Notes on Craft – (Part 5 of 6): Dialogue & Scene

PART 1: Premise & Concept

PART 2: Structure

PART 3: Character

PART 4: The First 20 Pages

PART 5: Dialogue & Scene

PART 6: Rewriting & Polishing

Kurt Wimmer (Law Abiding Citizen, Salt, Equilibirum)

– “Once your scene states what it’s about you should be out.  It helps punctuate the next scene as well.”

– “The way to affect an audience who’s seen everything is give them dialogue they don’t expect.  They feel like like it’s real all of a sudden because they didn’t see it coming.”

– “Try to make your scenes simpler so you don’t get trapped by exposition.  Simple story; provocative emotion.”

– “To draw in the audience create a compelling character and give him a big question to be answered.  Movies are answering a series of questions.”

– “The more your characters disagree and have opposite POVs the more the scenes write themselves.”

– “There’s a fine line with mystery where just enough keeps the audience on board vs too much which alienates and tires them.”

– “Don’t talk in speeches.”

– “Test yourself.  If you have a 3 page scene, try to communicate the same information in 1 page.  You’d be surprised how much it will work.”

– “If you write the 1st act correctly the rest will write itself.”

Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex, Marley & Me, Bounce)

– “In life, people usually hide their feelings.  They don’t usually say how they feel unless they’re mad.”

– “When deciding how to write a scene, think ‘What is Character A afraid Character B will find out about him?’ and ‘What does Character A want Character B to think about him?'”

– “I establish one main character (ideally) and make the audience connect with him right away so they’re on board with the story.”

– “Characters need two things.

  1. Secrets
  2. Objectives.”

– “Don’t tell us everything about your main character right away.”

– “To get the audience to like your hero give them a scene where a group of people leaves the room and your hero is left alone.  Imagine a close up where he sighs.  For some reason, the audience empathizes with this feeling of how difficult it is to operate in society.”

– “Subtext comes from what the character wants and what they’re afraid to say.”

– “You must know the ‘moment before’ whatever scene you’re writing.”

George Nolfi (The Bourne Ultimatum, The Adjustment Bureau, Ocean’s Twelve)

– “Movies are about having one large question to be answered… and riddled with a series of smaller questions along the way… and conflict.”

– “The best way to handle exposition is visually.”

– “Not every scene has a 3-act structure.”

– “Come in to a scene as late as possible so the previous part is inferred.  A good tactic is to have characters arguing about something we don’t know about until it’s slowly revealed within the scene.”

– “To surprise the audience you have to lull them into something they expect- and then alter it.”

– “The best thing you can do with dialogue is eliminate it.”

– “Too much subtext and characters not saying what they want and the audience won’t understand what’s happening.”

Qs:

– Do you tend to overwrite your scenes?

– How does dialogue function with two vastly different movies like Drive (by Hossein Amini) and Moneyball (by Aaron Sorkin)?

– Do you think about writing scenes with a 3-act structure?

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