Doubling Up Dialog - Complications Ensue
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Thursday, May 07, 2009

You'll sometimes see this in a script:

  • ALFRED
  • Respectfully, Master Wayne, perhaps this is a man you don't fully understand, either.

  • ALFRED
  • (looks at Wayne)
  • I was in Burma. A long time ago. My friends and I were working for the local government...


(From THE DARK KNIGHT.) A reader suggested that this is a good way to break up dialog without putting an extraneous line of action in between the two speeches.

I disagree. What it looks like to me is that there was a line of action that got cut, and the writers (the Nolan brothers) forgot to join the two speeches. It's jarring, and it throws me out of the read. I would suggest joining the speeches:

  • ALFRED
  • Respectfully, Master Wayne, perhaps this is a man you don't fully understand, either.
  • (looks at Wayne)
  • I was in Burma. A long time ago. My friends and I were working for the local government...


Or, put in a line of action:

  • ALFRED
  • Respectfully, Master Wayne, perhaps this is a man you don't fully understand, either.

  • He looks directly at Wayne.

  • ALFRED
  • I was in Burma. A long time ago. My friends and I were working for the local government...


I don't know whether there was a line of action there or not. The Nolan brothers may well have broken up the speech for rhythm. Or it may just be sloppy. I suspect it was for rhythm. But the Nolan Bros can do whatever the hell they want in their scripts at this point. I would hesitate to learn formatting from either (a) directors who write or (b) anyone who gets paid over a million bucks a pop. Their scripts get read much more carefully than yours or mine do, and with more respect, too.

Labels:

5 Comments:

Do you think there should even be a the "looks at Wayne" line there? I mean, it's just those two guys in a room together, who else would Alfred be looking at?

By Blogger Nima Yousefi, at 4:46 PM  

Actually, I don't think Alfred looks Master Wayne in the eye very often. It's not appropriate in a butler.

I would usually be more specific: shoots him a look, or eyes him, cocks his head at... etc.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 5:06 PM  

It's not so much that the "He looks directly at Wayne" action line is extraneous, it's that it ruins the pacing. It's too jarring an interruption. The (looks at Wayne) parenthetical on its own, on the other hand, doesn't convey enough of a change in tone, a change which there clearly is between the two portions of Alfred's speech.

My suspicion is that you'll see more of this technique. It's a useful tool to have in the toolbox, to be employed judiciously and sparingly. At least, I want that to be true.

By Blogger PP, at 6:21 PM  

I agree. The only time I've ever seen this on pro scripts is a much, much later draft.

I chalk it up to a limitation of how the screenwriting programs handle revisions. Which would make sense seeing it in the shooting draft of THE DARK KNIGHT.

I wouldn't base a spec script on the look of a shooting draft.

"My suspicion is that you'll see more of this technique. It's a useful tool to have in the toolbox, to be employed judiciously and sparingly. At least, I want that to be true."

I disagree. I don't even think it is a "technique." I think it is a limitation of the software. You just see it on "final" drafts because these writers have already been paid millions of dollars to write the next Blockbuster. Their concern isn't on spotless formatting, but on having something to shoot that everyone (producers/execes/director/ and hopefully the writer) all agree upon.

The need for speed is why you see it. Not a screenwriting "choice."

By Blogger James, at 6:41 PM  

If we're going to pick holes in buttling, the high-class English butler that Alfred purports to be would never use an 'orphan adverb' like 'respectfully'; and he would find another way of telling Bruce Wayne, his employer, that he was wrong. He would only use the correct form, 'with the greatest respect', in a case of job-jeopardizing conflict. No subtlety. Hated the movie, btw.

By Blogger blogward, at 3:25 AM  

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