Watched the premier of K-Ville last night and was really annoyed by the frequency of character names used in the dialogue. It really stuck out and seemed unnatural. [...]
I recall watching Fight Club and being quite impressed at the end of the film when I realized the main character's name is never used. The characters didn't suffer for it, and neither did the film. And K-Ville's excessive use of traditional Louisiana names is also odd. We do actually have people in south Louisiana with non-French names.
What's your opinion on establishing character names through dialogue?
I'm against it when it's unnatural, cher.
You're right. Mostly people use each others' names only to literally call them. (Though I have also been known to summon my 12-year-old by yelling "Beast Boy! Feeding time!") And, of course, to refer to them when they're not there. And for comic effect: "Good night, Mr. King." "Good night, Mrs. King."
I try to remove character names in dialog the way I try to remove handles: "Well," "Look," "I mean." Unless really justified, they dilute the line.
(Many actors will put handles and hems and haws back in, in the mistaken belief that they sound better when they sound like they're from Southern California. But the actors who go with the words on the page almost always come through stronger. Assuming, of course, that the writer has troubled himself to read the words out loud to himself first.)
I think most audience members just accept the characters. Until the character names sink in, they're happy to follow the stories of "that young handsome cop," "the fat angry cop" and so on. Later on the Captain becomes Kirk, the geeky guy becomes Ross, and the guy with the ridiculous accent becomes Latka. No hurry. This is TV.
(Or they never do, and that's fine too. I can't remember Danny DeVito's character's name from Taxi. Can you? Okay, fine, good for you. But he's just as funny either way.)
And on film, almost no one cares. Quick, what was the name of Will Smith's character in INDEPENDENCE DAY? Was it Jack? Nick? Steve? Tom?
Who cares? It was Will Smith.
On the other side of the camera, I think names are really important. Names remind the writer, the director and the production team who the character is. Maggie is feisty. Kate is quick witted. Nick and Jack are trouble. Which is why 80% of heroes and heroines seem to be Nick, Jack, Maggie or Kate.
And of course names are important on Television without Pity forums, so you don't look like a boob when you refer to "Cybill Shepherd" or "Jennifer Beals" as if they actually are characters on THE L WORD.