13 October 2011

Dialogue trouble? Oh, get real!

In screenwriting circles good dialogue is often treated as if it were some strange animal, a rarity, a distant country where presidents like Sorkin, Mamet and Tarantino rule. Seriously though, it's just talking - we do it all the time ... right?

There's no great magic behind writing dialogue. We talk, we behave, day in, day out - it's all there. Just observe and write accordingly. Bad dialogue in films sounds bad because it doesn't come across as real. We all know that from hearing endless reels of bad dialogue.

But if it's so easy to get it right, why all the crappy lines?

  • Writers often write what they want the characters to say, instead of what the characters WOULD say. Writers need to live with their character and stay true to the character and the world, the circumstances and the genre he's in.
  • Writers often put dialogue in the character's mouth to serve the plot. But, whatever the plot, the character just needs to stay true within his world. We're writers, should be easy enough for us to imagine ourselves into other worlds, other characters, right?
  • Writers also often spell out what a character feels - the good ole "on the nose". There are so many brilliant ways of expressing emotion without saying "I love you", "I missed you", "I hate you", etc. And yeah - ideally those ways involve zero dialogue. Remember - an ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words.
  • And then we have our dear friend Mr. Exposition. If it feels like exposition, it invariably sucks. I know, we do need exposition and there are good ways of "getting away with it" - just read a good blog about it here.

You may need to be Sorkin, Mamet or Tarantino to deliver the films they deliver. But you don't need their obvious gifts to write good dialogue. Just be honest - with yourself, with your characters - and listen to them! Those are real people in your script - you, the scribe, you observe and write down what happens to them.

Finally, as good as you think you may be with dialogue - act it out. Do it yourself, speak your dialogue (you'll be surprised how often your tongue will trip and stumble!) - and get an actor circle to read your script. Again - listen!

And to all of those who say that "real" equals boring - yeah, I'll give you that. Films are, as we all know, life with the boring bits cut out ... look at dialogue the same way. Be real, then cut out the boring stuff.

01 October 2011

The crowdfunding way

Crowdfunding has exploded these past few years and that fact has meant absolutely nothing to me. But two recent short film projects made me take a closer look and have opened my eyes to a whole new world. Here's why I think crowdfunding sites are important for both new and seasoned screenwriters.

First off - take a look at the following two crowdfunded short film examples:

The Halloween Kid
This short film is prepped by writer/director Axelle Carolyn. It's already twice exceeded funding goals and keeps going strong - take a look at the Sponsume page. Among the people involved in this short are a number of top-notch pros, among them director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Centurion, Doomsday) who'll not only produce but also edit. And special effects make-up designer Paul Hyett will come in to give us the magic (and hopefully scares) he delivered for Neil Marshall's films.

Clowning Around
The short film by writer/director Damien Cullen raked in the dough needed and more by engaging on every front. Just look at all the activity on the IndieGoGo page. All of that activity doesn't just happen - the gang has poured in their passion and created a level of excitement that clearly caught on. On creativity - I particularly loved the way they crowdsourced the film poster. With a special poster design competition they invited artists to bring in their ideas. More than one hundred posters - amazing artwork - came together. Check it out.

The intro question has probably already answered itself for you, right? Aside from getting the funds, this is about passion, creativity and network. As a newbie you should write shorts, find people who are on the same page, equally passionate - then try crowdfunding. You may not succeed at first - lots of projects don't raise the money - but that just means the filmmakers didn't reach their audience - they didn't bring their passion across - they didn't manage to engage. And that's something you can and must learn. Crowdfunding takes guts - you're putting yourself out there in the open - with the risk of everyone seeing you fall flat. But that's the same guts that you need to stand up and pitch, to fight for your characters in meetings, to stay in the game despite all the rejections. In the process of crowdfunding you learn a lot about social media, about networking, about collaborating, about marketing. All of these help us become not just screenwriters - but produced screenwriters. And that's why were in this nutso business of ours, isn't it? Not to make screenplays happen, but to make films happen.

We're screenwriters - we cannot make movies happen on our own. Being a recluse doesn't help - getting our asses out there does. So if you've been in the business for ages like me - involve yourself because it brings new spice into your networks. And if you're a newbie - get into crowdfunding because there has never been a better way for you to make your short story come to life.

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