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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions (often with a humorous eye) about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

DcH, I know you've been a story analyst and worked in development. Could you tell us what's the first thing you look for when you're looking for a good script?

Grindella in Germany


This week's answer: 

Dialoguing About Dialogue

The first thing many story analysts look at is the page number on the last page.  And sometimes, even before that, a reader has been known to actually weigh the script in his or her hand (which gives a new meaning to the statement, "Read my script, which is heavy.  Man.") "Gravitas" is a word that everybody is flinging around these days  (which isn't an easy feat since it's such a "heavy" word). Does a script have gravitas?  If it's over 120 pages, according to some analysts, it does.

Let it be known that I don't do either of the above maneuvers to gauge the amount of time it will take to read a screenplay.  Time is of the essence, though, when reading a truck load of scripts.  (Yes, I have a loading dock at my office.) The truth is I simply don't have the time to read all the scripts that cross my desk, or completely read scripts that I do read initially.  (Well, actually I do, but that would mean I'd have to practically live at my desk all the time .... I know a well-crafted script when I see one and when I do want to see one and there's a pile of scripts before me, this is what I do:

I read the dialogue.

A screenwriting teacher announced in his class, which I attended, that dialogue isn't important in a screenplay.  I couldn't disagree more.  (Well, I could, but that would be taking up too much time that I could be using to find good dialogue in scripts.).  Dialogue is the easiest and the best way to discover if one is reading a well-written script.  (There are, of course, exceptions.  Quest for Fire and Marcel Marceau's movie would fall under this category.) If the dialogue is interesting, subtle, full of unspoken meanings, if it embodies richness and specific tones, if it is pleasant or at least stimulating or tantalizing to the ear, if it is "movie authentic," if it is clever, thought-provoking, if it matches the characters' personalities, and....

       if it can stand up on its own....

then chances are the script is a good one.  If, when I flip through a screenplay, not even knowing the story or the characters, I can appreciate the dialogue, there's a strong possibility that the screenplay is well-written.  On the other hand, if I flip through a screenplay and enjoy the description/action, and like the premise and the storyline, it doesn't mean the script is going to be good.  I won't know until I read the dialogue.  Unless silent movies are coming back into vogue.  In fact, I think I have a script with that very premise.  I think I'll read it and check the dialogue.  

Of a script about movies with no dialogue.

DcH

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