Screenwriting : Avoiding long conversations in scripts by Anthony Lucas

Anthony Lucas

Avoiding long conversations in scripts

Hi all. So, I'm having some fairly long "talking head" conversations going on in my script and i know they should be more visual but am unsure how to do it effectively. For example my two main characters are having a two page conversation while sitting in the lounge. Do i just insert things like "takes a sip of beer" or "fidgets uncomfortably" in between dialogue? Or are these kinda actions just unnecessary filler? I mean realistically when people sit and talk, they sit and talk and not much else.

Dan MaxXx

DM your email and I'll send you "The Post" script. The writer begins the script with a 7-page scene with 2 characters talking and sitting in chairs. Absolutely zero physical movement but their facial gestures and mannerisms.

Read it. Study how the Writer describes the action with minimum words and unfilmable actions. Everything screenwriting books tell you not to do, the writer did.

Glen Bradley

Look at the opening of social network for instance. I think long conversations are fine as long as the dialogue is written well enough.

Roberto Dragonne

The challenge is to keep these scenes interesting and during the movie or the episode that long dialogue must be justified.

Anthony Lucas

Thanks Dan MaxXx, but it wont let me message you?

William Martell

Do i just insert things like "takes a sip of beer" - no, that doesn't make it visual.

If you have a long conversation, best thing to do is get people up on their feet moving, and find some visually interesting background.

But on the whole, think more about how you can tell the story through the actions of the characters. By having them do things rather than talk. In my Visual Storytelling book I look at a sequence in Hitchcock's VERTIGO where where we we our detective protagonist slowly falling in love with the woman he is following, and learn that she is deeply disturbed and either believes that she is possessed by a long dead woman or is actually possessed by this woman. We also learn about the long dead woman. This is a sequence that tells us all about the woman he is following, all about the dead woman, and all about our protagonist as he falls for the woman he is following (who is a friend's wife - so that's part of the equation as well). 13 minutes. No dialogue. Only what characters do.

Yes, that is probably an extreme - but it's a great lesson in how story can be told through actions rather than dialogue. Part of our job is to find the actions that tell the story, so that the dialogue is free to come out and play (and not be expositional).

Stephen Thor

I personally like long INTERESTING conversations. I have two in my script. What I did was break them up by inserting action scenes and then going back to the conversation. Long conversations are ok for novels, but if you write more than 2-3 pages of solid dialog in a screenplay with no breaks in between you are a dead duck or it better be a dang good conversation. Time the conversations in most great movies, they are usually 1 minute (page) or less. Just my opinion.

Dan Guardino

I try to keep conversations to a minimum. I usually enter them late and avoid questions and answers during the conversation. And I throw in some action. People seldom just talk without doing anything else at the same time.

Anthony Moore

DON'T AVOID ANYTHING! If your script requires a long conversation, YES, you may want to add character actions BUT not just for actions sake. The actions should be indicative of the character's personality. If you go to a bar or lounge and watch people, everyone does something different. One person will finger their glass all evening, while another will chain smoke, another will keep looking around. Whatever your characters do, it should be meaningful and say something about their personality especially in reaction to any statements of vital importance.

Stephen Thor

Of course, there are the exceptions. "12 angry men" (Henry Fonda) took place in one room and it was 90% at least all dialog. Anthony does raise excellent points tho on what can make long dialogs work. It was the tension of the dialog which made that movie work in my opinion as far as relating to their own characters.. Coincidently, Henry Fonda also starred in the classic movie "Fail Safe", in which there was almost all dialog that worked REAL WELL. That movie had me up on the edge of my chair and all they did was talk.

John Ellis

My first thought was a two page conversation is an absolute no-no in a screenplay. You might get away with it if you're Josh Singer (The Post) or Reginald Rose (12 Angry Men), but not as a newbie.

Then I read more closely some of the comments above and revised my opinion. Just write the conversation and don't worry about the length. If it's good, nobody will notice the length - you won't need the physical inserts. And if it's bad, all the breaks in the world won't help.

Because that's the bottom line: if it works, it works. If it doesn't, none of the "rules" of screenwriting will save it. :)

Dan MaxXx

John Ellis Liz Hannah wrote the Post. Her reps had no problem with her opening 7-page conversation and she wrote "Begin opening credits" on page 8.

Nobody complained.

Not the 500+ working reps, producers, Big Boss Amy Pascal or Spielberg. They all read her spec script.

Josh Singer came on board for the rewrite.

Folks in the business of making movies know how to read story.

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