audience, have to FEEL like we figured it out.  And your VILLIAN? He HAS to believe he's the star of his own plot, his own movie. If he's not equal to your hero, or even better, more powerful than your hero, is this really a good match up? We ROOT for the underdog. ALL THE TIME!  We rooted for Forrest Gump and LIFE was against that guy!

But I digress.


Writers. PLEASE. Get it through your head that you don't write the same way you talk. Writing is more formal. In writing, you won't have as many contractions ('She did not say that to you, Cynthia!')
among other wonderful grammatical bombs I could drop.  So there's that.

PLEASE. Do a back story on all of your characters. You'll thank me. You'll be surprised what you learn. "Amy" your main character has a hometown. Where? Okay, Brooklyn. Guess what? Amy now has an accent, an accent that comes with a pentameter all it's own. And how do we know how thick that accent is? By her dialogue. While you are learning such things about Amy, guess what else you learn? Her family life. What makes her tick. And suddenly, you realize Amy WOULD NEVER put up with a guy grabbing her, and instead of tolerating it, she delivers a SLAP that knocks a guy over. Which creates conflict for a scene, which is perfect because ALL of your scenes need conflict. ON EVERY PAGE, or STOP WRITING NOW.

Which brings me to this: PLEASE. Keep a dialogue journal. You overhear things all the time. If you don't, you need to set your phone down more often. The things people say are real, and your script needs real. Utilize these overheard conversations and incorporate them.

Do Not Use cliches in your writing:

Steve: Look at that. It's a bomb.
Joy: Oh no, what do we do?    <==cliche woman in distress. No one buys this anymore.
Steve: We have to disarm it.  <==seriously? HELLO! Who DOESN'T KNOW THIS? Your audience are NOT idiots, at least they don't like people pointing that out if they are!
Joy: Do you know how to do that?
Steve: Why yes, Joy. I went to a bomb disarming school last year and I have the knowledge to do this task.  Please step aside.
Joy: EEEEEEk! I'm scared. You're so strong and smart, Steve. I'm so glad I was partnered with you for this patrol.

Laugh. Go ahead. But I read this dribble sometimes. This is not the script I referred to earlier, but it's actually been handed to me. With a hopeful screenwriter smiling proudly with his finished second draft script in his hand.  (insert rolled eyes here).

First of all, that scene is horribly sexist. (If you have an issue with that statement, stop following my blog).  Secondly, the dialogue was droll and vapid.  And no contractions made him sound like a freaking robot. Who says, "Why yes, so and so?" The only time I use that is when I'm about to get into a verbal argument with someone, not croon about how they are strong and smart.

Also, there's no conflict. The writer thought there was.  "There's a ticking bomb right there!" he exclaimed.  That's not conflict.

Let's try this:

Steve: Oh (insert expletive)! A (insert expletive) bomb!
Joy: Oh my God! We need to call the bomb squad!
Steve: There's no time! We have to disarm it ourselves!
Joy: One week at Bomb Disposal and you're an expert? I'm calling the squad!
Steve: No, Joy! I can do it! I recognize the trigger.
Joy:  There's a school on this street, Steve! We need to evacuate the area!
Steve: I can DO this, Joy!
Joy: You do what you need to do. And I'll do the same.
Joy pulls out cell, makes the call to the precinct while Steve examines the bomb.

Do the characters look a little more human now? You have Steve who's all about the job. And Joy, who is not helpless, but wants to save lives. Maternal instinct, or just plain ethical, you decide.  But the conflict comes from their butting heads over how to deal with an issue.  THAT'S the conflict. Even when Steve proceeds to figure out how to disarm the bomb, Joy goes ahead and begins evacuation procedures.  Both are strong characters now. Both have different ways of dealing with situations, and that shows. Also, you know somewhere, there's a very bad villain lurking... a villain that cares nary a bit about little children. This bomb wasn't planted in an empty warehouse. No. The stakes have been upped.

There's a bunch more I can share with you, but I think I've ranted long enough. To cheer you up, here's a photo of a very close member of my family. ~SC

Photography: David E. Mitchell
Make up: Caley Caldwell
Wardrobe: TK Kelly
Model: Keagan Haney

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Prepare Your Actors

I'm directing a short film, and so far it's going really well.

We've been in preproduction for months. Lots of moving parts, you know. Locations. Equipment. Lights. PAs. Craft services. Getting this movie SAG endorsed.

Being the director I have a unique insight into the characters... I know exactly what I'm looking for from my characters. I should. I wrote the film.

To prepare my actors, I gave them each a packet.  My film has three main characters, so each packet was tailored specifically for each of them. For my lead actress, I compiled data with unfavorable outcomes to help get her in a darker "zone" if you will.

My lead actor received a packet with statistics and data. His character is a thinker and a doer, and would know stats about the issue that is plaguing him.

For my supporting actress, I gave her a manual from a local police department on how to solve the crime the movie focuses on. On top of that, I sent her a two page back story on her character.

A few months before the shoot, we had a read through.  ALWAYS have a read through of your script. You'll hear what works and what doesn't. Dialogue is tricky, and believe me, in a film, if it's not organic, people will mock you for it. With the read through, I made some minor adjustments, and we were good to go.

On the shoot, while the crew set up the shots, I was able to sit with the main actors and go over their packets.The actors did a marvelous job of grasping their characters and bringing them to life. They asked questions; great questions; hard questions. I was able to gently direct them where the characters needed to be. Everything went wonderfully:  after a few takes, the roles "set in" and rather than watching actors, we were witnessing a couple going through intense pressure and merely capturing it. When you turn around and see the men on the crew in tears, you know you have something magical going on.

I'm not sharing this to brag. I'm sharing this to encourage you. Get a great Assistant Director.  Let him/her run your set so you can spend time with your actors.  The more time you cultivate with your actors, the more trust is established, and the better the performance you can draw out of them. Note, I say "draw out" not 'beat out'.

A lot of things will make or break your film. The writing. The sound. The acting. So do your best to create a safe haven for your actors.  It can only improve your film.  ~SC

Photo Credit: Erin Moore