#WW CSSC Writer Wednesday | Blog the 35th: Don’t Just Stand There

The Oscars have come and gone and The Artist was the “big” winner of the night.  Even though Hugo received the same number of Oscars.  And for this reason I have to rant for a minute.  The Artist won Costume Design, Score and the “big” awards like Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor while Hugo only won Best Cinematography, Production Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects which are clearly lesser awards.  I’m not sure what makes these awards less important, but if you read all the news articles about the Academy Awards, you will see they’re all about The Artist.  And though The Artist did win best picture, I think Hugo deserves more praise than I have seen and the “technical” awards deserve more recognition than they are given.

On another film note, has anyone seen the most recent trailer for The Lorax, I know that after the word has gotten out to the public they cut down the trailer to smaller bits, but I saw one that went like this.

Girl :”I wish I could see a tree.”

Boy: “I will show you a tree.”

Then he shows her a tree.

That was about it.  There is no mention that trees have died out or are rare or something like that and there is no struggle to get the tree.  He just does what is asked and that’s it. No conflict, no tension, no hook.  And I doubt the trailer will interest anyone in the movie.

Alright, that’s enough about what I’ve seen on TV, let’s get on with the topic of the day.  Today I have dialogue on my mind again.  Regular readers will know that I have talked about dialogue many times before and this week I want to expand a bit on my ideas.

Two rules of screenwriting that I have mentioned before are as follows:

1) Film is visual

2) Dialogue shows character

From this we can see that dialogue comes secondary to description because it is not visual.  Thus the story should be propelled forward by visuals and dialogue should instead be used to reveal character.

These rules are important because many times you will sit down to write a script and produce what I call a “talking head script”.  These scripts contain huge portions of dialogue exchanges without any actions or descriptions to break them up.  You just have two people talking to each other.  The issue with a talking head script is that it has placed the importance on dialogue and audio over action and visuals.

It can be perfectly fine to have a very dialogue heavy script if that is what your story deserves, but a talking head script with pages of dialogue is missing an important aspect of communication, body language.

A lot can be seen from body language, watch any silent film and you will see that you often know what the intertitles will say before they are shown (and sometimes the director scraps the intertitles altogether because they know the audience understand the body language).  People don’t sit down and talk without moving.  People react physically to their state of mind and you need to show this in your script.  You need to see how these words affect your characters.  It will breathe more life into them and your story.

Another aspect of the story that can be undeveloped is the setting.  Again with talking head scripts the setting becomes irrelevant.  It could be in a cafe, a dinning room, a grocery store line, a space ship, whatever, if it is just two people talking then the surrounding environment may end up playing little to no role in their lives.

But this leaves so much opportunity unused.  Think about the conversations you have, do you often sit or stand there unmoving or are you usually doing something else at the same time?

A room doesn’t have to be just a set of four walls.  There are objects that occupy the room.  So fill that room, bring the setting to life and have your characters interact with the setting.  If they are outside, think about everything that can exist around them.  And then think beyond the setting to the rest of the physical world.  What sounds are there?  What smells?  And what of your character’s clothing? They may have pockets, a bag, a hat.  All of this can be part of the story.   So open up your mind and build up an entire physical world for your characters to live in.

Instead of having talking heads flip the balance from dialogue to action and give your characters some life, give them a setting, give them body language and breathe life into your visuals.

About Evan Jobb

Evan Jobb is a screenwriter and producer and is the returning Writer Laureate with the Canadian Short Screenplay Competition. He placed 4th place in the 2009 Canadian Short Screenplay Competition an 9th in the 2010 Competition. His 2011 award winning short film, "Those Forgotten" is currently available at CBC Downloads. When he isn't writing he is teaching science and math to junior high and high school students. He currently lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
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