Posts tagged learn

LEARN DIALOGUE IN 10 MINUTES” | The Backstory, Screenwriting Staffing

via Screenwriting Staffing by Founder of Screenwriting StaffingJacob N. Stuart

Hollywood has a short attention span. Unlike writers, who think they have all day to sit and ponder, plotting out their next script, or revising and revising a screenplay until their fingers are numb, the truth is: THEY DON’T. So in between your writing breaks (or more like looking yourself up on Google) take 10 minutes to learn the key recipes for success when writing dialogue.

SUBTEXT. Ben: “You can never ask me to stop drinking. You understand?” Sera: “I do.” – (“Leaving Las Vegas”, Oscar Winner.)

I think this is one of my favorite line(s) in ANY movie. Any dialogue examples will only make sense to the reader if the reader has watched the film. But for anyone who has seen ‘Leaving Las Vegas’, this quick, yet intense exchange of words, holds invaluable subtext. Ben’s line is on-the-nose, and purposely done. We know he’s lost his wife, son and job. He has sold his belongings, and methodically plans to kill himself in Vegas by use of the bottle, no exceptions. But when Sera says “I do”, does she understand? The words “I do” is only a quick fix, an answer that clearly masks how she feels, but can momentarily end this conversation. Sera is not concerned about his drinking habits. His purpose in her life, at least for time being, serves as a selfish distraction from her prostitution life. And finally ,after many years of sorrow, she’s found someone who is “worse off” than she is. So what is Sera “really” saying? She’s saying “No, I do NOT understand. But who cares, as long as you stay.” Subtext in dialogue is the ONLY truth in a character’s speech. Subtext is the underlying meaning of the character’s “surface” dialogue. But this can only be achieved when the writer understands the real motivation of his characters.  It is very common for actors to cross out any “parenthetical” direction under the character’s dialogue. An actor wants to personally interpret what the character is really saying. This will not only influence the actors “actions” during their dialogue, but also what words they emphasize. Without subtext, your characters are dull. And you will unfortunately find that the audience does not truly understand your characters, which will later force you to add too much exposition dialogue.

EXPOSITION. There is nothing I hate more than watching a TV pilot which shows a married couple sitting on the porch and listening to the husband saying, “Honey, you know we’ve been married for 25 years.” Of course she knows! But writers feel the need to add information that is not only organic, but OBVIOUS. How can a writer ensure that the audience knows the couple have been married for 25 years? Simple. In your action and description lines, highlight family photos with kids in their later teen years, or a wedding photo that is well worn and faded with the couple looking dramatically younger. And instead of having the couple cuddled on the couch hand in hand like a newlywed bride and groom, show them stretched out on the couch, with a bucket of ice cream in between them. Get the point? Add subtle action and description rather than obvious dialogue. There is a time for exposition. And it IS needed. For the most part, every film has expositional dialogue. But the best films take advantage of this at the beginning by communicating key information that the audience MUST have in order to fully understand the story. But remember, it’s always better to show, not tell.

GENERIC ROLES. It was always so embarrassing in film school when we held casting calls. It’s bad enough we can’t pay the actors for their time and that the film will never be seen by an audience, but the fact we brought these actors in to read a line for a ‘front desk clerk’ at a hotel which says, “Thanks for staying with us, come back again.” First, you must ask yourself if this scene is even needed, and if it is, does there really need to be dialogue. Can’t the clerk just wave goodbye? Try giving the front desk clerk something interesting to say, something that gives the audience a clear understanding about the hotel’s charm, size, and personality. You can also use this opportunity to give insight into your protagonist’s personality by having the front desk clerk do something silly or even obnoxious. This will allow the audience to see how your “hero” reacts. But please, don’t waste an actor’s gas money just to read a generic line by a generic character.  

SPEECHES. It is said that dialogue should be only of maximum of 2-3 lines. Having white space on a script is very important. And while “real” people don’t typically give long speeches , every great script should have ONE long and powerful speech. This should not be done at the beginning (unless it pushes the story forward) but at the end.

One of my favorite examples of a great speech is in “Scent of a Women”. The script is full of fabulous one-liners and memorable quotes, but one of the most stunning parts of the film happens when Colonel Frank Slade delivers his bombshell support for Charlie at the school. The impact of his “speech” was breathtaking, and the film wouldn’t have worked without it.

SILENT FILMS. Think silent films are dead? What about 2011’s Oscar-winning Best Picture : The Artist?  We go to the movie to see moving images. If we want lengthy dialogue and text we will read a book. Now I’ll admit, I go to Tarantino’s films to hear his characters speak, but he’s an exception. But writing is not a visual art. Turn the volume off on your favorite movie. Watch it all the way through. Do you still understand the characters goals? Do you understand the theme and message the director is trying to capture and preach? If the film was done right ,this can be achieved. It’s not uncommon for writers to write their script with only action and description first, and then later add the dialogue. I do not personally use this method, but many writers find it’s more important to tell the story visually before they tell the story verbally. Think about it.

COMMANDING A VOICE. I’d say over 75% of scripts that are never produced can be credited to the lack of “voice” for each character. It’s 120 pages of a writer speaking in the same tone and voice, giving us a boring sermon. Screenplays that work owe much of their success to “real” voices which come from “real” characters. Try this: Black out the character’s name in your entire script. Then go back in and re-read the screenplay. Can you differentiate between characters? Do you know who is speaking and who they are speaking to? If not, you are setting yourself up for failure. As a previous screenplay reader covering multiple scripts in a day, I wanted to scroll through these scripts as fast as I could. The ones which were most impressive and enjoyable were the ones I didn’t need to “check” and see who was speaking, I just knew.

VOICE OVER. I love voice-overs and will continue to use them when needed. But when do voice-overs destroy a screenplay? Well, there are many explanations on why and how this happens. But when a writer, for whatever reason, can’t fix character development or plot holes, they tend to revert to voice-overs which is a cop-out. So, before writing a voice-over you need to ask yourself, “Can my voice-overs be removed yet the story will still makes sense?” If yes, consider taking them out. Think of a director who watches his film and comments on it to an audience while they watch it. The director is adding insight, added bonuses, and layers to the story — something the naked eye may not see. Could “Shawshank Redemption” work without Morgan Freeman’s voice-overs? Yes, it could. But what the voice-overs provided was flare, personality, and a sense of continuity. The film’s success was achieved by clever writing and by allowing the characters actions to dictate the story first. The voice-overs were just the icing on the cake.

CONCLUSION: THE CONCEPT. Look, screenplays are bought on concept, not dialogue. So every writer should first focus on the overall concept of the script. When a writer has a compelling story to tell, the script is already half- way to selling. But dialogue should not be overlooked. It can add a great break when a script has a lot of action. Dialogue sticks with us, quoted by people for years and years. It can make us cry and laugh at the same time. Just remember, if you create a story worth telling, characters that are memorable, and an ending that will blow an audiences socks off, adding in the dialogue will come naturally, a total breeze.

Good Luck, & Get Started!

Article written by Screenwriting Staffing Founder, Jacob N. Stuart

The importance of sucking at a new job for a year or two

It’s super important to embrace to make mistakes, because it is only through mistakes we learn and become better at our craft, no matter what it is. 

What I enjoyed about the article below is that Ross differentiates between mistake and failure. I am sure you have been told as well to “Fail early and often.” But just like him I think the word “fail” or “failing” does us all a disservice.  To strive to fail is to aim for an ultimate negative result while if we allow ourselves to make mistakes, it does not mean the result will be failure. Besides helping us to grow and become better at what we do, mistakes can also lead us to achieve an all-together better result since we might consider an approach we might not have considered before. 

So go forth and make mistakes! I do daily…

The importance of sucking at a new job for a year or two

by Ross McCammon via

You suck.

Also: I suck.

I don’t know what it is that you suck at, but you suck at something very important. You suck at things you will someday not suck at. But for now, you are not good at these things. In fact, you suck at them.

This must be accepted.

It might take a while. So I’ll wait.

You know what? I’ll do it too.

While we’re both accepting that we suck, let’s talk about failure.

Failure is huge right now. It’s being studied. It’s being written about. It’s being blogged about. “Fail early and often,” we’re told. “Surrender to the pain of failure.” “Failure is fundamental.” The latest key to success is to fail but to fail in the right way.

But is there a right way to fail? Is there a right way to submit work you know is half-baked, like I did during my first few months at Esquire? Is there a right way to stumble through a presentation to the sales staff, like I did during my first few months at Esquire? Is there a right way to indiscreetly talk about another magazine at a party and then turn around and two editors from that magazine are right behind you, like I did during my first few months at Esquire? Is there a right way to have a story killed? Is there a right way to do shit work?

I don’t think actual failure is what’s being discussed. “Failure” is just the word that makes the books and articles seem more intriguing than they actually are. Actual failure is awful and expensive. It’s devastating. Failure teaches you nothing. You should not consider “failure” a positive outcome. Not early. Not often. Not ever, if you can help it. Really, what’s being discussed is: mistakes.

All of the studies that the books and blog posts cite basically boil down to two messages. 1. Humans hate to make mistakes. 2. A key determinant of success is both accepting that you will make mistakes and paying attention to the mistakes that you make.

One of the most cited experts on this topic is Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, who pioneered the idea of “mind-sets.” People with “fixed mind-sets,” she says, believe their abilities are unchangeable—a belief that causes them to shy away from situations in which they might fail. By contrast, people with “growth mind-sets” embrace challenges because they believe they can become smarter and more capable even if they don’t succeed. They’re willing to get things wrong, but more important, they’re ready to listen to the feedback. Screwing up is not a defining thing. This is such a useful attitude to have. I’ve been at my current job for 10 years and I’ve only just recently adopted this mentality. It’s made my work better. It’s made the process more efficient. And I have a lot more time to spend with my family.

What people with a growth mind-set know is that mistakes are useful when you’re willing to have a conversation about them, when you’re willing to be corrected.

But actual failure? Humiliating, devastating failure?

Aside from teaching us that certain decisions are bad decisions and that we should not make them twice, failure totally blows. But mistakes are amazing.

The main failure of my first couple of years in New York was the shame I felt at making mistakes. If I have a regret, this is it. I was too caught up in the fear of making mistakes. I sometimes acted timidly. In the short term, I probably did “better” work, but in the long term I did worse work because I didn’t allow myself to get my mistakes over with early. I would stay at work until midnight working on a headline. I would refine a single joke over two or three days. There is nothing wrong with focusing on the details. But focusing on the details at the expense of your personal life is not a good idea.

Now that I’m a manager, if I see someone hanging on to something for what I think is too long, I will tell them to give it to me. As is. Just turn it over. Doing work too fast is a bad idea. But doing work too slow is a terrible idea. The last thing a boss wants is to be left without any options if the work isn’t good enough. Being fastidious is possibly the worst thing a young worker can do. The work is probably not going to get to where it needs to be no matter how long you hang on to it. So turn it in early and then make corrections. You’re supposed to do bad work.

Everyone wants you to do bad work.


Your boss wants you to get it out of your system and learn what not to do. He’s certainly expecting it.

And your peers want you to make mistakes too. Either they understand the value of a fearless colleague or they just want to feel superior…if they even notice. Loads of studies have shown that we tend to think people pay attention to us twice as much as they actually do. This is the spotlight effect. (Turns out my mom was right about this, which she repeated to me on a weekly basis during my adolescence.)

And you don’t realize it, but you want to do bad work too. Because in every bit of bad work, there is always a kernel of something good. Bad work is 2 to 13 percent good. Your job is to pick through the mess you create and find that good. Other people will help you find it. Let them.

Ross McCammon is the author of Works Well With Others.