627

Glengarry Glen Ross is one of those films that flew under the radar because of its ultra low-budget look and feel. As moviegoers, when we don’t see our movie stars perfectly lit in front of A-level sets, we get suspicious. “Is this one of those vanity projects?” we ask? The kind where the acting is great but the story sucks? We’ve been burned by too many of those before so no thanks. But Glengarry is one of the few “vanity” projects that was also a great story (and a great film!). I mean superstar screenwriter David Mamet (who was paid 1 million to turn his hit play into a script) wrote the thing. And to many, this is his best work. There are, of course, three things that one remembers from Glengarry – Jack Lemon’s amazing performance, The Alec Baldwin scene (which was written exclusively for the film – it was not in the play) and the razor-sharp dialogue. In honor of that dialogue, I’ve decided to make today’s “10 Tips” all dialogue-related! Enjoy!

1) Your characters should only speak when they have something to say – Without question, one of the biggest mistakes I see from amateurs is characters who are only talking because they’re in a scene. If characters are only talking because a writer’s making them, the scene will be maddeningly boring. What’s so great about Glengarry Glenn Ross is that the characters never say anything unless they want something. They may want to close a deal, they may want to beg for leads, they may want to let their boss know how pissed they are, they may want to vent their frustrations to their co-workers, they may want to convince someone to steal the leads with them. But they’re always speaking for a reason. If your character doesn’t want anything, they probably shouldn’t be saying anything.

2) Use dialogue to reveal character whenever possible – When characters speak, try to occasionally tell us something about their character via dialogue. For example, Blake (Alec Baldwin) is gearing up for his classic monologue early in the script. He turns to Williamson (Kevin Spacey). “Are they all here?” “All but one.” “(checks watch) Well, I’m going anyway.” In other words, this is the kind of man who doesn’t have time to wait for others. That’s what we learn about Blake through this line of dialogue. You should try to reveal character through dialogue wherever you can.

3) Ask and you shall receive… a better response – When a character asks another character a question, the simplest answer is usually the most boring. “How are you?” “Good. How bout you?” If this is how your characters speak, God help you. You can do better. In the famous Blake (Alec Baldwin) monologue, one of the salesmen asks, “What’s your name?” “Fuck you, that’s my name. You know why, Mister? ‘Cause you drove a Honda to get here tonight, I drove a sixty-thousand dollar B.M.W. That’s my name (original dialogue).” What would you have written had someone asked Blake “What’s your name?” Hopefully something just as unique.

4) Specificity in monologues – Monologues, like Alec Baldwin’s, work best when the speaker is being SPECIFIC. This monologue would’ve sucked had the character unleashed something general like: “You guys are all lazy bums! We give you leads and what do you do with them? Jack shit! You need to stop fucking around and work harder to secure these guys!” There’s no specificity there. Anyone could’ve written that! In Mamet’s version, we learn about ABC (Always be closing), A.I.D.A (Attention, Interest, Decision, Action), we learn Blake drives a 60 thousand dollar BMW, we learn his watch costs more than what these guys make in a year, we learn he’s from Mitch and Murray, we learn about the coveted sparkling wonderful Glengarry leads. The monologue is convincing because it’s not just a bunch of general bullshit. It covers a lot of details. Make sure to do the same with your monologues.

5) Delay an answer to a question! – Just because a character asks a question during a conversation doesn’t mean the other character has to answer it right away. We see this during another great moment in the Blake monologue. Moss (Ed Harris) challenges Blake with, “You’re such a hero, you’re so rich, how come you’re coming down here, waste your time with such a bunch of bums?” Blake looks at him for a moment then keeps on yelling at everyone. A few minutes later, out of nowhere, he turns back to Moss: “And to answer your question pal. Why am I here? I came here because Mitch and Murray asked me to, they asked for a favor, I said the real favor, follow my advice, and fire your fuckin ass, because a loser is a loser.” A conversation is never a straightforward thing. It jumps around a lot. Never forget that.
.

6) CONFLICT CONFLICT CONFLICT – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. One of the easiest ways to create good dialogue is through conflict. In almost every single scene in Glengarry Glen Ross, one character wants something while the other character wants something else. Take the famous scene where Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon) begs Williamson (Kevin Spacey) for the Glengarry leads. The entire scene is built on the principle that Levene desperately wants those leads while Williamson is determined not to give them to him.

7) Phrase exercise – To find out your character’s unique way of speaking, take a simple phrase, then have your characters each say it in their own unique way. This is not to happen in the script. Do this in a separate document. The goal is to get a feel for how each of your characters speak. Take the phrase, “Good luck.” Let’s see how each of the characters in Glengarry would say this. Blake actually says in the script, ““I’d wish you good luck but you wouldn’t know what to do with it.” Bitter Shelley might say, “Good luck you miserable cocksucker.” Pathetic Williamson might say, “Good luck” laced with heavy sarcasm. Earnest Aaronow (Alan Arkin) might say, “Best of luck, Frank. You deserve it. You really do.” If each of your characters wouldn’t have their own way of saying a phrase, you either don’t know your characters well enough or you’re not doing enough with your dialogue.

8) A negative temperament for at least one character in a scene typically results in interesting dialogue – Some of the best scenes in Glengarry are when Shelley (Jack Lemon), wreaking of desperation, tries to get others to do what he wants (getting those Glengarry leads, trying to get the husband of the woman he talked to on the phone to come around). Whether it be frustration, desperation, fear, anger – Negative dispositions are your friends when writing dialogue.

9) Liar Liar, dialogue on fire – Dialogue is always interesting when someone’s lying. Why? There’s a natural inclination for us readers to find out if the other party’s going to figure it out or not. Glengarry is one big lying fest. Shelley’s lying to all the leads about how they “won” a contest. Roma (Pacino) spends the entire movie lying to his mark. Ross (Ed Harris) and Aaronow (Alan Arkin) are lying about robbing the place. When a character has something to hide, the dialogue always has an extra spark to it.

10) Give your character an interesting angle going into a scene – Instead of just placing two characters in a scene and letting them talk, try to find an interesting angle for your key character. So in the Glengarry restaurant scene, where Roma (Al Pacino) is trying to con a customer into a sale, there’s a million ways Mamet could’ve approached it. He could’ve had Roma be straight forward, he could’ve used the hard sell, he could’ve had him focus exclusively on the numbers, he could’ve made it seem like a great deal then played hard to get. Instead, he has Roma SEDUCE the man. He treats him like a date, someone he’s wooing. He slowly cuddles up to him, makes the man believe in him, and that’s when he goes in for the kill. Seduction, I believe, was the best option for interesting dialogue in this case. It allowed for all this fun philosophizing on life that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. If you want good dialogue, make sure your character is approaching what he wants from an interesting angle.

  • andyjaxfl

    I forgot how great that speech is. Mamet is truly a dialogue king. I can always picture a person in the real world saying his words. It pops without the Tarantino flash (and I love QT’s dialogue so it is not intended as an insult).

    Two underrated Mamet films: Homicide and Spartan. Spartan is one of my favorite films of the last decade. It’s Val Kilmer’s last leading role and moves at a break-neck pace. It’s a decidedly real world thriller that deserves more attention that it’s received so far.

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      I haven’t seen Spartan, but Homicide is definitely quite underrated.

    • brenkilco

      “In the city always a reflection. In the woods always a sound.”
      “What about the desert?”
      “You don’t want to go in the desert”.
      You either get a kick out of Mamet’s stuff or you don’t.

  • Alex Palmer

    Curse you! I was so hyped Let the Right One In. But I must grudgingly admit this was a very good article, and ultimately more useful than a general breakdown. :)

    On a separate note, have you thought about deconstructing some of Pixar’s best films as basis for an article? There’s a lot to learn about screenwriting in Toy Story 1,2&3, WALL.E, Finding Nemo etc.

  • cjob3

    The play won the Pulitzer Prize, but the screenplay is even better. Even Jack Lemmon agrees with this.

    • filmklassik

      I think the now-classic Baldwin scene was omitted from an early draft of the play and reinstated for the movie.

  • cjob3

    Put. That coffee. Down.

  • leitskev

    Useful observations, enjoyed them. That’s all today. Thanks.

  • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

    GUYS GUYS GUYS

    Okay, continue….

    And, and uh, “fuck you, that’s my name.”

    • drifting in space

      Oh, man…

    • cjob3

      here I thought that would have something to do with Glengarry Glen Ross.

      • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

        It is, in a six degrees type of way. You see, it’s from the director of Wanted, Angelina Jolie was in Wanted, and Angelina Jolie and Alec Baldwin were in The Good Shepherd.

  • http://www.jorgeosvaldo.com/ Jorge Osvaldo

    Great article. The lack of dialogue from the other characters is just as powerful as skinny Alec Baldwin’s monologue. Jack Lemmon offers a few, aimless words that show his character as meek and desperate. Alan Arkin doesn’t utter a single word, which makes him spineless, and easily manipulated into participating in the theft. Ed Harris offers some grunts and a bit of pushback, but is ultimately emasculated by Balwin’s alpha dog. Creating those silences and near-silences for the other characters is something I always forget to write into my own work.

    • Acarl

      “Creating those silences and near-silences for the other characters”
      Excellent point!

      • http://www.jorgeosvaldo.com/ Jorge Osvaldo

        Describing the actions of non-speaking characters in a scene has a ton of potential to generate another layer of characterization for those characters. It would have never occurred to me to describe Alan Arkin’s character’s actions during Alec Baldwin’s berating. His lack of eye contact and complete silence speaks volumes about the kind of guy he is.

    • filmklassik

      Isn’t it interesting that Pacino’s character was spared Baldwin’s grilling? Wonder how he would have fared in there… or how Baldwin would have handled him.

      • http://www.jorgeosvaldo.com/ Jorge Osvaldo

        It would have made for a completely different scene. His character would not have taken that berating, specially since he’s making 70% of the sales in that office. Yet another lesson: If one of your main characters is getting in the way of your scene, take them out.

  • TheRealMWitty

    Great Ten Tips piece. Also, I’m noticing more and more of the scripts and movies I love have one element in common: Characters consciously putting on performances — virtual one act plays, sometimes — pretending to be something they’re not to get something they want from another character. Inception has this. Source Code. Every Tarantino script. In GGR, I’m breathless every time I see Shelley and Ricky’s improv scene to usher the rube Lingk out the door without his lawful refund. It’s like watching a great scene between Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon, except I’m watching two poor real estate hustlers pull it off with next month’s mortgage payment on the line. It’s like a hidden ball trick to make us forget we’re watching actors and make us think we’re watching real characters. So stop making your actors play characters and make your characters be actors!

    • Acarl

      Well said!

    • brenkilco

      Nice point. And it does seem that games, cons and bluffs are at the root of most of Mamet’s work. Whether we’re dealing with Real estate hustlers, or Hollywood producers or more traditional criminals. He operates in a tough world where nobody is only what he seems because nobody can afford to be.

  • Poe_Serling

    Thanks, C, for the article.

    A while back, David Mamet was a guest programmer on TCM. Here were the four films he chose to host:

    >>In Which We Serve (1942) – Survivors of a bombed British destroyer think back on the paths that led them to war. Written by Noel Coward and co-directed by David Lean.

    >>Le Jour Se Leve (1939) – A young factory worker loses the woman he loves to a vicious schemer.

    >>Island in the Sky (1953) – A WWII transport plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness.
    Directed by William Wellman. Starring John Wayne.

    The Killing (1956) – A team of specialists plots a daring racetrack robbery, but they don’t reckon with human frailty. Of course, directed by Stanley Kubrick.

    Here’s Mamet’s take on this one: “The Killing is the world’s greatest film noir… Watching this film is, to me, like eating marzipan – there cannot be enough of it. This film is so good it makes perfection seem tawdry. The script is perfect (by truly hard-boiled Jim Thompson), the ending, as per Aristotle, shocking and inevitable..”

    ***Personally, I’m always fascinated by the movies that successful writers/directors/etc. hold dear to their hearts.

    • leitskev

      I watched The Killing a few months back. It’s a cool film to watch for an aspiring writer because each scene is very well structured with a clear turning point. Tension will build as everything moves toward that point, and then after the turn everything moves in another direction…one which sets up later conflict. I don’t think the story would play well at all today. It would be seen as mechanical. But I learned a lot from watching it and I enjoyed it. I like that hard boiled stuff.

      • brenkilco

        Also the time shifts which were absolutely unique at the time. Have to believe Tarantino saw The Killing more than once before penning Reservoir Dogs. One of the great noir casts ever. Were you able to understand a single word that chess playing wrestler said?

        • leitskev

          Lol, I don’t remember. He was a cool character. A few of those can really make a film stand out. I watch all films in subtitles since I began writing a few years ago, so I probably read his words. If subtitles were available for this film. I’m not sure.

          One area where I think maybe QT does things differently is that in his scenes he takes the most indirect path to the turning point of a scene. He’s leading you there, but he doesn’t want you to know that until you get there.

          In films like The Killing, it’s very direct. Character A wants something character B has, and B isn’t going to budge until the turning point. We always know in the scene where it’s going. The advantage to that seems to be that tension builds as we wait for the turn.

          Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not sure QT often bothers with a turning point in the scene. In the Pulp hitman scene, I don’t think there is one. Those guys were going to kill the dealers no matter what. I suppose the key event might be finding the money. Maybe that had to happen before they killed them. But even after they find it, Jules continues to mess with Brett. And the messing itself seems to be QT’s main intent.

          In films like The Killing, you can plot the story right through each scene’s turning point.

          My amateur observations anyway. What do you think?

          • brenkilco

            I have to confess that I’m more of an amateur than you are. In fact I’m really not that familiar with the term turning point. To my mind most scenes exist to fulfill some story objective. To move it from A to B or from O to P. Whatever. That’s what makes it a scene. A lot of other things may be happening in your scene. but if something essential to your story isnt being conveyed the scene ought to be cut out.
            I’m all for rich scenes. In fact, if a scene can get a laugh, develop character, provide essential information, generate a gotta know what happens next suspense and make it all seem totally natural, well, I’d say that’s a great scene. But above all it has to be necessary. UNLESS it’s a grace note, a scene so damned entertaining by itself that we don’t care if it doesn’t really get us anywhere. Now that Tarantino has given up the clockwork structures of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction it seems many, maybe most of his scenes are this sort. of scene. He could have gotten to the plantation in Django or the Movie theatre in Bastards a helluva lot quicker if he’d wanted to.
            The scene in Pulp Fiction you talk about is a suggestion of things to come. You’re right. Once they get the case, they should just shoot Brett and leave. But QT wants Jackson to deliver that homicidal homily. Unneccessary, illogical. All it does is suggest that this character we’re going to be asked to more or less identify with for the rest of the picture is not just an ammoral hitman but an irredeemable sadist. But you’d miss the vengeance speech if it were gone.

          • filmklassik

            The Tarantino movie recipe seems to be to ratchet up the tension of a scene using a verrrrry slooooooww boiiiillllll, pausing briefly, then blowing the shit out of the kitchen.

            Repeat above scene seven or eight times. Wrap, edit and release.

            Serves millions.

          • brenkilco

            And the buildups are getting slower and slower and his affection for his own words getting greater and greater.

    • brenkilco

      Island in the Sky. Still trying to puzzle that choice out.

      • Poe_Serling

        According to Mamet:

        “The script for the movie is by that greatest of all flyer/writers, Ernest K. Gann – who was and is to flying as Hemingway was to hunting and fishing. The film is from Gann’s book, recounting his experiences in WWII as a ferry pilot, flying U.S. bombers to England. One of their planes goes down in uncharted Labrador, and the other pilots have to locate it before its occupants die.”

        And I’m far from being a Mamet expert, but I wouldn’t be surprised that his own film The Edge wasn’t somehow inspired by Island in the Sky.

        The Edge (1997) – A billionaire and two other men are stranded, unequipped, by a plane crash in a dangerous wilderness. Starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin (hey, there’s Matty’s six degrees of separation thing in action again). ;-)

        • brenkilco

          That’s it. I’d forgotten abut The Edge. It really is a similar idea. Of course John Wayne just would have punched Bart the Bear and that would have been it.

  • brenkilco

    This is one of the few articles I’ve seen here on dialogue. And one of the reasons I think is that there is something inimitable and magical about great dialogue. Tips can make your dialogue more functional but they’re not going to make you Mamet or Sturges or Wilder. Bluntly, I think dialogue is something you can do or you can’t. Fortunately most movies today don’t require much. And Mamet is a particularly dangerous guy to draw lessons from, great as he is. A commenter here says he can imagine people in the real world speaking as Mamet’s characters do. Rubbish. Nobody talks like a David Mamet character. Because he uses pauses, non sequiters, repetitions etc. his dialogue gives the impression of spoken speech but it’s as stylized as can be. It sounds exactly right however in the worlds Mamet creates.
    Any generalization about Mamet is open to question. His dialogue can be very precise but its also extremely oblique. It may have a specific aim but the words alone are often anything but specific. Take the very short scene in Spartan where Kilmer goes int a club, puts a bill on the bar and says to the female bartender ” How bout them sox?” He’s seeking information, and pretending the money he’s offering is a payoff on a nonexistant bet. But it takes a minute to figure this out or maybe more than a minute.
    Or the restaurant scene from Glengarry where Pacino is trying to rope in the businessman. The Pacino character sounds thoughtful, confidential, even philosophical. But if you pay attention to the words you realize he’s talking nonsensical bullshit. “You believe that. Be that thing.” But it’s brilliant in context. Mamet is great but I think people should be careful what they take from him, especially since we’re not Mamet,

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      I agree with a lot of that, but I think the TIPS are fine. The danger would come from somebody trying to emulate Mamet, just as many have tried to imitate Tarantino. The tips are just generally good advice for writing dialogue.

  • Kay Bryen

    Watched it, didn’t love it, but that doesn’t make the tips any less valid.

    • J. Lawrence Head

      I work on a sales floor. Between this movie and Boiler Room we so a lot of quoting to each other.

      • https://twitter.com/cmulliganauthor Chris Mulligan

        Ha. Totally. It is fucking impossible to get a cup of coffee on a sales floor without hearing “coffee’s for closers”.

    • NajlaAnn

      Agreed.

  • DrMatt

    This was an extremely serendipitous (and terrific) article for me today…

    For anybody who loves this movie, try watching it black and white. I actually think the cinematography and color palette is kind of bland as is, but making your TV black and white gives it a whole new, and in my opinion better, look.

  • cjob3

    The play was set in Chicago. The movie in New York. Either way, Roma was heading to Kennelworth.

  • jaehkim

    I’ve never even heard of this movie, but I must watch it now.

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      If you like dialogue driven films, it’s a must see. Not to mention, an array of brilliant performances.

      Not my favorite Mamet film by any means (I think The Verdict would take that spot), but it is great.

      • Jonathan Soens

        “American Buffalo” is probably my favorite example of Mamet dialogue. It’s amazing how much is accomplished purely through dialogue.

        Only a few actors appear. They stay on the same couple of sets the entire time. Yet it never drags. It flies right by. The dialogue is the action.

        It’s a great script to read. Also a great movie to watch — Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Franz both sound like they were born to recite Mamet dialogue.

        • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

          I agree American Buffalo is probably the best example of Mamet dialogue. The Verdict is just my favorite Mamet film, even though the dialogue isn’t typical Mamet.

          State & Main is probably my favorite directorial film of his.

          “It takes all kinds.” “That’s what it takes? I always wondered what it took.”

        • drifting in space

          Do you have American Buffalo to read? I can’t find it online.

          • Jonathan Soens

            Sorry, I only have a hard copy of it.

            But I just did a Google search for ” “American Buffalo” pdf ” and the first result was a link where somebody posted it on a website called Scribd. It won’t let you download it without being a premium member, whatever that means, but it seems to let you read it there on that page.

          • drifting in space

            Yeah, I saw that. It costs money to be a premium member on there and my trial account expired. :(

          • Jonathan Soens

            What’s your email?

          • drifting in space

            driftinginscripts at gmail dot com

        • brenkilco

          Franz is really good. Hoffman is expert but I don’t see him as a natural fit for Mamet. Duval and Pacino both played Teach on stage. Apparently in styles so different that it radically changed the tone of the play. Would have been cool to see either one of them do it. Not my favorite Mamet movie. A real theatre piece. A Waiting for Godot thing. You know despite all the bluster nothing much is going to happen to or for these characters and nothing much does.

      • brenkilco

        Also love his con game movies. House of Games the best. But they all have their moments. Like Heist. Delroy Lindo’s monologue about the bible is priceless. And the climax:

        Devito: Don’t you want to hear my last words?

        Hackman(raising shotgun) I just did.

        Bang.

        • filmklassik

          Love that exchange!

          THE SPANISH PRISONER contains great stuff too and Steve Martin is brilliant, but the con itself is mediocre and you see it coming a mile off.

          • brenkilco

            The plot is definitely behind games and Heist. Wasn’t Martin great? Fit right in to Mamet’s rythyms. Also love Ricky Jay. Mrs. Mamet as usual the weak link but, hey, she’s cute and I’m sure it makes his home life easier. Interesting too that The Spanish Prisoner con game, though it’s mentioned, never actually becomes an element of the plot. Also get a kick out of how brazen Mamet is about the McGuffin. Not only do you never find out what the “process” is. You never even find out what Scott’s company does.

    • drifting in space

      I gotta get on this as well.

  • cjob3

    Fun fact: The character of “Blake” (Though never once called that) was entirely invented for the film. No such character appears in the play. The play begins, presumably, after the contest was announced.

    • Jonathan Soens

      That’s interesting. I’d have never guessed that.

      I remember when Baldwin hosted “Saturday Night Live” and they did a sketch where Baldwin was some big-shot toy-maker called in to the North Pole to deliver that monologue to Santa’s elves who were under-performing, except they replaced the word “cobbling” for “closing.” And Baldwin slipped up and actually said “closing.”

      So I assumed that speech must have been in the stageplay, and that Baldwin must have played that part in the play. Because I figured all the repetition of a play is what drilled the lines into his head and made him say it that way. I didn’t figure he’d have had to repeat the speech enough times (not nearly as many as if he had played the part when it was performed as a play) just for shooting a film.

      • cjob3

        Yeah, it’s weird without the inciting incident. No “Coffee is for closers.” No “Third prize is your fired”, no “Fuck you that’s my name.”

  • klmn

    http://www.boxofficemojo.com/search/?q=glengary%20glen%20ross

    Would that pay the distribution costs today?

  • Jake Gott

    Loved the play, loved the movie, loved the Mamet. One of my favorite writers of the stage and screen.

    Mamet and Sorkin usually come to people’s minds when talking about great dialogue and they both started in theatre (Sorkin being an actor-turned-playwright). Since theatre is so dependent on moving the story forward with dialogue, makes you wonder how many more Mamets and Sorkins are cutting their teeth on Broadway right now.

    • Jonathan Soens

      Theatre definitely forces the writers to accomplish more with their dialogue.

      I remember hearing Sorkin talking about the difference between stage and film on “A Few Good Men.” He said how, in film, he could have characters piece together a crucial plot point by showing a close shot of them looking at clothes in a closet. But writing the same thing for the stage meant putting words in the actors’ mouths to kind of walk the audience through the same plot point — because theatre audiences are further away and might not understand those kind of visual cues.

      Now, to be sure, screenwriters always preach “show, don’t tell” and talk about wanting to cut any dialogue if the same basic thing can be accomplished with a quick shot of something. But I think it’s still good to be practiced at relaying information or solving certain problems using dialogue, so you can do that when you have to.

      If you have to learn how to sneak necessary information or set-ups into dialogue without it being clunky, you’ll be playing at a whole different level than most writers.

      I think it’s like learning how to play the guitar. Some guitars are just physically easier to play. Their strings are thinner and lower down, closer to the fretboard, so the fingers don’t have to press down as hard. But the truth is: you’ll be a stronger guitar player in the long run if you force yourself to play a more difficult guitar when you first learn. Your fingers will grow stronger and you’ll become a more precise technical player.

      • Jake Gott

        Totally agree. Also a guitar player, ha ha.

        I think some information or plot points or whatever better lend themselves to dialogue and some are better suited for just a visual. In a comedy, I usually prefer the jokes in the dialogue over the sight gags but you still need both to some degree.

        • Jonathan Soens

          Yeah, some stuff lends itself better to different means.

          I remember Carson reviewed scripts for short movies one week, and one of them had no dialogue. Forcing yourself to write without dialogue probably forces you to kind of “strengthen the muscles” involved in visual storytelling. Just like writing for the stage probably forces you to strengthen the muscles for dialogue.

          Ideally, you want to be good at telling the story through visuals and dialogue so you can pick and choose based on the strength of what you come up with for each scene.

          If you try to write each scene in a way that accomplishes its goals visually, and also write a version that tries to accomplish its goals audibly, you’ll probably wind up with a better choice. Some scenes might work best visually, but sometimes you might come up with a slick bit of dialogue that works really well. Most of the time, I imagine, you’d wind up blending both versions — taking the visual stuff that works well and taking the lines that work well, and trimming all the stuff that doesn’t work so well. But the scene probably ends up stronger.

  • fragglewriter

    #7 & 8 – are what makes memorable characters and demands loud constant bantering to test the waters before it hits the paper.

  • John B

    Thanks Carson for the great article! Dialogue is always the last thing to come to me in a script and there was a ton of good stuff here for me to think about as I begin my day writing!

  • cjob3

    I still don’t understand the ending. Williamson reveals to Shelly that his check from the Nyborgs is no good. “The people are nuts. They just like talking to salesmen.” So why’s he sending them out with these deadbeat leads? Isn’t that counter productive?

    • https://twitter.com/cmulliganauthor Chris Mulligan

      Leads are tiered in a sales office. You close everything? You get the good leads – the new names that just requested information 5 minutes ago. You suck? You get the bullshit, you get to pick through all the other leads that nobody wants. The “wood/would”. Maybe, by some miracle you can save some old deal that fell apart.

    • brenkilco

      As I recall, Williamson mentions a memo that the office sent out on the Nyborgs. Shelly never read it. And he hadn’t earned the leads that he stole.

      • cjob3

        Nah, Shelly stole the new leads. The Glengarry leads. Nyborg is an old lead. (“Its old, I’ve seen this name a hundred times.”) The memo you’re thinking of is the Williamson called the bank when they first got the lead, to check them out then. So he’s known, for years it seems, the lead is a waste of time.

  • Acarl

    For the unending flow of great articles like this one, I think we Script Shadow-people should chip in and get Carson a heavy loaded ‘In and Out’ gift card.

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      And maybe we can figure out how to get him that Monkey style meal

    • https://twitter.com/cmulliganauthor Chris Mulligan

      Switch it to a set of steak knives and I’ll pitch in!

      • TruckDweller

        I never liked a guy well enough to get him twelve sharp knives.

    • klmn

      Hey, I bought his ebook. He can buy his own fast food.

      • drifting in space

        Love this.

  • Poe_Serling

    Here’s a recent quick hit from director Morten “Headhunters’ Tyldum discussing The Disciple Program:

    “That’s at Universal, and moving forward like all my other plans — but one thing I’ve learned in Hollywood is that planning far ahead is really hard. Things change so quickly. But Mark’s a great actor, and the project is one I’m particularly excited about: It’s a mystery, mixed with a love story, in which a man searches for his missing wife, only to discover nothing is at all what it seems, including how she feels about him. He’s opened a Pandora’s Box. The story is one that starts intimate, and becomes huge.”

  • Trimegistus

    Oh, give it a rest. Don’t liberals get tired of having to keep track of who they’re supposed to approve of and who they’re supposed to shun this week? The guy’s a great writer. If you don’t like his politics, have you considered that you could be a damned idiot?

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      So because grendl doesn’t like his politics, he’s a “damned idiot”?

      Some writers let their politics seep into their own work (*ahem* Aaron Sorkin) and many do not. I generally lean to the left and I often find it a bit heavy-handed and exasperating when liberal writers use their work to push their own message. Same goes for conservatives. All grendl said was that it’s off-putting. I can completely empathize.

      In this case, grendl isn’t the one that came off sounding like an idiot.

      • grendl

        The notion that Alec Baldwin’s character in GGGR has become the shining example of a human being is sickening.

        Dennis Miller, and every other jack ass who feel they’ve earned their way to the upper echelon, and that mitigating factors don’t keep others from doing the same are the reason the Republicans get slaughtered these days,

        This survival of the fittest mentality has gutted the middle class. And finally the masses are realizing the 1% don’t have any intention of helping them up.

        Its kind of how quack dictatorships in the Middle East have operated for decades. Divine right. And a firm belief that the have nots are deserving of their lowly status, in a world where the rules are rigged against them.

        Problem is opening weekends at the multiplex rely on the 99%ers to show up, and they don’t go to movies to be told they’re losers.

        • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

          I agree.

          And this is coming from someone who used to be a Republican. The direction that party has headed (and it’s become exceptionally worse these past few years) is appalling to me. Of course I’m speaking generally, there are many decent Republicans, just as there are many despicable Democrats.

        • filmklassik

          “Dennis Miller, and every other jack ass who feel they’ve earned their way to the upper echelon, and that mitigating factors don’t keep others from doing the same are the reason the Republicans get slaughtered these days.”

          These days? Care to name a time when Republicans behaved differently? I’m not kidding, grendl. Please name a time when Republicans acted, spoke or legislated differently and I will point to their policies back then on taxes, gun ownership, gay rights, immigration, foreign affairs, welfare, food stamps and abortion that will prove you 100% wrong.

          • grendl

            “These days” was a reference to Republicans performances in elections, not their policies.

            And in 1865 they were on the right side of the slavery issue, the southern Democrats wanted by and large to maintain the system.

            You can prove something I didn’t say 100% wrong pretty much 100% of the time, filmklassic. Just make stuff up like you did then tell me I’m wrong.

          • filmklassik

            Apologies. Here’s what happened. I mistakenly — stupidly — thought you were perpetuating the batshit crazy meme (all too common nowadays) that Republicans have lurched farther and farther to the right over the last few decades… that they were reasonable at one time but have officially lost their minds… that even Ronald Reagan would be considered too Progressive to win the party’s nomination now, etc etc.

            I have heard many people — most of them morons, or, at best, bald-faced liars — promoting this idea over the last 7 or 8 years and it makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

            So my reply was simply a case of miscommunication and once again, I apologize.

          • DrMatt

            Pretty much at any point during or before Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency.

        • Dan J Caslaw

          ‘The notion that Alec Baldwin’s character in GGGR has become the shining example of a human being is sickening.’
          Wow! Did Mamet actually say that somewhere? Or is it just so blindingly obvious, because that’s just how conservative rotters think?

  • Linkthis83

    I was all in after the first couple pages, but when he left the hole without a solid strategy from all the experienced members of his community and he started getting his ass handed to him, I was out.

    Plus, his motivation to go to the girl didn’t feel strong to me. Instead of them getting to ask single questions, let them have a couple REAL conversations we can experience with them. Besides, right before his journey, a woman was ‘freed up’ (even though she throws one line at him to keep him from staying).

    I believe I understand why the choices were made, but I feel they alienated me from the story more than they invited me in.

  • https://twitter.com/cmulliganauthor Chris Mulligan

    Good day for a dialogue piece with the passing of Elmore Leonard. Adapting his books for the screen must have been the easiest job in the world b/c his dialogue was the best I’ve ever read. Sad to see him go.

    • filmklassik

      His dialogue was peerless but his plotting left much to be desired. Why? Because he made up his stories on the fly, and a well-crafted thriller cannot be written that way.

      An episodic character piece, yes. A well wrought suspense piece, no.

      • brenkilco

        Well, the guy was a great talent so it’s probably the wrong time to nitpick. But, yes, I tend to agree about his plots. His MO was to set up a situation and a number of specific characters, bounce them off each other and see how things went. Sometimes it all worked out, sometimes not so much. I think Stephen King is a much bigger sinner in this regard, an interesting premise and not much imagination in the plot follow through. Leonard almost always provided an interesting ride.

  • Writer451

    “Delay an answer to a question!”

    I was watching LIONS FOR LAMBS last night and they used this device in what I felt was a very clumsy way — when Mike Pena’s character cites some statistic about people not knowing what country borders Minnesota, then at the end of his sermon, he says that Canada is the country that borders Minnesota.

  • Linkthis83

    Did you get my reply to your post about podcasts?

    • TheW

      Yeah, I’ve seen all your replies before they got deleted. Thanks for suggestions. I’ve responded, too, and then listed some ideas for SS podcast, but someone seemed to not enjoy the discussion on this topic.

      Weird. Oh well…

  • Midnight Luck

    Ahhh shit. There goes Elmore Leonard.

    Another master gone.
    He will always be Mr. Get Shorty to me.

  • Brian Lastname

    Unrelated to today’s article – which was great – but I thought it was worth nothing that the great Elmore Leonard passed today.

    Caught his 10 rules for writing off JGordon-Levitt’s Twitter and thought it was worth sharing… http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/16/arts/writers-writing-easy-adverbs-exclamation-points-especially-hooptedoodle.html

    Granted, these are meant for novelists, but I think they’re definitely applicable to screenwriting, as well.

    • drifting in space

      Especially:

      10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

    • Midnight Luck

      great stuff. thanks for the link.

  • brenkilco

    That whole crazy monologue: Balls like concrete–there’s a hell on earth. I won’t live in it–something her eyes did—to lose money. Perhaps. Tossing in everything but the kitchen sink just to prep the sucker for the real estate pitch. Just amazing.

  • klmn
  • brenkilco

    I’m assuming you’ve never seen A Streetcar Named Desire.

    • sheebshag

      I haven’t (I know about the movie of course). Explain.

      • brenkilco

        Just a joke. Standing alone, Streetcar is about the most ridiculous title for a great movie I can think of. A helluva lot dumber than Glengarry. You can’t judge a book etc….

  • blueiis0112

    Most movies are driven by dialogue, but it is all in the perspective of the viewer. I’ve sat through movies where everyone but me is laughing. I loved the dialogue of Quentin Tarantino gave both Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz in “Inglorious Basterds”. It can even make a so-so movie worth watching just to get to a great scene. I have not seen a cemetery scene like “Steel Magnolias” before or since. Then there are the movies which create their own cliches such as “The Godfather” (sleeping with the fish, gonna make him an offer, horse’s head in the bed…). I loved listening to the repartee between Riggs and Murtaugh from the “Lethal Weapon” series. But I think the topper lines were Johnny Depp’s in “Pirates”. Orlando Bloom looks at him at the end of the sword fight and says, “you cheated”, Johnny says, “pirate!”.

  • NajlaAnn

    Thanks for the excellent tips. Unfortunately, despite the superb acting and interesting dialogue, Glengarry Glen Ross was never a favorite with me. I watched it once and that’s it.

  • UrbaneGhoul

    I saw this movie as a high schooler with no serious interest in writing yet. It was so easy to get lost in it. I think most people know the trivia that the Alec Baldwin monologue was written specifically for the film but never adapted to be part of the play in stage performances. At least professionally, I found one example that a college in Connecticut did. I would think any theatre major would want to do that monologue on stage.

  • Dan J Caslaw

  • WB

    Great article. And it’s funny you chose “Good luck” as the line to try out different ways because it occurred to me the Hunger Games did almost the same exercise by changing it to: “May the odds be ever in your favor.”