Screenwriting : DIALOGUES – LONG vs SHORT by Michael Ford

Michael Ford

DIALOGUES – LONG vs SHORT

Hi, writers! I'd like to talk about length of dialogues in feature scripts. I always loved long ones. In fact, I think that ability to make a 10+ pages dialogue – it's what separates men from boys. But when I started submitting my stuff to contests, absolutely every reader told me same – shorter is better. Apparently, there is this "rule", that dialogues shouldn't be longer 2-3 pages. And that characters should talk only about what is necessary for storyline and nothing else. Personally, I totally disagree with that. But what about you? You like longer or shorter or medium? And what is longest dialogue you ever did? Mine is 20 pages.

Pierre Langenegger

I'm not entirely sure what you mean. I assume you're talking about a conversation between two or more people that spans 10+ pages for a single scene? if so, it's too much. Would you like to sit in a cinema watching people have the same conversation for 10+ minutes? I wouldn't, and a 20 minute scene is way too long regardless of whether it's all conversation or not. Hopefully you're not talking about a soap-box speech delivered by one character? In that case, half a page is way too much.

William Martell

Scenes are usually 2 to 3 pages long. Anything ten pages is extreme. And we are screenwriting. As Hitchcock said: "When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it's impossible to do otherwise." You can disagree with anything you want to, you can disagree with the laws of gravity... but gravity still exists and we are still screenwriting rather than speaker writing. Scenes tend to be around 2 to 3 pages. Take three recent successful movies and time them out, note the scenes and when they begin. You will find that there are more scenes than you think there are.

Eoin O'Sullivan

10 Pages of dialogue?! Congratulations, you've just written a stage play. You have to think a little wider than your personal preferences. I'm not sure what examples of films you can offer that have 10 minutes of two characters, just talking continuously. Film is a visual medium.

Shelley Stuart

Everything that happens in a script should advance character or plot. If your dialog does one or both of that, then you're on track. If you can write ten pages of absolutely captivating dialog, then more power to you. Only, your feedback says no. It may be couched in "dialog should only be 2-3 pages" in the notes, but if they were gripped by the dialog you probably wouldn't see that comment. On the other hand, if you love dialog more than anything, then Eoin's got it right -- maybe you need to be writing for the stage, not the screen. That's worth exploring. PS: In screenwriting, anyone can vomit 10+ pages of dialog. The real achievement is writing a scene where tons of conversations happens without anyone saying a word. PPS: It's also worth ruminating on Shakespeare. Most of the film adaptations don't work well on the screen. The Hollow Crown was brilliantly acted, but still a snoozer in parts, and not because of the iambic pentameter. Film lets us see everything; we don't need the actors to guide our imaginations and set our scenes and tell us who's doing what where, critical things that the stage-based script conveys through dialog.

Joshua Maislin

There's room for dialogue-heavy movies, but ten pages of continuous dialogue in one scene would essentially be considered experimental within the confines of screenwriting conventions. If you want to maintain that amount of dialogue and see your stuff produced, you'll probably have to direct your own movie. BTW, I also don't know what i'm talking about :).

Eoin O'Sullivan

The only recent film I can think of with such a long dialogue scene is Hunger. The scene has one continuous shot of dialogue between Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham, that goes on for 17 minutes.

Monique Mata

"I think that ability to make a 10+ pages dialogue – it's what separates men from boys." Actually, it's what separates plays from scripts :)

Dave McCrea

Michael, I know it feels constraining that actors can only talk about stuff that progresses the storyline - what I would say is that in the art form of movies everything is connected. So anything that is just thrown out there randomly is pointless unless it connects to something else. If I'm watching a movie and the character talks about something, there should be something else that connects to that later. And most scenes between 2 people with no action are between 1 and a half and 3 pages. you can break the 3 page rule only if you are advancing and if the scene has such gravitas that you've earned our attention. For example, Frost Nixon the whole movie builds up to an interview, so that interview needs to be 10 minutes long. However, that's not really a dialogue scene - what it is is a boxing match being played verbally. The movie Seven has a 9-minute scene at the end that is nothing but Kevin Spacey and the 2 detectives talking as they drive but they're not just talking about whatever - this is Kevin Spacey's manifesto to the world. Also the Devil's Advocate has a ridiculously long climactic scene where the antagonist voices his twisted philosophy. So if you're going to have a really long scene, you have to ask am I repeating the same beat, is this scene so important that it warrants this kind of page count, and just how fascinating is the dialogue anyway. If you like random monologues that do not connect to plot and are simply for the love of words, seriously, write plays, you'll be much happier.

Lisa Molusis

Well, if everyone is making the same comment then I'd say you might have a problem. In Inglorious Basterds the opening scene is 13 pages long, but it's an amazing scene loaded with a ton of subtext, threats, and reveals important information about the story in a very provocative and compelling way. It's an amazing read. But this takes a skillful hand and you might have to take a look at the possibility that you've got redundancy or superfluity... BUT it's your screenplay and it's your intention that's on the page, so ultimately it's your call. The only thing I'd add it that you should try your best to look at it as objectively as possible and set your pride aside to determine what exactly this recurring note is all about-- because it is a red flag.

Lobotomous Monk

if dialogue is too long then the pace sets up expectations on the reader/spectator... they begin anticipating or willing to anticipate the direction of the drama. you lose the dramatic effect as they wrestle to become the author. tarantino gets around this sometimes through having a storyteller character... peripheral characters in the scene are surrogate spectators and set up an informal instruction on the audience to follow the dialogue through the storyteller character. but this is heavy-handed and tarantino gets away with it because his dialogue is quirky and generally one that is challenging to follow in the first place.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

Let me say this: I'm a dramatist and a theatre critic. Before I see a stage play - - and I see 2-3 plays every week - - the press agent will send me the script. I doubt that I have seen a 10-page dialogue sample anywhere. Even Shakespeare does not give his characters a 10-minute monologue. Even a 2-hander such as "A Walk in the Woods" does not let either diplomat go on and on for pages. Anyone who thinks a stage play is "all talk" has not been to the theatre much. All dialogue in a GREAT stage play will be limited to the scenes where there is conflict, therefore, you have opposing points of view and, as the tension builds, the speeches get shorter not longer. Why don't you see an excellent current film such as "The Imitation Game" and time the speeches? The movie has a small ensemble cast --- made of WW2 code-breakers in Britain trying to defeat Hitler -- -- and the dialogue is polished, tense, skillful. Bring a stopwatch. It will give any tyro at the typewriter a great lesson. I saw it at a private critics screening before Thanksgiving and it may be onscreen by now.

Genise Mace

Dialogue...I don't like for characters to say more than needs to be said. When watching a movie, I find myself yelling at the screen when someone is carrying on for no good reason. I don't count my dialogue pages but I'm pretty positive they are no longer than 3 pages, tops.

Ardua de Potomac

It's certainly a matter of preference. Just remember to keep it VISUALLY interesting, as well. One of the worst documentaries I ever saw was "The Story of Stuff", because we keep seeing the same woman talking to the camera over and over and over again. It was like a college lecture on film. The subject was AWESOME, but the delivery was dry as dust. If people are talking for a long time, they also need to be doing other things. (Or walking around very rapidly, like on "The West Wing", ha ha!)

Danny Manus

I am a verbose writer and I love great dialogue. it is by far my fave thing to read and write. But if I opened a script and saw there was straight dialogue that went on for more than a page - maybe two - and especially if it wasn't directly related to & progressing the story, I would pass on it immediately because it men's the writer doesn't know how to self-edit or rewrite. but its also a logistic issue. there's only so much an actor can memorize & regurgitate while shooting at one time and that limit is usually 1 page. So, yes, you need to make your dialogue tight, smart, rhythmic, and purposeful. Otherwise its just writer masturbation.

Dave McCrea

This thread made me take another look at the opening of The Social Network - it's over 8 pages of straight dialogue - but there are a couple of things that make this compelling - (1) it's not monologues, it's a fast-paced tennis match between two people - and (2) it's compelling because the protagonist is UNLIKE most people we encounter - his worldview is unique, and his neurosis is unique (3) The stuff he's saying takes us into a different world - a bit part of movies appeal is they take us into unfamiliar worlds, this one does it via dialogue. So if you have a fascinating and unique character, and you pull the curtain back on a world, AND you make it dynamic by giving another actor plenty of stuff to bounce off this person, THEN MAYBE you can do 8 pages of dialogue. So this harkens back to the old adage "Don't bore us." If this was just two regular people having a similar scene, it would be boring at 4 pages, never mind 8

Ben Johnson Jr.

I think genre has a bearing on the length of dialogue as well as the context of the scene. I've worked very hard at writing interesting, realistic dialogue. I've included lots of subtext and tried to use gestures and facial expressions to replace verbal responses. Sometimes dialogue is lengthy because it's used as a vehicle for exposition, soap boxing or filling. This year I've implemented some of these changes in my writing and had very positive feedback from people who know what my writing was like last year. I'm not sayings my problems are your problems or even that my solutions will work for you. Just thought I'd share and provoke your thinking a bit. .

Rick Reynolds

Come in late, leave early accomplishing exactly what's needed for the story to progress. Ideally, each scene will also have some kind of conflict. There are exceptions to every rule and there are some films with very long dialog scenes that work. The House of Yes The Penitent Man To name a couple.

Michael Ford

Thanks for your comments, people. I'm actually quite surprised that most of you are so hostile to long talking. At the same time, Linklater and Tarantino are highly rated "playwriters". But I get your point. P.S. For Lisa Scott: I'm not really a dialogue person, it's just something you have to do if you're writing ULB movies. But I recently wrote a script without any dialogue for first 50 pages. And it was the easiest script I've ever done.

Chanel Ashley

The play Angels in America had substantial dialogue, I saw the mini series with Al Pacino and thought the writing stunning - I reviewed a script on Triggerstreet where the writer suggested he was an experienced scriptwriter - on almost every page he had a character speak 25 lines, descriptions that ran into paragraphs and finally, I snapped when one character had 86 lines - I always try to be fair and understanding, but felt this writer completely insulted the reader, and I was no orphan with that view - I wrote my review expressing EXACTLY what I thought of his work and EXPERIENCE - the review was deemed too harsh and removed by the powers-that-be, so generally, I'm not a fan of "substantial" dialogue, not page after page unless it's exceptional, which isn't very often.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hello Michael, I agree with Danny when he says " you need to make your dialogue tight, smart, rhythmic, and purposeful. Otherwise its just writer masturbation”. IMO, "tight" not meaning "short", this is the only limit. With some exceptions, - A one act play is a unique dialogue. - A one-man/woman show is a monologue. There are lots of great monologues, beginning with Hamlet, or political speeches like the Gettysburg Address: http://www.filmsite.org/bestspeeches1.html http://www.film.com/movies/the-50-greatest-movie-monologues There is no technical problem in the cinema, as you can make a montage of several shots. -- Hitchcock’s “ROPE” is merely a 1:20 hour dialogue and is a montage of 10 long shots. Sydney Lumet's "12 Angry Men" is also merely a 1:20 hour dialogue. Same thing for non speaking sequences or repetitions. Please watch “WALL-E” once more: - It begins by 20 minutes without dialogue excepted a video ad and some robot’s sounds between Wall-E and its robot roach. - Most of the dialogues are “- Eve” -- “- Wall-E” or “- Wall-E” -- “- Eve”, and these are among the greatest movie dialogues ever written! So everything is possible. You just “need to make your dialogue tight, smart, rhythmic, and purposeful.” What makes a story good is its compelling ability. What makes a good story great is what makes it different. All the best.

Mark Sanderson

Tarantio can get away with ten pages of dialogue, you and I cannot. Twenty pages of dialogue is a stage play—not a screenplay. Think about it, I would not sit through twenty minutes of talking in a movie - what is happening? Seriously, it's a medium of IMAGES and not words. A screenplay has a rhythm as does editing and you can't have scenes that are twenty pages or eight of dialogue and then others two and one... the script generally falls into a rhythm like music. Most scenes are about three - maaaybe four pages and out. LESS IS MORE especially conveying the story through IMAGES - not words. You can tell us more with ONE IMAGE than you can with one page of dialogue. You can disagree with the norms and continue to get your scripts rejected or not place in contests. Bucking the system when you are uncredited and unknown will only make your journey more difficult. Fight the fights ONCE YOU GET IN. Every writer thinks they will be the one to break the system. Know the rules before you break them. Unfortunately, readers, execs, agents, managers and the like DO NOT LIKE TO READ - if they do read, they skim. So imagine opening a script, yours on the top of the pile (and I'm sure it's very good) and they have ten to read over the weekend -- they flip open the script just to see, and BAM -- the first scene is 20 pages of dialogue - by page 20 shit had better be happening as we leap into ACT TWO... and they already are angry about having to read it. BUT THEN it MUST dazzle and if not - BZZZZZT - PASS> I just completed my second script assignment this year and the producers all had their radar up about how long dialogue is on the page - you are not writing a stage play, it's a motion picture where images rule and words do not. Most of my dialogue in this last script job I completed was no more than four lines at most. Sure there were a few spots with longer stretches, but not many. If you are really talking a lot in your script, you're probably not SHOWING a lot - show rather than tell and you get into the danger of exposition too.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

I hate this, but Mark's words are of gold. Please note that it's the same if you replace dialogue by action (because they also don't like description): "the time of silent movies is OVER". But the same people are the first seeking talkative plays and wordy novels to adapt, and the first to award prizes to all these great jobs they would have ban if their authors have not come in through the rear window.

Dave McCrea

"There Will Be Blood was silent for the first 23 minutes" - true and that's probably why I turned it off. Same with The New World - it was like they were going out of their way to not put dialogue in. But that's me, I need a certain amount of dialogue to connect with something - BUT it has to be relevant, efficient dialogue that progresses the story. Movie dialogue, not play dialogue. It's an art form unto itself. Dialogue in service of an action or goal, once it's concise, is never boring. Dialogue for the sake of it is. Silent movies are over - what we have now is movies that combine the best elements of visuals, dialogue, music, camerawork - whatever most effectively tells the story - and often that is visuals, but almost as often it is dialogue. The fact is if we never hear someone speak, it's much more difficult to connect with them. Just like that person at the office who is silent all the time. Identifying with a character is a big part of enjoying a movie and dialogue is a way to establish that.

James Chalker

Ugh, The New World, I didn't last long into that one. All I remember is early in the movie when the American Indians are watching the English arrive, one of the men sniffing the air with his nostrils flaring as if he was an antelope or something--fucking preposterous. I went into that movie somewhat excited but didn't last that way for long. Some decent dialog might have helped.

Siegal Annette

I have no rule for dialogue .All depend on what's the scene or the sequence is all about.Dialogue is sometime absolate when actors, action, story , location,music are doing the job.Sometimes the moment of talking , explainining ,exposing...is absolutely necessary to connect not so.much between people on the screen but between the story teller and its public.This dialogue can be very short but also very long.Be empathic in your writing.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hello Lisa, Yes! Great movies with long silence or long dialogue or long monologue are award hunters: - There Will Be Blood was nominated for 54 awards and won 28, and it was nominated 6 times for Best Adapted Screenplay, - Wall-E: nominated for 82 awards and won 47, and nominated 6 times for Best Screenplay and won 4, - Sling Blade: nominated for 24 awards and won 14, nominated 3 times for Best Screenplay and won 1(AA) - Patton: nominated for 10 awards and won 7 (AA Best movie, Best screenplay,...) - Jeremiah Johnson: Nominated for Cannes 1972 Palme d'Or, Won Western Heritage Awards 1972, Rotten Tomatoes 93% fresh... - 2001 A Space Odissey, Silent Running, etc. And I totally agree with your next post. E.g. Hitchcock's "The 39 steps" : While travelling to Scotland, the hero Richard Hannay share a compartment with two lingerie sellers who speaks about their job, watch samples -- funny moment totally unrelated to the story -- until they read a paper announcing that “Richard Hannay” is searched for murder. Hello Dave, I totally disagree. "The fact is if we never hear someone speak, it's much more difficult to connect with them." I don't suppose you miss Wall-E. Did you have any problem to connect with Wall-E during the first 20 or 22 minutes? Maybe not. I presume this is because "that combine the best elements of visuals, (non)dialogue, music, camerawork ...", and also story: Wall-E removing its track before going to sleep, watching Dolly and Horace hand in hand in Hello Dolly on an old VHS, dropping a big diamond ring to keep its box ... and so many moments of magic. "To animate their robots, the film's story crew and animation crew watched a Keaton and a Charlie Chaplin film every day for almost a year, and occasionally a Harold Lloyd picture.[11] --- Afterwards, the filmmakers knew all emotions could be conveyed silently. --- Stanton cited Keaton's "great stone face" as giving them perseverance in animating a character with an unchanging expression.[41] --- As he rewatched these, Stanton felt that filmmakers – since the advent of sound – relied on dialogue too much to convey" (Wikipedia) Hello Annette, I totally agree.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Please read this. That's amazing (note that the first ten pages last about 21 minutes in the movie): http://web.archive.org/web/20090306103001/http://disneystudiosawards.mov...

Dave McCrea

Hi Jean-Marie, uh to answer your question i hated Wall-E. First off, I'm not into animation at all, but beyond that the protagonist seemed to basically be a horny robot, not exactly a complex character. So I didn't connect to it at all and was pretty much bored to tears. But if other people liked it great!

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hi Dave, I'm wondering waht you could like...

Dave McCrea

@ Mark Sanderson "Seriously, it's a medium of IMAGES and not words." No, it's a medium of images AND words. If it was just images, we would have stayed in the silent era, and there would be no need for those dialogue cards they put in on the silent films... Although a single visual can speak volumes, likewise words can convey a complexity that images often cannot. @ Jean-Marie, a whole lot of other movies.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Good answer Dave! You win two places to watch a movie tonight at home. Best. :o)

Oldrich Stibor

nobody knows anything. You could catch an agent/producer's eye for writing something that 'breaks the rules' as easily as you can get your script dismissed by decision makers for the same reason. What matters is that it's entertaining. have you ever seen Buried? it's about a guy in a box. You're in the box with him the whole time and It's almost an hour and a half long. Mostly all dialogue. if it works it works.

Danny Manus

Man, Wall-E was awesome...I'm floored.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Buried is a great movie, hard to watch, needing guts, because this is perfectly realistic. Not like horror movies that are just entertainment. Maybe this is the reason why it is underrated. And the characters are also perfectly realistic: Jamir is a maniac due to religion and war, Dan is a powerless official living a powerless life in front of fearless and lawless mad men, Paul's bosses embody what is morally the worst in this story just like in the real life: bastards, just as Jamir's and maybe Dan's, who are also cowards. So true! ... I like it, and I don't like to watch it too often.

Oldrich Stibor

of course the screenplay is a work of art. Screenwriters are artists just like novelists are. And yes it's also a blueprint. The blue print from which every movie has ever been based on. It's really frustrating to hear people say things like a screenplay isn't a work of art when it's the vision and creativity of screenwriters that fuel the entire industry. and lots of things don't work on stage and screen not just pieces heavy with dialogue.

Steven E. Stanley

Brevity is the soul of wit, but it is the long wind that sails the ship.

Oldrich Stibor

again. it comes down to if it works or not. if it's entertaining. of course there is such a thing as too much dialogue. too much expo. but that can only be determined on a case by case basis. Reservoir dogs. or any tarintino script for that matter. Arron sorkin scripts, all very dialogue heavy. as a general rule less is more but there are ways to make more, more also.

Michael Ford

Actors don't always need to memorize whole 10 pages at a time. Unless you shoot a dialogue in one frame. I love complicate one-take dialogues like in "Death Proof", but I wouldn't insist actors to do that as a director. If I'd need to shoot a long talking, I'd do it this way: ACTOR-1 says his line – CUT – ACTOR-2 says – CUT - ACTOR-1 says... etc. Most of movie dialogues goes in montage. So basically, actor needs to remember only one line. But balance is a necessary thing too.

Oldrich Stibor

very, very well said.

Siegal Annette

Leon dear I just said it before in much less wording.only few sentences will tell us all.Hope I didn't hurt you.

Dave McCrea

Michael, I'm an actor and you don't have to just memorize one line. In a movie or TV show you have to memorize the whole scene not just the words but the beats, the emotions and the moment-to-moment and the best takes happen when you're in that zone and playing the whole scene and have some momentum. If you were to cut after each actor read one line, you would end up with a terrible scene, even with great actors. If you ever direct, let the actors play the entire scene, the performances will be much better.

Rob Mowbray

Do you really like having someone talk at you for twenty minutes? Perhaps if you showed some amazing action/scenery, you could get away with it.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

When that's a great talk, suitable, by a great writer and great actors, YES! Definitively YES! As well as twenty minutes without dialogue like in Wall-E.

Catherine Arne

It has to be absolutely riveting dialogue to keep audiences hooked for long stretches, but if you can pull it off, it doesn't get any better!

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Please read or watch Karl's monologue at the beginning of Sling Blade or Will's one at the NSA in Good Will Hunting, or Maggie's one in Million Dollar Baby. I don't think these movies could be better without them. You can watch a lot of good monologues here : https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7E7E072EDB805628&src_vid=xCJZij7... I don't think many of these movies could be better without them.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Here are two great monologues that could be in good place at the beginning or the end of two great movies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TlkN-dcDCk " ... I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined the government: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory. Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, "Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength." " (extract length = 1 minute 50 second) --------------------------------------------------------------------- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lK8gYGg0dkE "Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack. It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace. The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu. Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island. Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation. As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us. Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God. I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire." (total length = 4 minutes 30 seconds)

Richard Toscan

I suspect what Michael Ford is talking about is a single scene with two or more characters talking for 10 or 20 pages. Not if you're writing for Hollywood. If that's what you really want to do, learn French and get your scripts produced there. I'm not being clever or snide about this: French cinema is noted for a love of dialogue-heavy scripts. Or you can go to one of the few US directors who's open to the same thing: Richard Linklater (BEFORE SUNRISE), though the French star (Julie Delpy) had a serious though uncredited hand in the writing.

Siegal Annette

The problem in this discussion is that we don't know what exactly we are talking about:a monologue and no more than an actor talking and facing an other actor or the public in the scene such as in the king's speech in an almost still location and almost no change in the camera POV . In contrast we are talking of a somekind of dialogue when only one actor is actively talking and the others are silent but their silence is replaced by a very expressing" acting " , a silent talk caught beautifully by the camera and various POV and frames.All that in this second exemple is just like a real.dialogue and an active sequence and it can have any lengh it needs even these 20 -30 pages.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hello Richard, Woah! Do you suggest that Rope, 12 Angry Men, Thelma & Louise, Wall-E ... and so many other great movies have this inimitable French touch? Very honoured. Thanks! Do you know that we make also - Action Movies (Lucy, Taken, Leon...), - Sci-Fi (The Fifth Element...), - War Movies (Stalingrad...), - Animation (Despicable Me, A Monster In Paris, Arthur...), - "Road" Movies (Quest For Fire...), - Mystery/Suspense (The Name of the Rose...), - Romances (Amelie...), - Musicals (La Vie En Rose...), - Silent (The Artist...), - Thrillers (In The Electric Mist...) - Comedies (The Intouchables...), - Love Stories and dramas (Amour,...) - ... Actually, we could make many great things here without the 4 impossible things that ruin us and make us grumpy: our taxes, our politicians, our officials and our public services.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hello Annette, I think this is one of the best contributions in this topic.

Siegal Annette

We french writers were taught Descartes and company.All pupils were obliged to define a problem and its limits before starting developing a long and well constructed text with the pro and the anti and in each develop their positive and negative POV.Only at the end we were allowed to give our personnal opinion ...with modesty always.That's' why you sent your very nice compliment.Thanks anyway.

Mark Melville

I'm sorry what could you possibly have to say that can take 10 pages? I think that's perfectly acceptable for theater but not film. I'm not trying to be rude but as an established screenwriter in LA once told me "economy of words". It's not important how long but what your characters say. Only the necessary dialogue to drive the story forward.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hey Annette! Thesis, antithesis, synthesis... maybe this is why we tend to make thick dialogue...

Oldrich Stibor

A lot is being said about this. What should or shouldn't be talked about and for how long is irrelevant. What's important is entertainment. Take the opening scene of reservoir dogs. Steve Buscemi taking about Madonna's like a virgin and then the whole bit about tipping the waitress. I haven't taken a look at it lately but to my memory that scene was a good 10/15 minutes long. and it was amazing. Is what's happening on the page entertaining? that's it. That's all the writer needs to be concerned with. with that said, it's much harder to make pages and pages of dialogue entertaining. That's why it's best to avoid it. not because you're breaking some sort of law.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Maybe sometimes, the necessary dialogue to drive the story forward, what is necessary for storyline and nothing else, or what gives important informations and/or is an entertaining breath between two hard, arduous passages, just needs 10 pages or more... I don't understand why we make a distinction between movies and adapted movies. Do you consider that Pinocchio is not a movie because it is adapted from the novel by Colodi? Do you consider that Welles' Falstaff is not a movie because it is adapted from several plays by Shakespeare? Do you consider that West Side Story, Hello Dolly, ... are not movies because they are adapted from musicals? So are adapted movies real movies, yes or no? ... In other terms, does people go to the theaters to watch them, yes or no? If so, these are MOVIES and what they are made of WORKS for movies.

David Dogman Harvey

It's been done. An entire movie with just dialogue. I forget the name of the film but it had two writers/actors talking over a restaurant table the entire movie. Then there's the new film Locke, an awarding winning script from Nichol Fellowship of Screenwriting. One of the worse films I've ever paid money for. I could of strapped a dash camera on my windshield for 6 months and had a more interesting film with out takes from conversations with my wife.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

@Peter: so you persist to make a distinction between adapted movies and what you seem to consider as "normal movies". What about Burried?

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Locke is in the vein of Burried. "My Dinner with Andre", "Locke", "Burried", as well as (e.g.) Steve Mc Queen ones, are not blockbusters. But they are all rated 7+ on the IMDB and Burried made more than $ 20 millions gross.

David Dogman Harvey

Peter you first pointed to 12 Angry Men and shows stage productions can work and it can be done. Sure write for the stage before film. Good dialogue will engross the fan who doesn't need constant action to keep them awake. I also don't care how much a film makes. Locke sucked and I paid for it. I was hoping for something like The Phone Booth. I got to Google films more. I'd rather be waterboarded than watch that film again or the critically acclaimed film with hardly any dialogue, Under the Skin.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

I understand "constant action" as long action sequences without dialogues excepted things like "Ugh! Ouch! Shoot'em up! Bastards! You son of a bitch! F**k! ..." to be taken as off-beat humor of course.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hello Peter, IMO you just gave one of the best example of how strong lying, distorting, ... dialogues are a strong vehicule to make a sequence amazing. Obviously, dialogues can be strong vehicules to make a story going forward. Remember the beginning of North by Northwest: - First the opening when the narrator is asking how strange it would be in a big city like New York, that one pair of feet never stray into the wrong footsteps… while on the screen the hurry people come and go, innumerable pairs of feet come, go, get in or out of busses, cabs… Isn’t it a great setup for what follows? And what do these images could mean without this monologue? - Then when Thornhill discusses in the street wit his secretary, the dialogue tells us that he is macho, selfish, lying… He, himself, is telling us what his flaws are; not the action. - Just later the confusion occurs because a bellboy is asking for George Kaplan… while Thornhill is just explaining us the reason why he will signal the bellboy a few seconds later, and then this is the bellboy who asks him to come with him, achieving the process. Do you think that the action alone could be better than this piece of dialogue to make the story going forward? But I can be mistaken... Nobody is perfect.

Dave McCrea

I'm gonna have to drop the final word on this even though Jean-Marie and Peter are both kinda right :) Here's the deal: if the dialogue is used in service of another action - i.e. it's not just two people making small talk but person A is trying to persuade/intimidate/befriend, whatever, a playable action or reaction, then it can go on for as long as possible so long as notes are not being repeated. However, the only way it would not be repeated is if the character is incredibly nuanced and has mad backstory, such as in Deathtrap or 12 Angry Men. And just because it CAN go on for however long if this is the case, that doesn't mean it's the best way of utilizing the medium of cinema. You can make an album with just a 2-stringed guitar, but there's a reason there's 6 strings on there, not to mention a bass player, a drummer and a singer.

I don't really want to hear that album, the same way I don't want to watch a movie that takes place entirely in an ATM booth. But that's just me. It seems like people admire a filmmaker who can create a 1-location movie or an all-dialogue movie that actually works because of the feat itself, they tend to get a compensating vote, as do filmmakers on a shoestring. Michael made the point that if you're doing ultra low budget, you gotta have a lot of dialogue, that's true, and Linklater was able to do wonders with that, and also Tarantino with Reservoir Dogs. However Tarantino couldn't wait to get his hands on some real money and make more lavish movies that were not confined mostly to a safe house.

But movies are an audio-visual medium - sound, words, pictures - none more powerful or important than the other. What's the most memorable thing about Jaws? The fin in the water? the den-den-den-den score? the line "You're gonna need a bigger boat", Robert Shaw's extremely long story? or the zooming close-up of Roy Scheider getting his binoculars? Yes, all of it.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

That's fine. When I was at high school (forty five years ago), a teacher taughting us about audiovisual once asked us what was the most important thing about audio and visual. Half of us answered "audio", the other half answered "visual"... and our teacher rolled big eyes and hit us with "NO! The most important is AND!" ;o)

Karen Keslen

I think that dialogs must be long or short depends of your type of film, your genre, what you want show. Some cases, the dialogues are the main, so, for me doesn't matter how long it will taken.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Happy New Year!

James David Sullivan

You have two hours for most films. A dialogue that runs on for 10 to 20 pages is WAY too long. That would be fine for a novel, but you have to get your point across in very few words in movies. Sorry, but 10-20 pages of dialogue in one scene is going to be boring. Are you writing for you or for your audience? If you are writing for you, why show your script to anyone else? If you are writing for your audience, what do you think they want? SPOILER ALERT: They want you to get to the point and move on!

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hello, IMO, If the days for long dialogues were, to all intents and purposes, over, the days for novels and the days for plays would be also over. Why? - because a novel is just a long monologue a writer says you to relate a story, - And because a play is mostly an endless dialogue some actors use to relate a story. So as sure as the movies did not kill novels and theater, they'll don't kill long dialogues.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Many books provide high octane too. And many successful movies don't. Our metabolism mixes various hormones to make us react to various situations, from excitment to relaxation and we are programmed to enjoy these experiences with different preferences depending of our age, sex...

James David Sullivan

Individuals are certainly welcome to their own opinions, whether right or wrong about the general case. However, I can promise you that if a movie were filled with long dialogues, most people would walk out. It's that simple. In fact, when we as individuals find someone trying to keep a dead conversation going, the "victim" usually figures a way to terminate the conversation and move on, leaving the verbose broadcaster to wonder why he or she lost his or her victim when he or she had so much more to tell.

Christopher Binder

In theater, you show the audience something by telling them. In cinema, you tell the audience something by showing them.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

What about Buried, Amour...?

Michael Ford

I'm also on InkTip and I see some execs require stories a la 'Buried'. But thing is, you never know what you get by a logline. I like Buried, it's tense and fairly interesting with unusual ending. Then I watched Locke, and it's boring useless shit, as for me. I started rewinding it after 20 minutes. And that dumb flat ending totally killed this movie. BUT. Screenplay is (probably) written by rules. There's some nice details and very primitive, but "correct" character development. And writer has CREDITS. Yay! But movie sucks. Then I watched 'Hunger'. It's not shit, but it's terribly slow. I like that static wide dialogue, but only because I'm a writer. If I was a regular spectator, I'd stopped watching it in 10 minutes. Anyway, I already redrafted my 20-pager to 12 pages. But if I'm going to show it to any exec – I'll leave 4-5. I don't wanna waste their precious time like Ivan Locke wasted mine.

Liz Warner

My guess is you're telling too much and showing too little.

Mark Gunnion

I try to keep speeches to three lines, maybe four or five in the final reel.

Chris Herden

Short - film is a visual medium. Longest dialogue bloc of half-a-page

CJ Walley

The acceptable length of dialog is directly related to how compelling it is.

James David Sullivan

@Michael - how's that 10+ page dialogue working out for you? Getting a lot of your scripts made into movies?

Mark Gunnion

Do you mean monologue? Or just instances of uninterrupted dialogue? Either way, 10 pages, that's a lot. Like Ayn Rand a lot.

Mary Cybriwsky

Watching someone talk to 10 minute (10 pages) doesn't work for a VISUAL medium

James David Sullivan

I'm sure there are several such sequences in Ethan Hawke's "Before Midnight". There's one scene which starts at the bottom of page 6 and goes all the way to the end of page 24. Yak, yak, yak! There are a few good dialogue exchanges in this movie (and its predecessors), but overall, this just bored me. If you want a copy of the script: http://www.sonyclassics.com/awards-information/beforemidnight_screenplay... It grossed world-wide a little over $11 million, but it's hard to say if this movie made any money, since neither the production budget nor the marketing budget is conveniently available: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=beforemidnight.htm But anyone who wants to write 10+ pages of dialogue - I certainly won't get in your way!

James David Sullivan

There's another such scene in "Before Midnight" - it runs from page 36 all the way to page 56! YAWN!

James David Sullivan

And another from page 56 to 66!

James David Sullivan

And another from page 82 to 107!

James David Sullivan

And several more which are less than 10 pages, but still lengthy. It's a shame once scene couldn't have been used for the entire movie. Wouldn't that have been exciting!

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