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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Images not words

The London Screenwriter's Festival has only just finished. For me, one of the most important times is straight away afterwards. Now. What tips, techniques and lessons have you picked up that you can use immediately?

For me, it was an idea passed on by film historian Paul Cronin from his research into the work of Alexander MacKendrick, including The Ladykillers.

His advice was insanely simple. It was obvious. We all knew it. Yet we all forget it. Cinema is a visual way to tell stories. As such, a non-verbal shot should take precedence over dialogue.

In fact, he showed 3 minutes of the LadyKillers with the sound faded down to demonstrate that the dialogue isn't really needed in order to understand 80-90% of the story and characters. Now that is a great way to measure your script as you do a redraft.

With my own script (Friend Request) that I am currently redrafting I need to get the page count down from about 107 to more like 95. I'm partially funding this script myself so this isn't an empty exercise, cutting this time down will save money.

Already I have found places where whole portions of dialogue can be replaced by looks, by action and by   the use of symbolic props. Fantastic. It's shorter and it's more cinematic.


Sarah Olley said...

Hi Tim, I couldn't agree more. I am assessing entries for the Channel 4 Screenwriters' course at the moment and if there's one thing that lets more scripts down than anything else its an over reliance on dialogue to tell the story. Let's have some telling moments we can observe for ourselves, some action, economy and less of the chatter!

Tim Clague said...

Not only that - it means when you have some amazing dialogue, it can shine through

Steve said...

Do some writers worry that if the dialogue is reduced or cut completely they lose their on-screen presence?

Minch Norton said...

Well some interesting points of view here concerning "Images not words". What makes this interesting is that screenwriters are told to be sparse in writing or describing Action scenes and to rely on good dialogue. And heaven forbid if any hint of direction is included. Now Sarah is advocating "telling moments, some action...and less of the chatter", all very confusing isn't it? It would be interesting to hand in a script with great action scenes and economic but poignant dialogue that drives the story on - well it wouldn't be interesting really because what would happen is that the writer would be asked "Who the hell do you think you are" and told to leave the Action shots and telling moments to the Director and DOP. I think this advice only works for writer/directors and is more geared to film rather than TV and definitely not a course for TV writers. I can name at least 3 hugely successful award winning films where dialogue has been the key and of those 3, 2 of them were set in a room and didn't go anywhere else; no car chases, explosions or any other type of "Action". However I have seen many films with tons of "Action" and they, for the most part have been crap and very sparse on intelligent or believable dialogue.
But then in the immortal and over quoted but most frequently ignored words of William Goldman, "Nobody knows anything" and that is the best advice I've ever heard.

Tim Clague said...

Agree with you mostly there Minch. Certainly it is about finding things that work for you.

I guess I would see 'action' as not being the same as an action movie.

An example may help. In my own rewrite I removed several lines of dialogue that the main character was speaking. She was talking about being upset and angry with the other character while she cooked.

This was replaced by her saying nothing - and cracking open crab shells roughly.

That doesn't tread on the toes of a director. But it is more visual and I feel it is a better scene.

Minch Norton said...

Hi Tim, yes I know exactly what you mean in your (good) example of action. I was pointing out an extreme example of action in my post. The point here is that "action" can be interpreted in many different ways by whoever is reading the script and thats where it invariably all goes tits up. Although I obviously haven't seen the dialogue that you cut and replaced from your script, your very erudite example of "action" speaks volumes about the character's emotions at that time and I got it immediately. Unfortunately, there are more readers, script assessors and all the rest of it out there that wouldn't "get it"..... whatever "it" was. Unfortunately again, script editors, readers etc these days tend to use the profession as a 6 to 12 month stepping stone en route to the title of Producer, having in general, never learned this invaluable skill and never written anything at all and taken all their script editing skills straight from meeja college and a soap format of 21 - 26 scenes per episode. Of course there are some seriously brilliant script editors out there but they are few and far between and what seperates them from the rest is the ability to "get it" and make it better which the vast majority don't if a script doesn't sit within the confines of standard (TV) structure. I thinik this is why when either a film or TV programme hits big, more often than not it hasn't followed "normal" conventions which is why it stands out and is greated by the audience as a breath of fresh air (Shane Meadows for both examples of TV and film breaking conventions)from the usual dumbed down drivel served up to them. Look how many TV series and films that were written off based on an opinion but due to either the writers and/or directors relentless pushing were green lit and went on to become long running series (Fools and Horses) or huge blockbusters (Jaws, Star Wars). I'm tempted to quote Goldman again here or should I crush some crab?