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You Talkin’ To Me? How To Write Better Talking Head Scenes

 Added on February 11, 2019
 Mark Sevi

You Talkin’ To Me? How To Write Better Talking Head Scenes

Alfred Hitchcock had a well-known quote to the impact that you must have the ability to perceive the whole story of a movie with out sound.  There isn’t a doubt that a movie ought to strongly convey its story via photographs.  However what would a movie be like for those who couldn’t hear these well-known phrases… “And this one time, in band camp…”?  What number of witty dinner moments would by no means have been with out “you simply pucker your lips and blow”?   “You speaking to me?”,  “I drink your milkshake!”,  “Why so critical?”  These are all nice film moments particularly due to the dialogue. A film with out dialogue is sort of a tree with out leaves, retaining perform, however not almost as fairly.

Dialogue is an integral a part of the storytelling course of. It’s about info stream. It ought to reveal plot, character and/or theme with out showing to. The right stability between what we see and what we hear in a movie is what marks a world-class script.

What makes the distinction between good dialogue and dangerous dialogue?


Probably the most widespread errors screenwriters make is that they attempt to write realistically.  Nobody talks in actual life as they do within the films. Conversely, if movie dialogue precisely mirrored how individuals actually carried on most conversations, you’d be immediately bored. You aren’t writing actuality, you’re writing the phantasm of actuality. And this goes for Avengers: Infinity Struggle in addition to Moonlight. Drama or fantasy, it’s not actual as a result of individuals don’t speak like that – interval. 

What you are attempting to seize is the essence of a second, the core of it. You’re trying to make us aware about a kind of articulate shorthand between characters that might by no means happen in actual life.  Do this: when you end your dialogue learn it right into a tape recorder. Should you can take heed to it with out grimacing (or being bored) you then’re in your solution to creating good, robust “practical” dialogue.


A cardinal tenet in movie making is the artwork and craft of displaying one thing not telling about it. In lots of low price range movies, you get extra dialogue scenes telling a few state of affairs somewhat than displaying it as a result of the filmmakers can’t afford capturing background scenes. Tv additionally makes use of this “speaking head” strategy to storytelling. Performs are all “speaking (or singing) heads.” A superb movie ought to present and inform in stability.

An excessive instance of present and little inform (and one which labored splendidly) is A Quiet Place the place

Photograph by hue12 images

the characters couldn’t speak to one another a lot.

How does an article on dialogue use a film that has hardly any? The dialogue you do get in A Quiet Place is tight, to the purpose, and by the point it comes, you’re hungry for it. Now that’s nice dialogue even when it’s not often heard. I assume signal language counts as displaying.


When you haven’t seen The Terminator or haven’t seen it just lately, assessment the sensible scene between Reese and Sara Conner the place he has to fill her in (and the viewers) as to who’s chasing them and why. Whereas he’s being shot at, chased by cops and the Terminator, and Sara is making an attempt to flee from their rushing automotive as a result of she thinks he’s a maniac killer, Reece is shouting out the whole backstory plot concerning the destruction of mankind by robots, who the factor chasing them is, and who he’s and why he got here to the previous from the longer term to save lots of her.  Whew! This can be a fantastic instance of how one can get in a ton of exposition by simply creating some motion within the scene.

The sensible film Really, Madly, Deeply has a scene the place two individuals have simply met nevertheless it’s late within the movie.  The filmmakers want to determine a rapport between two characters shortly. We don’t want this information, however the characters do. Anthony Minghella hops on one foot whereas they provide this very bland info. Sounds odd nevertheless it works.  You’re distracted sufficient with this hopping factor that you simply don’t actually discover you’re principally getting this considerably uninteresting information (that you simply don’t actually need) alongside the best way.

Characters strolling, operating – even hopping – makes a visually fascinating backdrop for info.  All the time attempt to put your phrases in movement.


Within the fantastic Inexperienced Ebook, there’s a tremendous second the place Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali have an prolonged dialogue scene within the pouring rain. Had that scene occurred in a espresso store or restaurant it will have by no means grabbed anybody the best way this setting did.

Placing scenes in static environments like eating places or espresso outlets ought to be prevented.  There are only a few memorable restaurant or espresso store scenes that don’t contain violence or intercourse. There’s virtually nothing dynamic about these scenes.


Really nice dialogue is feasible if individuals are hungry for it.

Within the movie Black Panther Killmonger is an enigmatic character who clearly is aware of one thing we don’t.  He lastly reveals the whole story when he confronts T’Challa within the royal chamber.

Killmonger: Ask who I’m?
Shuri: You’re Erik Stevens. An American black operative. A mercenary nicknamed Killmonger.
Killmonger: I’m N’Jadaka,  You ain’t the son of a king.  You’re a son of a assassin.

Uh, oh.  Now the plot actually thickens.

Creative Screenwriting Magazine

Photograph by Andre Guerra


“Luke, I’m your father.”  ‘Nuff stated.

Okay, so truly that’s a misquote: “No, I’m your father.” is the precise quote however level made.  Revealing one thing momentous is a good way to make individuals concentrate.


I had a instructor who would use that phrase to convey nonsense he didn’t need to categorical or hear. Use the blah, blah, blah rule to type good dialogue. For instance, by no means have a personality simply say “sure” or “no”.  This doesn’t assist the story one bit.  It’s blah (and blah, blah.)

Within the fantastic Pope of Greenwich Village Charlie, performed by Mickey Rourke, asks a bookie about his irresponsible cousin, Paulie, written and performed superbly by Eric Roberts.

Charlie: Did Paulie make his cost this week?
Bookie: (disgusted) Paulie who? (Which means no and he’s achieved this earlier than.)

As an alternative of claiming Sure or No, the Bookie character responds with a humorous line that each reveals character and provides to the storyline.


The insanely tight film The Fly starring Jeff Goldbloom and Geena Davis has a scene that stands out as being a stunningly good instance of subtextual dialogue.

Goldbloom is popping into an enormous fly creature.  Davis nonetheless loves him and is emotionally shattered as a result of she needs to assist him.  He appears at her and says:

Goldbloom: Have you ever ever heard of insect politics?

Gena Davis shakes her head.

Goldbloom: Neither have I.

Bam! Drop the mike. He means should you keep and I proceed to rework into an insect. I’ll eat you. People are political – bugs not a lot. GREAT sub-textual dialogue.


Not each query requires a response.  Not each second requires a bit of dialogue to bridge it.  Use silence each time attainable to cowl sure moments.  Within the movie Gallipoli,  an Australian movie a few WWI battle that’s each bit as surreal as Apocalypse Now, two troopers on a ship see their first scenes of battle as they strategy the battlefield at night time. 

One among them is happy, smiling, clearly thrilled to be on the best way to this battle. The Mel Gibson character is fearful, confused and not sure. The scene has no dialogue, solely visuals, nevertheless it’s as clear as if the 2 troopers had delivered their viewpoints in a ten-minute soliloquy. 

Study when to not use dialogue and it makes your different dialogue even stronger.

Photograph by Dennis Olsen


How properly have you learnt your characters? Writing plausible and fascinating dialogue includes a deep understanding of your characters.  In The Pure, Robert Redford’s character meets up with Glenn Shut’s character after not having seen one another for sixteen years. That they had been shut as youngsters and nearer as younger adults, almost engaged to be married.   Though they hadn’t spoken to one another for years, the very first thing Redford’s character says when he comes via the door of the diner and sees Glenn Shut sitting at a desk, ready for him, is “Why aren’t you married?”  This suggests that he is aware of her so properly, the anticipation of this occasion has been performed out so lengthy in his thoughts, that he can minimize all of the introductory nonsense. With out blinking an eye fixed she solutions him, implying that her character is snug sufficient with this man to go on to that clearly painful query.  It’s a wonderful little bit of understated filmmaking.


We are likely to (unconsciously) write dialogue that mimics our speech patterns. That is okay for one or two characters however not for all of them. One of many methods you possibly can actually make dialogue soar is to make use of language rhythms and nuances which are distinctive to your character. The Coen Brothers do that terribly nicely.  In O Brother The place Artwork Thou? the George Clooney character has a “citified” means of talking that units him aside.  His rivalry to his spouse, performed by Holly Hunter, that marrying one other man “…places me a clumsy place vis-a-vis my progeny. I’m the paterfamilias.” definitely wouldn’t work with most characters, however is pitch good for him.

The nuanced speech patterns and phrases that Francis McDormand makes use of in Fargo determine her as a really distinctive character certainly –  particularly when she delivers the road “You betcha!”

Viggo Mortensen’s character’s speech sample in Inexperienced E-book is in direct distinction to Mahershala Ali’s correct and well-enunciated phrases. It helps outline the characters as a lot as something.

Slang, culture-appropriate phrases, period-appropriate phrases, and perception into your character’s background all assist form your dialogue.


The film Deerhunterfeatures in all probability probably the most inarticulate characters ever written. More often than not they don’t even know what they’re speaking about. One nice dialogue second takes place when the Robert DeNiro character is out searching with a buddy who isn’t correctly ready for something. The buddy asks for DeNiro’s spare boots and he refuses. When the buddy asks why, DeNiro says, “Stanley, you see this?”  He exhibits the buddy a .30/06 rifle shell and continues.  “That is this.  This ain’t anything.  That is this.” 

DeNiro’s character confuses his pal as a result of the good friend can’t work out that DeNiro is speaking about Stanley’s incapability to concentrate on the right here and now – nevertheless it’s brilliantly clear to us. Plus, the DeNiro character, in that second, is expressing a few of the existential themes of the film: isolation in a 1970’s world we not perceive, however needed to be ready to stay in daily.  Great things. It each expresses the DeNiro character’s distinctive angle and insights, and layers within the theme of the movie however retains every thing within the strict perspective of those splendidly inarticulate characters.

On the finish of this troubling movie, the blue-collar characters sing “God Bless America” as an alternative of verbally expressing the ache and sorrow they really feel.  It’s an ideal illustration of how these cope with their on a regular basis lives when phrases simply aren’t applicable.


I do know that is going to sound unusual, nevertheless it works. A producer I labored with as soon as held me to a strict commonplace: if the dialogue I used to be writing was thicker than her index finger, it was too lengthy. I railed towards this arbitrary rule she imposed however I needed to do as she was asking as a result of she was paying me. She was proper. The “finger rule” stored the tempo speedy, the dialogue fascinating and me concerned within the course of by difficult myself to make it work.


Don’t groan at this previous noticed.  It’s true.  Take Academy award winner American Magnificence. Alan Ball wrote many terrific moments within the unique script, however the rewrite was even higher.

Unique: One of many scenes between Ricky Fitz and his father, as written, includes a chat concerning the film Prime Gun. It’s meant to foreshadow The Colonel’s closet homosexuality.

Modified: The scene turns into a painful wrestle for The Colonel to speak with the son he loves, however with whom he can’t be actual.  It goes to trustworthy emotion, and the partitions we construct between ourselves which is a part of the movie’s theme. Rather more satisfying and rather more revelatory.

Like something in writing, dialogue is a course of.  The extra you’re employed with it, the higher it will get.

Hold it tight, shorter slightly than longer, within the second, deeper than the floor, and shifting – and also you’ll come out a winner each time.

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