maxresdefaultEven more dialogue!

All this week, I’ll be putting one of YOUR dialogue scenes up against a pro’s. My job, and your job as readers of Scriptshadow, is to figure out why the dialogue in the pro scenes works better. The ultimate goal, this week, is to learn as much as we can about dialogue. It’s a tricky skill to master so hopefully these exercises can help demystify it.

This first scene needs little setup. It’s the first scene in the script, takes place in a restaurant, and has three characters, Johnny, Tony, and Paul.

JOHNNY, TONY, and PAUL are sitting around a table. Johnny’s suit jacket is slung over the back of his chair. They are all enjoying a small meal. Each man wears a red tie to signify their allegiance to their gang.

JOHNNY: You’re a fuckin’ moron aren’t you?

TONY: That’s a little harsh don’t ya think?

JOHNNY: No I think it’s the right word. There’s nothing wrong with robbery. Stealing is a gift handed down to us by our forefathers.

Tony answers sarcastically.

TONY: Is that fucking so?

JOHNNY: Yes, Tony, it’s fucking so. And if you don’t shut your lips for a second I’m gonna sew ‘em up.

PAUL: Hey, hey, Johnny, calm down.

JOHNNY: Hey Paulie relax. Don’t make this fucking personal. Anyway, do you know how much we paid for Manhattan Island?

Tony doesn’t answer.

JOHNNY (CONT’D): Five bucks. We spent five bucks on this ashtray and now it’s one of the biggest commerce centers of the entire world.

TONY: So what, at least they got something. I never left a five spot in a safe I just robbed.

Johnny rubs his eyes.

JOHNNY: Tony, Tony, you fucking idiot.

Johnny turns to the window behind him.

JOHNNY (CONT’D): Tony, you see your fucking Jaguar out there.

A Jaguar rests in the parking lot.

JOHNNY (CONT’D): Now imagine not knowing what the potential of a car was then being offered a buck for it. You don’t know any better so you take the offer, then I turn around and make a fortune, I’ve just stolen your fortune.

TONY: Yeah but if I didn’t know–

JOHNNY: It doesn’t matter. In the constitution it says that I am guaranteed life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. And how is happiness achieved in this materialistic world.

PAUL: Money.

John rubs Paul’s head.

JOHNNY: That’s right Paul, and if I have to steal to get the money that makes me happy then I’m gonna steal my mother fucking ass off.

TONY: All I was sayin’ is the plan better be tight.

JOHNNY: And just how long have you been doing this?

PAUL: Oh shit Tony, not again.

Tony looks at Paul like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

TONY: No, no I was just sayin’.

JOHNNY: You were just sayin’ what? What was it that you just so happened to say?

TONY: I just wanted to make sure that everything was accounted for. That all things were taken into consideration.

JOHNNY: So you’re the fucking Don now?

TONY: That’s not what I’m sayin’.

JOHNNY: Alright was there another ceremony? Are you a made man now?

TONY: No.

JOHNNY: But I am so everything I say goes. If you have a problem with that I can get you a nice pair of cement boots and you can take it up with a flounder.

Johnny pulls a folded piece of paper out of his jacket and opens it.

JOHNNY (CONT’D): Alright, so…

TONY: Alright, but Johnny…

PAUL: Tony just shut up.

TONY: What I was just sayin’…

PAUL It don’t matter.

The next scene takes place in a ratty cocktail lounge. 50 year old Billy Batts, wearing a cheap out-of-date suit, used to be a big shot gangster. He’s since spent a long time in prison and just got out. A sharply dressed HOOD approaches Billy with his girlfriend. This is the first scene in the script (it would later be moved).

HOOD: Billy. You look beautiful. Welcome home.

BATTS: (laughing and turning to the bartender): What are you having. Give’em what they’re drinking.

We see four other men, including HENRY HILL and JAMES CONWAY, standing near Billy Batts at the bar, raise their glasses in salute. TOMMY DEVITO and another beehive blonde enter. Billy Batts looks up and sees Tommy.

BATTS: Hey, look at him. Tommy. You grew up.

TOMMY (preening a little): Billy, how are you?

BATTS (smiling broadly at Tommy and the girl): Son of a bitch. Get over here.

Tommy walks over and Billy, too aggressively, grabs Tommy around the neck. Tommy doesn’t like it.

TOMMY (forcing a laugh): Hey, Billy. Watch the suit.

BATTS (squeezing Tommy’s cheek, a little too hard): Listen to him. ‘Watch the suit,’ he says. A little pisser I’ve known all my life. Hey, Tommy, don’t get too big.

TOMMY: Don’t go busting my balls. Okay?

BATTS: (laughing, to the crowd at the bar) Busting his balls? (to Tommy) If I was busting your balls, I’d send you home for your shine box.

Tommy’s smile turns to a glare as he realizes Billy is making fun of him. The men at the bar are roaring with laughter. His girl is looking glumly at her shoes.

BATTS (to the hoods at the bar): You remember Tommy’s shines? The kid was great. He made mirrors.

TOMMY (almost a threat): No more shines, Billy.

BATTS: Come ooonnn. Tommeeee. We’re only kidding. You can’t take a joke? Come ooonn.

We see that Tommy is still angry but begins to relax with Billy’s apparent apology, but as soon as Billy sees that Tommy is beginning to relax, he contemptuously turns his back on Tommy.

BATTS (facing the bar): Now get the hell home and get your shine box.

Henry quickly steps in front of Tommy who is about to explode. Batts is facing the bar and does not see just how furious Tommy has become.

HENRY (gently wrestling Tommy away from the bar): Come on, relax. He’s drunk. He’s been locked up for six years.

TOMMY: I don’t give a shit. The guy’s got no right.

HENRY: Tommy. He doesn’t mean anything. Forget about it.

TOMMY (trying to wrestle past Henry): He’s insulting me. Rat bastard. He’s never been any fuckin’ good.

HENRY: Tommy. Come on. Relax.

TOMMY (to Henry): Keep him here. I’m going for a bag.

Today’s comparison is kind of tricky. One could make the argument that the dialogue in the first scene, from our amateur writer, is better than the second, which is a scene from Goodfellas. It’s more colorful. More varied. The characters play off each other well. You don’t find any fun lines like, “If you have a problem with that I can get you a nice pair of cement boots and you can take it up with a flounder” in the Goodfellas scene.

And this is where discussing dialogue can be confusing. Because there are two big problems with the amateur entry that keep it from being as good as the professional one. The first is that the ultimate goal of the scene (and the characters) is weak.  Johnny is trying to convince Tony and Paul to rob something with him.

We’re occasionally strapped with scenes that have weak goals in our scripts, but it’s our job as writers to identify that problem and come up with a solution, some way to counteract this weakness and still make the scene interesting. In this case, the writer made a crucial mistake. He set the scene at a table. People sitting around tables talking is really hard to make interesting. So you’ve strapped an already weak situation on top of an unintereseting one.

Writers are aware when they do this either consciously or subconsciously, but instead of doing the hard work and rethinking the scene, they try to write flashy fun dialogue in the hopes of masking the problem.  If you’ve ever rewritten the dialogue a hundred times in a scene and it’s still not working, this is usually the problem.  It’s not that the dialogue isn’t working.  It’s that the underpinnings of the scene aren’t working.

The second problem is that there’s no conflict in the scene. Well, there’s a little conflict. Johnny’s giving the others a hard time. But true conflict requires consequences. If Paul and Tony act up, the worst you suspect Johnny will do is curse them out. Which means that you have a dialogue scene with no conflict. And no conflict means no tension, and no tension means no drama.

Let’s switch over to the second scene now. Notice how the dialogue is serving a purpose. The two main characters have goals. Each one is posturing, trying to be seen as the bigger man in the room. The stakes are high because this is very important to both of them, especially Tommy, who’s upset that Billy doesn’t realize he’s a big shot now.

Because our two characters have clear goals with high stakes attache, and that those goals contrast one another, you have conflict/tension between them. Compare the tension in the second scene to that in the first. It’s WAY higher, right? That’s because the writer put the elements in place ahead of time to ensure he’d get the most amount of conflict in the scene. And conflict is one of the huge keys to good dialogue.

This is one of the big things I’m realizing this week. The pros are laying the foundation for the scene first – how they’re going to make it build and pay off – then they lay the dialogue on top of that. The amateurs are just laying the dialogue down right away. It’s like putting a rug on a dusty dry-wall floor. The rug itself may be pretty (like all the fun banter in the first scene) but it doesn’t look right inside an unfinished room.

Now some of you may say this is another apples to oranges comparison. One scene has characters who are going to kill someone and the other just people talking. So clearly the more intense scene is going to win out on the drama-meter.

This is something else I’m trying to convey this week. The Goodfellas writer never would’ve written the first scene. He knows that three people sitting down at a table with no internal or external conflict is a recipe for boredom.

Think about it. Before the Goodfellas scene was written, the writer was faced with a choice of how to introduce these characters. He very well could’ve put Henry Hill, Tommy, and James at a table and let them chat.  Maybe show how impatient Tommy was with the waiter to convey his anger issues. But he knew that no matter how well he wrote that scene, it didn’t have anywhere to go.

So instead, he creates an outside source of conflict, Billy Batts, pitts one of our guys against him, and now we have ourselves a scene. We’ve got conflict, we’ve got tension. We’ve got a scenes that BUILDS. That’s a scenario you can draw a lot of good dialogue from.

Knowing all this, how would I improve the first scene?  Well, outside of writing a completely different scene, I’d look for a source of conflict, either inside the group or outside the group.  That’s one of the easiest ways to boost dialogue.

Maybe there’s a table of super-rowdy drunk college kids next to them. Johnny can’t seem to get through his sentences without another outburst of laughter drowning him out.  With each outburst, he gets more and more pissed off.  Maybe at one point, a kid gets up from the table and stumbles into Johnny.  Doesn’t even apologize, just walks off.  Notice how we now have a scene that’s BUILDING, that has suspense, like the Goodfellas scene, as we know Johnny is going to deal with these kids at some point, and it’s going to be good.  That’s one example.  Now you try.  What source of conflict would you use?

What I learned: Create an audience for your characters to add a different dynamic to the conversation. One of the reasons the Goodfellas scene plays so well is because it isn’t just a scene between Batts and Tommy. If that was it, Tommy might have let it go. It’s that Batts has brought in an audience. His insults aren’t intimate. He’s performing them in front of others so that they sting Tommy even harder. Writers often get wrapped up in just the two characters featured in a scene, not realizing that bringing in one of the dozens or hundreds of characters around them could give the scene a fresh new energy.

  • charliesb

    Ahhh Goodfella’s I just recently read this script to compare to the one for The Departed. Pretty good choice, though a Tarantino scene might have worked as a better comparison on how to make a scene with people sitting around talking still work.

    For the first scene, I think Carson is right, three people sitting at a table supposedly eating a meal isn’t very engaging.

    The first thing I would do, is remove one of the players, this isn’t a three person conversation it’s really about Johnny and Tony. Put Paul outside the window on the phone, or hitting on a waitress or another patron, or in the washroom and coming to the table late. Make Paul doing something that acts as a distraction to the clearly volatile Johnny, so that we are waiting for that powder keg to explode.

    The second thing I would do is give Tony a clearer point earlier on. By the end I understand he was against the robbery, but at first I didn’t understand what the sale of manhattan and Tony’s line about the safe had to do with anything. In a argument it’s important to understand both sides. If it’s just that Tony is a wimp, make that clear, if he’s got a legitimate reason to be worried then make that clear.

    The last thing, is I would add a couple actions of them eating. It’s a simple way to add character. Maybe Johnny spills the salt and throws some over his shoulder while he’s talking. Maybe Tony needs to make sure that none of his food touches the other food on his plate. It doesn’t need to be a lot, but just one or two lines that remind us they are in a diner and eating.

    The cement boots line is pretty great though. Well done.

    • leitskev

      You might be onto something about Paul being a distraction. He could be used differently, though. What if at the start, it’s just Paul and Tony, with Tony lecturing Paul on the need to be cautious. Don’t take unnecessary chances. Then Johnny shows up wanting to do just that…take more chances and play for bigger game.

  • hickeyyy

    Man, in the amateur scene, the characters all sound the same. I couldn’t tell the difference between who was talking. They all say ‘fuck’ or ‘fucking’ every other word. I feel like it would be a good idea to differentiate how the characters talk. Have one character use the F word constantly. Have the other guys talk less abrasively.

    I like a lot of the dialog in the first scene. The stuff about dropping 5 bucks on Manhattan Island is good, but there is also a lot of exposition/cliche in there. “Are you the Don? Are you a made man? That’s right – I AM!” just felt lame to me. It feels like the writer googled some mafia terminology and tried to cram it into the conversation to sound legit. They all just sound like caricatures of what gangsters sound like.

    • charliesb

      I agree with you about “sounding like caricatures”, but I also think there is something usable in that. I’m going off the assumption that this film is present day, but it’s like the difference between “old money” and “new money”. Real gangsters who have grown up in around the mafia lifestyle, probably rarely speak like this. As times change so do colloquialism’s. But there are people who take this shit to heart. Who watched all the movies, maybe knew someone who knew someone who maybe had connections and thinks that speaking like this is authentic, and REAL. I’m not sure if the script uses this idea, but the fact that they all wear the same ties to represent their gang might mean that the writer is aware of the “fakeness” of his gangsters and is playing into it.

      • hickeyyy

        That’s a good point, but Johnny openly states he is the DON, the head honcho. He is DA MAN, for what it’s worth. And I feel like the man in charge should shut that shit down.

  • grendl

    There’s an inherent problem with the “cement boots and flounder” line too in that it’s a reference to perhaps the greatest gangster film ever made, “The Godfather”.

    You don’t want to be reminding people of one of the top ten films of all time, do you? Writing’s hard enough without invoking the memory of one of the rare moments of cinematic perfection in history.

    And the dialogue really is bland, talking about the sale of Manhattan, which I believe was bought for more like 24 dollars worth of supplies from the native Americans, not five.

    This from Wikipedia

    “The calculation of $24 also fails to recognize that the concepts of property trading and ownership held by the 17th-century Dutch and East Coast natives were both different from modern conceptions. Comparisons to modern land dealing distort the reality of what Minuit was trying to do. Both the Dutch and the Indians undoubtedly included intangibles along with any hard goods in their concept of the total transactional value. For Indians and Minuit alike, both sides felt they were getting far more than a mere 60 guilders.[10] For instance, the natives most certainly would have thought the trade included the value of the Dutch as potential military allies against rival Indian nations—a ‘good’ that could not be valued in currency alone.”

    So that’s something I didn’t know before Googling it. The native Americans thought they were buying an ally for that 24 dollars worth of land as well.

    That’s actually something interesting the audience might not have known. And it makes the thug who’s talking about it seem like a real person who read up on this stuff.

    I’m not saying you have to go into a lesson about the purchase of Manhattan to a great extent but this is an opportunity to talk about popular misconceptions. How we all think the native Americans were suckers for selling the isle for such a paltry sum, but in fact they thought they were ensuring some semblance of survival by aligning themselves with the Dutch, and that could tie in with the situation of the thugs at the restaurant table.

    Make references relevant if you’re going to have people bullshitting in a screenplay. Give them subtext so audiences will know on some level that the conversation might be a little deeper than even the characters realize.

    I don’t know if the thug saying five dollars was an attempt to show us how stupid he is, but that kind of character building is cartoonish. We want to see intelligent gangsters, not morons sitting around trying to sound philosophical. Would you eavesdrop on a conversation where some guy was giving wrong information to some dolts. Why?

    But you might eavesdrop on a conversation about the misconception regarding Manhattan’s acquisition, and a gangster’s take on that, buying allegiance, betrayal etc.

    • hickeyyy

      Reading this, I retract my statement that it was good. Why bother putting that line in if it isn’t true, unless you’re going to have another character correct him, or at LEAST say “that is wrong”. You’re essentially lying to your reader. Which is bullshit.

      I now like 0 of the dialog in the amateur scene. Good looking out, Grendl.

      • grendl

        Thanks.

        It didn’t sound right, and that’s problematic, because as a reader you wonder whether the gangster got it wrong or the writer got it wrong, and that erodes confidence.

        The most important thing, imho, is getting the audience to lean in to your story, to want to eavesdrop on the conversation, and you don’t do that by having someone say a bunch of wrong things without someone correcting them.

        If Tony corrects Johnny when he says Manhattan was purchased for five bucks with a line like ” what are you retarded? It was 24 bucks. Every mook knows that.” then suddenly you have a situation, a challenge of authority, a questioning of intellect.

        You might listen to how that challenge plays out. And the subsequent escalation which would inevitably ensue.

        Good dialogue makes audiences lean in. And showing someone wrong, being corrected, talking about Royale with Cheese in Amsterdam, something we didn’t know is a way of doing that.

        But if you just spout misinformation without correction, you run a credibility risk as a writer, because audiences might think you the writer don’t know any better.

      • Bifferspice

        maybe it’s corrected in another scene by someone important, in front of his mates, which might have more impact than being corrected here by the people he’s riding roughshod over. don’t be so hard on a scene when you don’t know the rest of the film. jesus, calling him a liar and a bullshitter.

        • hickeyyy

          While I agree that could be the case, this is Scene Week. I’m supposed to be reviewing this one scene, am I not? No other person here has read the entirety of the script either.

          Let me make a distinction: I’m not saying the writer is, I’m just saying the dialog line is a lie and bullshit itself. Not the writer.

          This is also after I enjoyed it and found out it wasn’t true.

          • Bifferspice

            so are you saying you’re not saying the WRITER is lying and talking bullshit. you’re saying the character’s dialogue line is a lie and bullshit. and that that makes you dislike what you liked about the scene in the first place. so if a character says something that is untrue, then you don’t like that in a scene? that it negatively detracts from the scene? you are actually pointing out whether what characters say is true or lies, and that constitutes reviewing the scene, though you don’t know the characters or where the scene might be heading? and that if a character lies, you no longer like it, though you did before. i’m not sure i’m following you.

            yes, you’re reviewing the scene. so review the scene. you’re arguing over whether facts the character says are true or not, as opposed to actually reviewing the construct and drama of the dialogue in the scene.

    • leitskev

      I thought you might point out that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is from the Declaration, not the Constitution. But then it’s the character saying it, so the character is entitled to be wrong.

      • Ansar M. Smith

        Actually the phrase makes a small rephrased cameo in the 5th ammendment:

        “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

        You were completely right, because happiness and property negates the phrase into two seperate meanings.

        • leitskev

          Sweet, thanks!

    • ChadStuart

      Personally, I’m not a fan of history lessons in dialogue at all. Telling us how much a person knows about a subject very seldom tells us anything about that person. It, like you’ve illustrated, just shows that the person has either gotten their facts right or not. This same scene where they almost exclusively talk about their present situation would move the story along, illuminate character better and generally be more interesting.

  • Gman

    I have to admit that the ultimate goal–per Carson–was so weak I didn’t realize there was an ultimate goal until Carson pointed it out. I think that’s because there’s so much Tarantino-esque banter here (and not in a good way) that everything else gets lost. And the setup itself is weak. Three guys sitting in a restaurant talking about crime. Or planning on committing a
    crime. Hmm, seems like I’ve seen that somewhere. Is this some kind of homage to
    Tarantino? Because if it is, please don’t. I agree with Carson that there’s no
    meaningful conflict here.

    By the way, pitting an “amateur” scene against a classic one from “Goodfellas” is hardly a fair fight is it?

  • Randy Williams

    When my writing partner and I started our current script, we wanted some kind of conflict in the opening. I suggested we use a prop (like a stick of dynamite, for instance) and one of the characters handles it with kid gloves, the other clumsily, and that would bring conflict and speak of consequences.

    In the first scene here, the “prop” seems to be some obscure American history and some philosophy of stealing. Neither seem to have much consequence to the characters right then and there. One side has an argument down pat, the other is just tossing lines out.

    I’d think about that “Johnny’s suit jacket slung over the chair” as a possible flash point.

  • leitskev

    “This is one of the big things I’m realizing this week. The pros are laying the foundation for the scene first – how they’re going to make it build and pay off – then they lay the dialogue on top of that.” _ Carson

    Carson is right on here. A scene is better with a structure that has stakes, and tension which results from those stakes. With that structure in place, the writer can then have fun with dialogue.

    In the opening for Inglorious Bastards, the Nazi colonel shows up to question the farmer about his Jewish neighbors. There is natural tension from he circumstances because we see the farmer’s beautiful daughters and wife. We know if he screws up the questioning bad things will happen.

    But then the colonel turns out to be polite and civilized. We start to slowly breathe and relax. When the colonel closes his brief case and says that wraps it up we are relieved. But then he asks for more milk. Oh shit.

    A moment later, as the conversation continues, we see the Jews hiding under the floor. Now the tension rebuilds to a higher peek until the end of the scene. So the structure is basic: the Nazis come to question the farmer about his Jewish neighbors; midway we see the Jews under the floor as the questions reveal the colonel is suspicious; the farmer points to the floor to save his family and the Nazis kill the Jews. Within that framework he creates fun dialogue.

    The characters have opposing goals: one wants to find the Jews, the other wants to hide them, but also to save his family.

    The amateur dialogue above has some good stuff. It could be enhanced, I think, if the opposing goals were just a little clearer. One gangster is greedy…he wants it all. The other gangster is satisfied with what he has and doesn’t want to take unnecessary risks. The job of the greedy gangster is either to convince the other gangster, or intimidate him into agreeing. Where some more emphasis might help here would be to show that Tony doesn’t want to take the risks. If there is a way to show this early in the scene, especially visually, then that would really set the structure and the conflict. I’m not sure how, maybe I will come back with an idea later. But the scene is not far from being pretty good, just a tweak to make the opposing goals or perspectives should help. I think. WTF do I know!

  • charliesb

    Re: Gangster speak and authenticity

    I think the easiest way to make people sound “authentic” is to create a proper backstory for them. Where did they grow up, (narrow it down to the neighbourhood and street) what school(s) did they go to, what kind of people did they date, pal around and work with. What did they want to be they finished school. All of these things affect the way we speak and communicate.

    It’s more important that your gangster sounds like he grew up in Flatbush in the 80’s if that’s where he’s from, than that he uses movie mafia jargon. Socioeconomic status is probably the number factor on the way we speak and communicate with others. It doesn’t mean that you can’t stray from that, after all we are writing fiction. But it’s a great place to start.

  • Logic Ninja

    Ok, here’s my shot at a rewrite. In my version, Tony’s new to the group; Johnny has a stuttering problem.

    PAUL: Johnny, you’re not listening–all anybody’s sayin’ is, that’s what the preacher said. Robbery’s a sin, that’s what the man said. Not sayin’ I agree with him.

    JOHNNY: Ok, take your f-fuckin’ B-b-bible. S-says what we d-d-do is w-wrong. I’ll r-raise you the f-f-fuckin’ C-constitution.

    TONY: What’d he say?

    Johnny stiffens.

    PAUL: He said he’ll raise you the Constitution.

    TONY: (to Johnny): Sorry.

    PAUL: (to Tony): Shut the fuck up. (to Johnny) What about the Constitution?

    JOHNNY: (pissed) N-no, no, what is th-this? (To Tony) Y-you c-c-can’t understand w-when I f-f-fuckin’ t-talk?

    TONY: Sorry, Johnny, that’s not what I meant.

    JOHNNY: W-what’d you m-mean then?

    Johnny SCRAPES his chair around to face Tony, who sits there about to piss himself.

    TONY: Nothin’…. I got a problem with my hearing.

    PAUL: Tony, shut the fuck up.

    JOHNNY: (intent on Tony) Y-you got a hearin’ p-problem?

    TONY: …Yeah.

    JOHNNY: Th-that’s j-just awful. Y-you sure you c-can handle this k-kind of a j-job?

    TONY: (terrified) …I can handle it.

    JOHNNY: You p-postivie, T-Tony? You f-fuckin’ sure?

    PAUL: Johnny, he’s a fuckin’ idiot, he didn’t mean anything by it. What about the Constitution?

    JOHNNY: In a m-minute. Sounds like w-we g-got a m-medical l-l-liability here.

    Tony looks to Paul. No mercy there. Then back to Johnny.

    TONY: I can handle it.

    Johnny leans forward and SNAPS his fingers by Tony’s ear. Tony FLINCHES. He’s sweating now.

    JOHNNY: C-can y-you hear that?

    TONY: Yeah.

    Johnny CLAPS his hands, sudden and hard, in front of Tony’s face. Tony JUMPS, falls backwards out of his chair and sprawls on the floor.

    Johnny CRACKS up. Paul LAUGHS too, nervous.

    Finally Paul helps Tony up.

    PAUL: Ok, what about the Constitution?

    JOHNNY: W-we g-get th-three things. L-life, l-liberty, and the p-p-pursuit of h-happiness.

    PAUL: Yeah.

    JOHNNY: W-well, I’m g-gonna p-pursue as much h-happiness as m-my ass c-can h-handle. H-how’s th-that s-sound to you, T-Tony?

    TONY: Yeah, good.

    JOHNNY: Y-you s-sure you d-don’t want t-to c-call in sick on accounta y-you g-got a s-serious m-medical issue?

    TONY: I’m sure.

    JOHNNY: Ok. W-well. T-time to go.

    • Andrew Parker

      I’ll give it a shot. Let’s make “Tony” into “Tony T” to give his name a different look than Johnny’s and “Paul” will be “Paolo” to add some ethnicity…

      Three small time crooks — JOHNNY, TONY T and PAOLO — sit in the booth of a rundown diner. Tony T nervously stirs his coffee while Paolo ogles the buxom waitress.

      Johnny can’t take it anymore, POUNDING his fist on the table.

      JOHNNY: Enough!
      PAOLO: (Italian accent) What? I think she likes me.
      JOHNNY: She took your order, not your phone number. Can we please focus here? We’ve got a big job tonight.

      Tony T keeps stirring, distant. Johnny finally notices.

      JOHNNY: What’s the matter, T? You haven’t said a word since we got here. I feel like I’m sitting with fucking Rain Man or something.
      TONY T: (Without looking up) I’m having second thoughts.
      JOHNNY: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Now is not the time for second thoughts. In fact, never is the correct time for second thoughts.

      Tony T tilts his head up.

      TONY T: Maybe stealing is wrong, Johnny.
      JOHNNY: ‘Maybe stealing is wrong?’
      PAOLO: I bet if I invite her back to the motel…
      JOHNNY: Shut the fuck up, Paolo! (Becoming very serious) Enlighten me here, Tony Tomasetti, professional thief, on how you came to this… profound conclusion.

      TONY T: The Bible.
      JOHNNY: The Bible?
      PAOLO: You know —
      JOHNNY: Yes, Paolo, I know what the fucking Bible is. They have one in a drawer at every motel. Including all the ones we’ve stayed at after each bank robbery. Each bank robbery, Tony Tomasetti, professional goddamn thief, that you’ve been a part of.
      TONY T: The Bible says —
      JOHNNY: I know what the Bible says. I went to Sunday School. Biggest waste of time.
      TONY T: The Bible says —
      JOHNNY: I said I don’t want to hear it!

      Johnny tries to compose himself. Takes a couple breaths.

      JOHNNY: You know what the Bible says? An “eye for an eye”. This country, these bankers in their expensive suits and shiny shoes, they owe us. They have taken our money, our houses, our chance at happiness. The happiness afforded to us by no less than the Constitution of the United States of America.
      TONY T: (Mumbling) Declaration of Independence…
      JOHNNY: What?
      TONY T: The Declaration of Independence. That’s where we asserted our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
      JOHNNY: I don’t need a history lesson.
      TONY T: And the Bible doesn’t say an eye for an eye. It says you may have heard of that phrase, but you are actually supposed to instead turn the other cheek.
      JOHNNY: I’ll show you turning the other cheek…

      Johnny reaches across the table to slap Tony T, but can’t reach. Tony tries reciprocating but also fails. Finally Paolo puts his arms between them.

      PAOLO: Stop! Stop it! This is ridiculous!

      Everyone calms down after a moment. Johnny straightens his suit jacket.

      JOHNNY: I’m going to leave you with a final thought, T. Tonight is a big deal. We pull this off, we’re set for life. No more shitty apartments. No more bill collectors. No more fighting to make ends meet. You can keep praying to God, but I guarantee you those prayers won’t put food in your mouth. Action puts food in your mouth. This is the life you’ve chosen. I’ll be damned if I’m just going to let you throw it all away for a book of lies.

      Johnny collects his stuff and exits the booth, shaking his head.

      JOHNNY: (To himself) Turn the other cheek…

      A shaken Tony T turns towards Paolo, looking for comfort or at least a sign of sympathy.

      PAOLO: You saw it, right? The waitress, she’s totally into me.

      ———————————–

      OK, that turned out pretty generic. I think the problem was I didn’t really have a good plan on how I was going to get to the end. WHAT I LEARNED: Begin with the end in mind.

  • Cfrancis1

    The first scene could work as an introduction to these characters but the dialogue feels a little too familiar. The phrasing and imagery are also awkward at times. For example, “And if you don’t shut your lips for a second I’m gonna sew ‘em up.” It’s a weird image and not a very tough statement. Would a gangster take the time to sew a pair of lips in the heat of the moment? No, he would smash, punch, kick, slam or shoot the guy in the face. Something more visceral.

  • Dan B

    1st Scene – characters all sounded familiar, someone else said this as well. Also, the goal seemed to be for Johnny to get Tony on board for this robbery. However, Tony seemed to be hesitant. If this was a scene where Tony didn’t want anything to do with these other gangsters, and Johnny needs Tony because of some skill or whatever – then there would be conflicting goals to create some more tension. This would also be a scene that pushes the movie forward, rather than being guys talking in a room and showing a little bit of character development (Tony’s hesitant, Johnny’s got a short fuse). I don’t know what happens in the rest of the script, so that suggestion may not work, but it’s a thought.

    The 2nd Scene works for a bunch of reasons – you show Tommy’s anger issues (which in the film I think is first displayed when he guts that guy in the bar with a pen, right?). You also have a huge scene agitator in Billy Batts. Also, this scene with Billy Batts isn’t just for character development as it is a big setup for the rest of the movie. SPOILER (I’m sure most have seen this though) – the guys kill Billy which is paid off later when Tommy meets his demise.

  • Linkthis83

    When I read AOW scripts, or scenes like the one above, the thing that always comes to mind is this: it feels like the story, and these characters have no memory. Like nothing existed before this story started. And it’s true, when it’s a creation from our own minds.

    I thought I had honed in on something to compare between the two scenes at first, then realized it was Carson’s set up for each seen that gave GOODFELLAS an initial unfair advantage. In the first scene, I know the names, their geography and that they belong to the same gang. We don’t get anything about their relationships to one another or the situation they are currently in.

    With the GOODFELLAS set up we get some history on Billy. So it really puts the scene that follows into context, and easier to understand. If I didn’t know that the guy at the bar USED to be somebody, then it wouldn’t be as impactful.

    In the first scene, I feel we get a mixed vat of all gangster films that have come before it. By the references, the curse words and the even the threats. Without any context, I don’t know if this writer is accidentally being unoriginal, or if it’s purposeful. I don’t know that in the next scene or two, we are going to experience the REAL gangsters which will put to shame on the bullshit nonsense Johnny was talking. Acting like he’s somebody when he’s really not. Although, he claims to be a made man…and if that’s true, I feel that scene should’ve gone much differently. Because Tony is outright disrespecting a made man.

    Even without having context for the scene, nothing is happening there that gives me a crash course into who these guys are. If Johnny is a stealer of things for his own happiness, have him approaching Tony and Paul at the table, and he stops to lift a tip left by other patrons. Then I get a hint of what kind of man he is before he opens his mouth.

    Grendl’s search on the Manhattan deal is perfect for this moment. Absolutely fucking perfect to build upon here. And to use it to make whatever point you are trying to make with these characters in this moment. It’s relevant to where they are, what they are doing, and what they aim to do. And it’s freaking interesting, it’s based of actual history and it makes it fun for the reader/audience. Plus it maximizes the intelligence of Johnny (unless he’s not really part of the major story). Just use it however it benefits the story in this moment.

    Now about a scenes/scripts/relationships with no memory. In that first scene, unless this is the first meeting ever between these 3, then the hierarchy would already be established and each character would know their place in the conversation.

    The beautiful thing about the GOODFELLAS scene is that these characters feel like people with memories. Now it might be a bit unfair that the conflict is based on memories, but they feel real and true. Like I said before, knowing the context of the scene really helped set it up, but a writer still has to deliver. And they talk history without talking history. It’s a display of what was vs. what is now. Billy hasn’t been around to experience Tommy’s growth, so he’s just the same old shoe shine kid. Tommy’s “watch the suit” says he’s to be respected now. He’s not Billy’s memory of him. and Billy doesn’t fucking care because oh yes he is.

    When I mentioned all the references in the first scene’s dialogue feels like it’s from all gangster movies I’ve seen – in the second scene we have one of those films, and it’s so unique. It’s fresh. Billy saying that he’d send Tommy home to get his “shine box” is extremely important. The use of “shine box” is brilliant. He could’ve just grabbed a napkin off the bar, spit on it, and asked Tommy to clean him up because of 10 years of dust” but that didn’t happen. It’s too clever. When a writer is too clever it’s because they are thinking about what they WANT the character to say. In the GOODFELLAS scene, it’s about asking “What would Billy say to Tommy that sums up their relationship and would sting Tommy deep?”

    Sorry these thoughts on more organized. Just wanted to jump in here why I had some time.

    • Kirk Diggler

      “What would Billy say to Tommy that sums up their relationship and would sting Tommy deep?”

      Felt this part was worthy of repeating.

    • JakeMLB
      • Linkthis83

        That was freaking great. Thank you for this.

        • JakeMLB

          The whole series is great but this article in particular is pretty illuminating. What I’ve started doing is going through all scripts of a certain genre similar to what I’m writing and noting: a) the protagonist’s external goal, b) their motivation, c) the stakes (internal/external) if they fail, d) what the story is really about, e) the off-screen movie and f) the ticking time bomb or other senses of urgency. By no means is that an exhaustive list but you’d be amazed at how much structure that will reveal. And it’s amazing how well-constructed most successful films are in that they tick off each of those boxes. Then apply that checklist to your own work and you can immediately recognize the flaws and find ways to strengthen your premise. The off-screen movie in particular is so incredibly important. If nothing is happening in your greater world (war, political tension, etc.) it becomes instantly clear why your premise lacks momentum.

      • http://www.linkedin.com/pub/brett-martin/52/702/72 ElectricDreamer

        It’s a stellar way to keep the audience riveted to your tale.
        Keep starting so late that they must “play the off-screen movie” in their heads.

        Relegate all your low hanging fruit ideas to oblivion or the off-screen pile.
        There’s no point getting into a FLAT scene as late as you can.

    • Paul Clarke

      I like to think of it as MINI-BACKSTORY. Some preference or favoritism that shows pre-existing qualities to a character. Can be one little throw away line, but it instantly makes the character feel like they existed before the movie started.

      Too often characters only talk about story relevant information, but it’s a catch-22 because you don’t want them discussing unimportant stuff. So the key is to make is seem off-topic, but still relevant, and preferably giving us some insight into the character.

      The first example that springs to mind is in DIE HARD. When John McClane doesn’t want to reveal his name over the radio he uses a cowboy name. They then discuss the cowboy movies they watched growing up. Which makes them feel like real people. And gives us a insight into how John grew up into the role of gritty New York cop. It also gives us a clue into how he thinks this might end. It ticks all boxes and can then be recycled throughout when even Hans gets in on it and starts calling him “cowboy”.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/pub/brett-martin/52/702/72 ElectricDreamer

    The first scene is primarily IMITATING very familiar content.
    The second scene is loaded with juicy HUMAN BEHAVIOR.
    (No, I’m NEVER going to stop banging the human behavior drum around here.)

    Scene one is a pastiche of familiar tropes re-shuffled to present a “fresh take”.
    Scene two is full of EGO driven posturing & tons of RITUALIZED AGGRESSION (RA).

    RA is something I learned about while working with wolves in captivity.
    It’s complex signals and behavior wolves use to REINFORCE rank order within the pack.
    And that’s exactly what happens between Tommy and Billy in front of the “pack” at the bar.
    A series of putdowns and self-assertive statements to establish who’s higher in the mob.

    Imitating movies is an important EARLY misstep to developing good dialogue habits.
    Once you RECOGNIZE how you’re undermining your own craft, then find ways to innovate.

    • Gman

      Yes.

    • Sebastian Cornet

      “Ego driven posturing” is something I have to remember. The best dramas come when character have their self-perception challenged by other people or adverse circumstances.

      Happens all the time in real life, guy goes thinking he’s one way, then something happens to rattle that cage. Hell, “Breaking Bad” built a whole show on that.

      Best thing you can do as a writer is put characters in situations that negate the way he sees himself. Watch drama unfold.

      OFF-TOPIC:while I’m here I wanted to invite you guys and gals to check out a new blog on storytelling that a friend and I just started. We hope to deconstruct movies and video games with great storylines to find the tools that make them work (or not).

      http://apairoftools.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/reservoir-dogs-story-analysis-part-i/

    • leitskev

      You get points for adding the stuff about RA. That’s a new insight, and something very much worth thinking about in film. I know I will give it some thought.

    • Dale T

      Great post. I made a post about it but I might as well reiterate it here. I’ve never quite met a mobster before, but I’ve met members in street gangs before, I can only imagine they behave the same way, somewhat. Everything they do is all about posturing, reinforcing their status within the gang. And it shows in the way they talk. The smallest ounce of disrespect can result in retaliation, because it harms their status in the hierarchy.

      In the case of the amateur dialogue, there’s a lot of intrusion of respect here when there shouldn’t be, or lack thereof

      JOHNNY: Hey Paulie relax. Don’t make this fucking personal. Anyway, do you know how much we paid for Manhattan Island?

      Tony doesn’t answer.

      JOHNNY (CONT’D): Five bucks. We spent five bucks on this ashtray and now it’s one of the biggest commerce centers of the entire world.

      This sounds like mobster talk on the surface, but inherently it’s very polite. Johnny is asking Tony a question to remind him of a fact they already knew about, and Johnny politely waits for Tony to answer to reaffirm if he knows what he’s talking about before answering his own question just so they’re on the same page.

      But throughout the rest of the dialogue it seems like Tony is the pick dog in this little group.

      There’s a lot of incongruence here. It’s polite here and then rude there. It doesn’t flow naturally.

      • LV426

        While I agree with the general sentiment, I took it that these three guys knew each other pretty well, and acted almost as buddies that maybe grew up together. It works in that kind of dynamic. Some of the usual gangster posturing and protocol might fade away if that is what we have here.

        Of course, without any more info (premise, logline, or the script itself) we can’t say for sure that is the case here.

        • Dale T

          True. Although at the same time from my experience being around these gangsters, there really isn’t a lot of sense of being buddy buddy there. In most group of friends there’s always a pick dog and everyone else is really close with each other. In gangs it seems like everyone is each other’s pick dog. Terrence is Brandon’s pick dog. Brandon’s is Jason’s pick dog. Jason is Alex’s pick dog, etc.

          However I’m just only drawing a conclusion on my one experience being around gangsters, and that was at a BBQ that my co-worker brought me to, who neglected to tell me that everyone there was a gangster lol.

          • LV426

            Yeah. It could just be me, but I got the notion that these three guys possibly grew up in the same neighborhood. Mystic River style I guess. Played in the same streets and went through the same formative experiences together from grade school to high school before being sucked into the mobster lifestyle.

            Of course, even Goodfellas has the trio of Henry Hill, Tommy DeVito, and Jimmy Conway acting very buddy buddy throughout the film. So it could be that Scorsese went for a more stylized mob guy friendship to help tie the movie’s many years of events together. Or he just had a different experience with gangsters growing up and in his own research of the subject.

  • https://twitter.com/deanmaxbrooks deanb

    I don’t know. Both scenes felt too truncated to make an adequate comparison, although the dialogue in the first scene sounds like something out of a Chick tract.

    Both have their requisite share of “fucks” and “why I oughttas.” I liked the bit about the Manhattan “five dollar” rip off in the first sequence, as it underscores a common theme in most gangster movies, which is “gangster culture is American culture.”

    In both scenes, events are happening, the plot is pushing forward. While the mundane setting of the table in the first scene is arguably uninspired, and the characters feel familiar (is the name “Tony” to gangsters what “Destiny” is to strippers?), I think it’s clear in the first scene that these are Reservoir Dog-esque low-rent hitmen. They wouldn’t be meeting at a five star.

    Besides, how many scenes do we need in a tittie bar, bowling alley, or dimly lit basement somewhere in the Bronx? The gangsters met in a kitchen in The Dark Knight, and some of Pulp Fiction’s best exchanges happened in a diner during breakfast. In Bruges seems to poke fun at this as both characters are constantly bitching about being in “fuckin’ Bruges,” even though it’s a picturesque “fairy tale” city.

    • Nicholas J

      is the name “Tony” to gangsters what “Destiny” is to strippers?

      Yes. And don’t forget “Jack” to action movie heroes.

      • Kirk Diggler

        Good thing the main character in the action/adventure script I’m writing is….

        Uh, Wait, googling how to change character names in Final Draft.

        • Nicholas J

          Doesn’t matter as long as your Jack is different than all the other Jacks.

  • ChadStuart

    You know, I think so much dialogue would be better if writers just forget Quentin Tarrantino exists. He does a very specific type of dialogue, but he’s also cornered the market on it. If you come anywhere near his hemisphere, then you’re going to be compared to him. You don’t want to be like someone else, you want to be original.

    • Meta5

      Yes, I was reading the scene thinking, this is an obvious Tarantino rip rather than focusing on what was being communicated.

    • JakeMLB

      Remember, children learn to talk by imitating their parents.

      • ChadStuart

        And that’s the problem. We should really be imitating real life, not other movies.

        • Casper Chris

          Life imitates art.

          • Guest

            Isn’t it the other way around?

          • Casper Chris

            Anti-mimesis is a philosophical position that holds the direct opposite of Aristotelian mimesis. Its most notable proponent is Oscar Wilde, who opined in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying that, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”.

        • Linkthis83

          Well, to be fair, not many of us grow up with mobsters.

          Although, when I was doing work on Staten Island, I believe I had a meeting with some. It was awesome and surreal. I’m pretty sure there was a Tommy…and also an Arturo. Walter the bartender. Oh, and at the end of the bar was Deacon Joe.

          it’s about 9:30pm, I’m sitting at the bar, talking to Walter while I wait for the owner to show up. Deacon Joe all of a sudden looks at me and says:

          DEACON JOE:

          Where you frum?

          LINK:

          Kentucky.

          DEACON JOE:

          Kentucky?! Fokken redneck.

          I was just grinning from ear to ear. It was like being in the movies. I never believed it was possible they were mobsters until I met with the owner of a construction site and told him about my dinner with the Italians.

          LINK:

          I’m glad we could work this out. I tried the Italian place before coming here.

          CONSTRUCTION OWNER:

          Oh, doze are bad guys. Doze are gangsters.

          LINK:

          Really?

          CONSTRUCTION OWNER:

          Aw yea. It’s all cops and robbers out here.

          True story.

          • ChadStuart

            Well, that’s actually a problem with mobster dialogue in general, i.e. the belief that they speak differently than everyone else. It’s almost akin to movies making Native Americans speak like morons for a few decades (Big Chief say How.) that people actually were shocked when they learned Native Americans never talked that way.

            Mobsters are people, too. They watch the same same TV and movies, and go to the same restaurants as everyone else. The reason you don’t remember ever talking to a mobster is because you’ve probably talked to dozens, but just didn’t know it because they didn’t sound like the stereotypical mobster from the movies.

          • Linkthis83

            Well, from my actual experience of possibly talking to mobsters, they did talk different. And they did act different. In fact, it felt like I was IN a movie.

            And in regards to Native Americans, that’s dumbing down a people and make them appear ignorant or a degrading stereo-type. I wouldn’t say that’s true of mobsters. Plus they aren’t a “people” per se.

            What I’m also highlighting is that your original point is that we should be imitating real life. Well, how do we get exposure to real life mobster to accurately convey them? And unless you speak for all mobsters, how do you know they aren’t being accurately portrayed?

            Also, that’s what makes some entertainment…entertaining. Mobsters aren’t so much a people as a culture. A fascinating one at that. If movies/stories didn’t embellish these to some degree, then they aren’t as seductive or entertaining. And that’s the thing about mafia life…it’s tragic, and romantic, and intriguing all at the same time. It’s a world you hear about but never see or experience. That’s why these types of movies are so popular. We get to experience it from a safe distance.

            I’ll reiterate, the only moment I can claim in my life that I may have experienced mobsters, I felt like I was in a movie. I mean, the host of the restaurant wasn’t some punk or young girl. It was a man, in a very nice suit. And when patrons came in, he hugged them and kissed them on the cheeks. The conversations were plentiful and almost always about nothing. But for them, it was something. It had me spellbound and awestruck. It was great. I didn’t have the heart to tell them they were cliche :)

          • ChadStuart

            Well, you can learn about mobsters by reading books about them, and even a few written by them. I’m not an authority, but I’ve read a few. They’re mostly regular people who do a pretty despicable business. But they certainly aren’t the stereotypes of movies which gets continually depicted. In fact, one of the books specifically called out that stereotype as ridiculous (forgive me if I can’t recall which one).

            The “mobsters” you probably met were just a bunch of assholes trying to act like the mobsters they saw in a movie.

          • Linkthis83

            I get it. The overwhelming truth here is trying to write a credible mafia story without the access to the experience and culture. Reading books doesn’t give you the “sound” of the mafia. The back and forths and the real time conversations. So for amateurs, I think our go to research would be the movies that have been popular in the past. I wouldn’t write one unless I was certain I truly believed I could make it feel authentic. Assuming I was coming at it from a genre that would be sincere in the attempted representation.

            I do think you should be open to the fact that they do talk a certain way. It’s not fake or phony. Like I said, it was so surreal being in that atmosphere. One guy had a black suit on, white button up shirt unbuttoned like 3 buttons. Showing everybody this new cross he had just got. Every one is going a mile a minute. Then there’s some sort of birthday thing going on in the back corner. They all leave me alone at the bar to go sing happy birthday. There’s a couple guys playing violins for music. Hell, even the conversation with the guy that hooked me up with a meal went like this:

            MANAGER:

            Mike, you hungry? You wan sumthin ta eat?

            Manager grabs a menu, hands it to me. It’s all in Itialian.

            MIKE:

            (smiles) I can’t read this

            MANAGER:

            Whuddya like? You like pasta?

            MIKE:

            I like pasta

            MANAGER:

            Okay, I know da ting. I’ll take care of you.

            I’m telling you man, there was an energy in that place. I get what you’re saying, but I don’t think that life is misrepresented. I mean, I don’t want four, normal guys to represent the mafia. I want mafioso types representing the mafia in stories.

            Maybe the guys I met were acting, but lots of people act like somebody else. And in that culture, you probably fit in or your thrown out. So it makes sense to me, even if they are all full of shit.

          • Malibo Jackk

            It’s a different world, a different planet.
            And sometimes that planet can be right next door.
            (The bosses like to live in nice neighborhoods.)

  • Dannyy

    I agree about the problems of the first scene. But I’d also like to add that, in my opinion, the scene feels like its ONLY purpose is to introduce the characters rather than move the story forward as well. Not only that, but the characters are introduced through dialogue rather than visually. So with no forward momentum, no tension, no stakes and no action, the scene drags. The scene only finishes when there’s just nothing left to argument rather than naturally finishing. If we were to cut the scene out and move on to the actual robbery, I’d learn more about Tony’s cautiousness through how he acts.

    Here’s my take on the scene:

    I’m assuming the paper that Johnny has is the robbery plan. Set this in Tony’s Jaguar. Johnny is in the front passenger seat. Paul is in the back. Tony drives and he’s being led to the place they plan to rob. Johnny explains the plan. Johnny gets Tony to park around the corner. The problem is- it’s on a disabled parking zone/temporary stopping zone.
    This is where the car will wait.

    Johnny continues to explain the plan. As he does, we see the robbery in action. But then Tony cuts in. He’s uncomfortable about the plan and each time he verbalizes it, we cut away from the action. Tony is not only stopping the plan, but also stopping us from seeing them execute it. We learn that Tony wants everything to be taken into consideration. He’s cautious.

    A cop car comes around the corner and parks nearby. Tony’s discomfort is now heightened. He knows they’re parked on the disabled zone. Will the cops address them about it? If they don’t get out of there, the cops might bother them. But Johnny doesn’t care. It’s his right to park wherever, just as he believes it’s his right to steal. He continues explaining. Tension rises as the cops come closer. Tony keeps looking at the cops instead of focusing on the plan. Tony wants to move the car. Johnny calls him out. Tension rises… but Johnny finishes. They drive off before the cops even notice.

  • Eric

    The first problem I have with the top scene is I don’t understand why we spend so much time with Johnny arguing the merits of stealing. He’s a mobster. It comes with the territory. The audience doesn’t learn anything they wouldn’t already figure anyway. Maybe if he was talking about types of people he wouldn’t steal from. Or situations where he has a problem with it. Or why he thinks some types of stealing aren’t actually stealing. But he’s not saying any of that. He’s saying, “Generally, I think it’s okay to steal.” Of course he thinks that. He’s in the mafia. Was anyone at that table under the illusion that they were making an honest living? Then Tony lands this line of dialogue…

    “All I was sayin’ is the plan better be tight.”

    So no one was actually objecting to the concept of theft at all. If everyone at the table agrees theft is necessary, why does Johnny drone on about it for a full page. It benefits nothing that I can see.

    Secondly, aside from the fact that they are planning some sort of heist/scheme, the only other thing I come away with is that Tony wants more of a say, but is being ignored and considered unimportant. But if the point of the scene is to show how little regard Johnny has for Tony, you can’t begin the scene with Johnny speaking almost exclusively to Tony. Worse yet, Johnny is explaining his entire life philosophy as if he has to justify his existence to Tony. By the end of the scene it’s clear that’s not the case, so why is Johnny talking to Tony at all, let alone getting defensive.

    If part of the point is to show Tony being marginalized, then marginalize him. Have Johnny and Paul discussing the scheme’s details exclusively with each other. Tony’s goal then becomes to have his voice heard, but every time he tries to speak up, he’s brushed off like a child saying, “look what I can do” at a busy dinner party. Escalate from there as an impatient, increasingly agitated Tony tries to come up with passive aggressive ways to interrupt the flow between Johnny and Paul.

    Maybe cap the scene off with Tony finally making an astute observation. Have him pick up on some defect in the plan. Once he says it, there’s silence. Johnny can’t ignore the defect, but he’s dead set on ignoring Tony. Finally, Paul makes a suggestion that would cover the problem and Johnny credits him with the “saving the plan”.

    End scene. Tony’s been successfully ignored.

  • Kirk Diggler

    How about some different mobster names for a change?

    • Nicholas J

      Good idea. I’m off to write a comedy short about a mafia Don that can’t get anyone to take him seriously because his name is Leslie Valentino.

      • pmlove

        And, presumably, a Donald Valentino who just wants to get on with his normal 9-5 white collar life.

  • mulesandmud

    Don’t have much time for SS today, but luckily all the smart people are already saying all the smart stuff. Great thoughts, guys.

    And another great choice of scenes, Carson. First scenes, same genre, lots of meaty parallels. Keep’em coming!

  • klmn

    The first one reads pretty smooth, but unless someone has grown up with that dialect it’s a real challenge. Like C mentioned, it does lack the purpose of the Goodfellas scene.

    Of course, it’s hard to read the second scene without thinking of Joe Pesci and his contribution.

  • ChadStuart

    Well, although I just said we should forget he exists, I think my thought can best be summed up by the opening of Tarrantino’s “Reservoir Dogs”.

    The diner scene has two components, Tarrantino’s thoughts on the meaning of “Like a Virgin”, and Buscemi’s refusal to tip. The first is really just ego-laden filler. Yes, it’s clever and funny, but it doesn’t really jumpstart the story or reveal anything interesting about an important character (the character dies during the robbery and offers nothing substantive to the plot). However, Buscemi’s insistence that he doesn’t tip adds layers to his character and involves the entire table, giving us a hint at their worldview.

    In today’s scene, whether or not the Natives bought Manhattan has no bearing on the story. But, if the focus of the scene were shifted to something about that moment in the restaurant – like tipping in “Reservoir Dogs” – then it is simply more focused and interesting. It doesn’t have to be about the plot, but the scene should be about the scene and not a lesson in history.

  • Poe_Serling

    If your looking for some memorable gangster dialogue, watch White Heat. James Cagney is at the top of his game as Cody Jarrett.

    Roy Parker:
    You wouldn’t kill me in cold blood, would ya?

    Cody Jarrett:
    No, I’ll let ya warm up a little.

    A few scenes later…

    While eating a chicken leg, Jarrett speaks to Parker in the trunk of the sedan.

    Cody Jarrett:
    How ya doin’, Parker?

    Roy Parker:
    It’s stuffy in here, I need some air.

    Cody Jarrett:
    Oh, stuffy, huh? I’ll give ya a little air.

    He pulls a gun from his pants and shoots four times into the trunk.

    • Somersby

      Cagney was unbelievable in this role. As he was in a lot of the stuff he did… by just being Cagney.

      I suspect a lot of the younger frequenters of this board haven’t seen White Heat. Sure, it’s a tad dated, but a classic and well worth viewing. And the blue print for a number of gangster films that followed.

      • Poe_Serling

        “Cagney was unbelievable in this role. As he was in a lot of the stuff he did… by just being Cagney.”

        So true.

        Besides White Heat and his other classic gangster films, the few other Cagney pics that I’ve really enjoyed…

        >>Mister Roberts – talk about an all-star cast… Cagney, Henry Fonda, William Powell, Jack Lemmon, and so forth.

        >>Man of a Thousand Faces – the story of silent star Lon Chaney. That’s future mega-producer Robert Evans in the role of Irving Thalberg.

        >>One, Two, Three – Cagney and Billy Wilder team up for a fast-paced comedy romp set in West Berlin.

  • bluedenham

    Really good stuff, Carson.

  • walker

    Wow, looks like you missed my reference to a famous scene from Mean Streets. I also noticed that you misspelled “fun guy”.

  • fragglewriter

    I have to pat myself on the back for guessing the movie before reading the entire scene and scrolling down.
    Laying the foundation is key. i was thinking that I cannot give an accurate assessment of a scene without knowing what transpired beforehand. But if this is the opening scene, I wouldn’t say it doesn’t work, just switch the order of the scene; like in Goodfellas.
    I would add a different dynamic to the scene by adding an external dymaic and changing the scene around a bit.
    Johnny: hnny says to Tony “You see your car,” how about while he is telling the story, the owner yells to them “You illeterateout that the zookeeper’scar. Tony was so worked up, that when he parked the car, he unknowingly parked it in the adjacent parking lot of a convience store.

  • brenkilco

    I’d go beyond saying the amateur scene has a weak goal. It doesn’t seem to have any point at all. It doesn’t exist so that Johnny can explain his robbery plan. We never get to that. He goes on at length defending stealing. To who? A couple of other criminals. He berates Tony for questioning his authority but we never learn what Tony’s concerns are or why he should have any since it doesn’t appear he knows what the plan is yet. If everything were cut out up to the point Johnny unfolds the paper would anything be lost? Johnny still gets to tell Tony that what he thinks doesn’t matter. This honestly sounds like two pages of dialogue that could all be cut.

    • Logic Ninja

      Yeah, if the scene has a goal it’s to introduce the three characters–but character introductions don’t make a scene. You want to introduce your characters while they’re doing something interesting, something that poses questions and moves the story forward–not while they’re sitting around a table shooting the breeze.

      • bl2d

        I was just thinking about this today — If you’re goals as a writer are perceived by the audience the same way as character goals are?

  • mondog

    Not got too much to add to the comments and Carson’s thoughts- really great and informative btw. Here’s a quick stab at the dialogue.

    Some Notes / Adjustments:
    Johnny – Made guy on the wane, showing signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s and is starting to forget things.

    Paul and Tony are second and third, bound by respect, but afraid to get into anything heavy with Johnny because it could very easily be busted from the start.

    Johnny wants to do a Job, one that will put them over the top in rewards and reputation. Deep down he knows it’s probably his last. Tony and Paul have to talk him out of it, the last one was a disaster, they nearly got killed:

    Paul and Tony march up to the entrance of the restaurant, Paul halts at the door, turns to Tony:

    Paul: Just let me do the talking okay? Keep your trap shut, smile when he makes a joke-

    Tony: Drink my drink and eat my food, I got it, I got it.

    Satisfied, Paul turns and the door handle almost tears out of his hand. Johnny
    marches past them, out of the restaurant.

    Johnny: Excellent timing fellas, come with me. You hungry?

    Paul and Tony exchange looks, their plan already on the floor.

    Paul: Yeah we was kind of hoping,

    Johnny: We’ll eat later, I got something for you. Follow me.

    They turn a corner into an alleyway, garages either side. It’s grubby, dark, the kind of place you might not walk out of. Johnny strides on, all the confidence of a made-man. Nothing to fear except-

    Johnny: Hold on. (stops walking) I thought it was this street. Didn’t you say it was down here Paulie?

    Paul beyond confused, unsure how to respond to the lion of a man asking the question

    Paul: You okay Johnny? You was taking us somewhere, remember?

    Tony: Yeah, you said-

    Paul: Shut your trap Tone.

    Johnny’s face is a knot of confusion, he rubs his furrowed brow with his thick, solid thumb and forefinger.

    Johnny: I was taking you somewhere? (then) Oh, yeah! I was just fucking with yous, this way.

    Paul and Tony follow, reticence now turned to concern. Paul gestures Tony to keep an eye out.

    Paul: So what’s the gig Johnny?

    Johnny approaches a garage door, hard to see the paint through all the graffiti. He bends down, unlocks the door and hoists the metal door open.

    Johnny: You’ll see.

    Inside a mint white van with blacked out rear windows.

    Johnny: State of the art, everything we need to do the job of decade.

    Paul and Tony exchange looks, their interested up. Tony looks a little more hopeful.

    Paul: I don’t know Johnny, last one didn’t turn out as planned, remember?

    Johnny’s searching his pockets for the keys, he strikes out on the first few tries.

    Johnny: Lost the fuckin’ keys (then) Ah. But that was down to the crew, there was one guy I wasn’t sure about. There you go.

    Chirp Chirp of the alarm and central locking.

    Tony: But it was us.

    Paul: I swear on your mother’s life Tony, I will fucking end you if you more than breath for the next hour.

    Johnny: This is it boys, everything you need to get in and get out, surveillance cameras, computers, the whole thing. We’re in the 21st Century now, probably don’t even need our metal.

    Johnny opens the back door of the mint van. Inside – nothing. Showroom empty, not even dust.

    Paul and Tony look at each other. Paul reaches out for Johnny’s arm.

    Paul: Johnny, why don’t we talk about it over dinner?

    Johnny leans against the van, starts to sweat. Paul offers him a handkerchief. Johnny takes it, hand shaking, he mops his brow.

    Johnny: I don’t remember (then) I been fuckin’ robbed!

  • JakeMLB

    Carson, you keep giving us these awesome logic puzzles. Stop it. Some of us should be writing!

    A few things to touch on that we’ve identified over the last few days:

    Proper scene construction

    I’m not gonna say much about this because it’s been addressed throughout this thread and in others. Setting up conflict, scene and character goals is vital to having good dialogue.

    Scene POV

    I touched on this yesterday but there are issues with our amateur script again here. In the second example, the scene opens on Billy (you’ll have to check the full script). Right after that a sharply dressed Hood complements Billy and Billy responds positively (his ego is being stroked). Only then does Tommy enter and immediately we’re introduced to the conflict between the two men allowing us to immediately understand where the scene is headed as Tommy is immediately guarded while Billy is puffing his ego. Again, within the first act of the scene, everything is set up for the subsequent acts.

    Now let’s look at our first example. Again, as yesterday, it begins simply with all three men at a table. From this construction, we don’t know who the focus of the scene is on. Whose our protagonist? Scenes need to ground us in the perspective of the character we care about because we as the audience are supposed to identify with that character and experience the story through their eyes (obviously there are exceptions like ensembles, etc.).

    Dialogue and diction

    Beyond the scene construction and scene POV, the differences in the actual dialogue being spoken between the two scenes is glaring. Some of this is just pure talent. An ear for dialogue. Years of experience. Rigorous research. Few writers could likely write such exceptional dialogue. But some of this can be learned. I linked in an earlier post about tools and techniques to use in dialogue that color dialogue and make it truer to life but it’s worth reposting. Notice in the GOODFELLA’S example some of the techniques on display:

    ECHOING

    TOMMY (forcing a laugh): Hey, Billy. Watch the suit.

    BATTS (squeezing Tommy’s cheek, a little too hard): Listen to him. ‘Watch the suit,’ he says. A little pisser I’ve known all my life. Hey, Tommy, don’t get too big.

    COMEBACK LINE

    BATTS: (laughing, to the crowd at the bar) Busting his balls? (to Tommy) If I was busting your balls, I’d send you home for your shine box.

    And so on. Aside from that, notice the use of periods (sentence fragments) and commas and lengthening of words to flavor the dialogue.

    http://scriptshadow.blogspot.com/2012/01/interview-with-tawnya-bhattacharya-from.html

    • klmn

      “Carson, you keep giving us these awesome logic puzzles. Stop it. Some of us should be writing!”

      Only two more days. You can hang on that long.

      Great analysis. Your last paragraph was very perceptive.

  • LV426

    As Carson mentioned the first scene felt like there was a void of conflict.

    A robbery is also kind of boring for this kind of movie. Been there done that. Unless this script is based on a true mafia story or is a heist flick where these three guys are going to plan and execute an elaborate caper, I’d change the subject. Maybe instead of talking about robbery, they’re talking about a fellow mobster they were just ordered to do a hit on. It’s a guy they grew up around, and someone that everyone loves even though he is a big dufus that always fucks things up.

    This to me, does three things:

    1) Adds the potential for conflict. “Get outta here! Whack Jerry! Dafuck they want us to whack Jerry for?”

    2) Allows for sneaking in some exposition/backstory. “Hey, didn’t Jerry date your sister for awhile? Yeah. Your Mom was gonna kill him cause it was Carla. She was twelve and Jer was like sixteen.”

    3)

  • Dale T

    JOHNNY: Hey Paulie relax. Don’t make this fucking personal. Anyway, do you know how much we paid for Manhattan Island?

    One of my pet peeves in a script is when characters are conveying exposition through questions. Theoretically it sounds like a clever way to hide exposition through dialogue, but I think it sucks all tension out of the scene. Asking questions psychologically is in itself a way to relieve tension. We ask questions because we hate “not knowing”. Though in story not knowing is what keeps readers engaged.

    In this case it’s not like the scene is trying to lead up to this big mystery about how much these gangsters paid Manhattan Island for. However the fact that Johnny is politely reminding Tony about a fact they themselves already knew, it tells me he’s sort of afraid of angering Tony for almost implying that he’s stupid that he has to ask it in question form. But then a couple of lines later:

    JOHNNY: You were just sayin’ what? What was it that you just so happened to say?

    TONY: I just wanted to make sure that everything was accounted for. That all things were taken into consideration.

    Johnny switches his tone up by being aggressive, and then Tony is the one relieving the tension by appeasing to Johnny’s ire by answering his question. To me that isn’t very mobster like.

    I think this is a problem for a lot of mobster scripts I read. I don’t think many writers are able to grasp that mobster persona all that well. The one movie that nails it right on the head for me is Reservoir Dogs. They’re rude to each other, they’re unappeasing to each other’s feelings, and they make statements instead of ask questions. And if they do ask questions it’s because they want to legitimately know about a piece of information to enhance their own knowledge.

  • Casper Chris

    Carson wrote:

    People sitting around tables talking is really hard to make interesting.

    Not really. You just need conflict.

    The best scene in Goodfellas is when they’re sitting at the table and Tommy goes:
    Funny how? I mean,funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you?

    One of the best scenes in American Beauty is when Lester, Carolyn and Jane are sitting around the dinner table.
    “It was… spectacular.”

    The best scene in The Hunt (which I mentioned yesterday) is when that burly-looking guy is sitting at the table asking the little girl some very uncomfortable questions.

    I’d argue all those scenes are better than the one you picked today (even with the overt physical threat).

    • LV426

      I agree.

      Just look at interrogation scenes in cop shows and crime films.

      It’s just people sitting around a table talking. Except in this case the goals drive things. The cops want to get to the truth, or get a confession. The suspect wants to go free and will lie or withhold information to save their own ass.

      Or the cops are asking a witness to come forth and testify, except the witness is scared of potential criminal retribution. It could be detectives just doing an interview with someone who knows the suspect.

      Maybe it’s a mistress that lies to protect her lover.

      Or a mother or sibling that lies to protect their kin.

      It could be someone who is embarrassed to help out. Maybe it’s a guy who witnessed a shooting, except it was in the parking lot of a strip club. He doesn’t want his wife and kids or his employer to potentially find out, so he lies and says he wasn’t there or didn’t see anything.

      With all of this stuff, there are stakes and tension and specific character motivations built into the scene before anyone sits down at the table and utters a word.

  • LV426

    I thought this might be relevant.

    I don’t know if any of you are watching the series “Ray Donovan” on the Showtime channel. In the last couple of episodes, Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight) is planning a robbery with a buddy (who is an old man pot head ex-safe cracker parolee with cancer and a medical marijuana card). Voight’s character is also an older man. These two are planning a robbery. A robbery of a marijuana shop. Two old guys robbing the cash filled safe of a pot shop. The first accomplice they have cut in on this caper is a prostitute that hangs around the dingy apartment building they live in. Her job is to distract the security guard with a blow job. They need muscle so Mickey’s messed up twitchy ex-boxer son is brought in, cause he needs the cash so he can move to Ireland. Then things get complicated when Mickey’s corrupt parole officer sniffs around and A) has to be paid off so that he won’t report them and B) so that Mickey’s ankle monitor can be take off without setting off any alarms.

    And this is just the planning stage of this robbery.

    What makes this work though is all the unique elements that are adding up to something fun and interesting, as well as a slightly silly equation.

    There is the different venue for the crime. Not the typical bank or jewelry store we’ve seen cinematic criminals knock over hundreds of times before. Here we have a pot store being knocked over because of the way the laws are written in regards to legal marijuana. They have to keep a lot of cash on the premises. So this has opened up a nice opportunity for some crooks to grab a bunch of dough.

    There is the motley crew of crooks. They aren’t cliche bank robbers, mobsters, or junkie crooks. It’s two experienced old man criminals just looking for an easy score, a hooker, a boxer, and a parole officer. That is much more fun than just another bunch of movie mobsters.

    There is tension. Can these old dogs pull it off? Maybe they’re too worn down to do this now? Then there is a second jolt of suspense when the parole officer finds out something isn’t right. Will he uncover their plan? If he does, will he report it? Or can we pay him off? Even then, with a payoff, will he still screw us in the end?

    Now, this is not relayed in one scene. So the comparison isn’t exactly fair, however, the robbery in this season of Ray Donovan is fun because it feels so different. Those unique elements add up and really give it juice. I see none of that kind of thing in the amateur scene posted today. No real sense of who these three guys are. No real unique element to set it apart from the typical mafia flick. No interesting angle on robbery. Yeah, mob guys are into criminal activities. That’s a given. Why talk about robbery like it were some taboo subject? It just didn’t make a lot sense to me in the context of this criminal world these guys move through on a daily basis. It was just flat really.

  • Casper Chris

    Oh, and kudos to the first writer for this one:

    “If you have a problem with that I can get you a nice pair of cement boots and you can take it up with a flounder.”

    That’s a memorable line for sure.

    • Kirk Diggler

      “Good artists copy, great artists steal” – Picasso

  • Erica

    I think too it could be considered a “safe” way for the writer/producer to construct the scene. Possibly even less likely, a lazy way to write. By keeping things simple and not added that extra “oh snap, did that just happen”.

  • Zapotage

    Really enjoying these dialogue articles and learning tons. Big thanks to Carson for this! The pros setting the foundation for the scene with motives, stakes and conflict are inspiring. From this point on, I will look at every scene I write to make sure it’s not a snoozer.

    I’d have to say “table talking” isn’t always bad, but it needs conflict.

    Goodfellas has a scene with people sitting around a table talking, but it is one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. I’m talking about the famous “am I a clown?” scene with Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta where we see just how unpredictable and scary Pesci’s Tommy can be. We all know how the scene plays out with what seems to be a growing threat against Henry Hill transform into a friendly prank. However, after that scene, we don’t believe Tommy was completely joking. We are sold on his “loose cannon” nature.

    There is also the scene where Henry Hill is visited by his wife and kids at the jail. They are sitting down talking. However, the baby can’t stop crying, his wife starts yelling and I think she even pulls out some of his drugs catching the attention of the guards. Major tension for the main character. So, even when the pros write a scene with people sitting around talking, there is usually tension growing to keep you on the edge of your seat.

    Inglourious Basterds has an incredibly long scene in the tavern that consists of people sitting, talking, and a playing a drinking game. However, the tension is through the roof and we know it’s not going to end well. We are hooked and this allows Tarantino to write plenty of dialogue, some might consider superfluous, but the scene is electric.

    • LV426

      Casino also has some good table scenes with conflict.

      There’s the bit where Ace Rothstein (Robert De Niro) shows up at the diner where wife Ginger (Sharon Stone) and her sleazy hustler ex-lover Lester Diamond (James Woods) are meeting at.

      Also the one with Ginger confronting Ace at Nicky Santoro’s (Joe Pesci) restaurant.

  • Somersby

    I think you’re right about the f-word. It’s become too easy to use. Mind you, the general populace seems to have embraced it – and as writers, we should be horrified that it has become and adjective, verb and noun in waaaay too many conversations.

    I have been guilty of overusing it myself. A fairly conservative friend read one of my scripts, liked the story, but was REALLY uncomfortable with the language. My instinct was to defend its use. It’s authentic, it’s raw, it’s edgy, I told her.

    It’s lazy, she said.

    She was right, of course. I rewrote the script with the lazy language in mind and discovered it affected things other than just the dialogue. The rethinking needed to shed the “laziness” helped me economize scenes, define characters in a way I hadn’t seen them before, and trim the story to its core. The original script was heavy on attitude, light on substance.

    And substance always trumps attitude.

    • ThomasBrownen

      I second this comment. All of it.

  • Midnight Luck

    I believe it is absolutely critical that EACH and EVERY scene have a purpose.
    Have a Direction, have meaning.
    Have one or more of these: Irony, Stakes, but especially have DRAMA.

    Most amateur scenes have, well, None or Very Little of it.
    It seems that writers mistake Clever Dialogue for INTERESTING SCENES.

    Yet, it doesn’t work. If the scene doesn’t have any interest whatsoever to it, it doesn’t matter how CLEVER your two (or three or 20) talking heads are blabbering back and forth to each other, no one will remember, And worse, NO ONE will CARE.

    I think someone was talking a few days ago about WHY IT IS so many Amateur writers BEGIN a script Immediately with loads of Dialogue. If they don’t open with it, then they try to get to it as fast as possible.
    I am in total agreement.
    Why before setting up the world you are dropping us into, before establishing Character (which can be established much easier with Action than Dialogue, as half the time the Dialogue isn’t what the Character wants, believes or agree’s with), before there is almost ANY picture in our minds of where we are, or what you want us to see and understand, are we pulverized with a mass of Dialogue?
    I believe it’s because most of the writers believe:
    A) Dialogue is easy and quickly to whip out
    B) Dialogue looks sparse on the Page
    C) They can make clever dialogue like Tarantino, that this is where they will get noticed
    D) That Most of what HAPPENS in the script is based in Dialogue, that Drama is because of Dialogue, and/or that Dialogue is what sets things into motion in a Movie.

    I disagree with most all of this. I believe Dialogue is one of the LAST things that should be focused on in the script. All the other mechanics and parts need to be in place and rock solid BEFORE ANY Dialogue can work. Without all those other parts of the script working, Dialogue will just be empty blathering with no weight, meaning, drama, or impact.

    I really believe, that EVERY scene in the script needs to have something driving it. Something with INTENSITY. Something about the scene should turn. The Protagonist is Up, then Down. The Protagonist is fighting hard Not to lose their standing/place/control/money/power/love and failing miserably, or just barely hanging on. Every once in a while they can succeed, but until the end it should be a false success, or success which complicates their wants and plans even more.

    Even if a scene feels like it should be a cooling off point after some intense scene, or if the writer thinks there is a reason to just let a scene or two be mellow, It CANNOT stop. It Can’t be BORING. And that is what it is if NOTHING is happening. In this cooling off scene, something still needs to be changing, turning, happening. If the Character is enjoying a nap after being chased, then something needs to INTERRUPT that scene.

    Take for example, the scene in the first BOURNE IDENTITY. Where DAMON and POTENTE’s characters go to an ex-boyfriend of hers to lay low. They get there, it feels like everything is calm. It is out in fields, not near anything, just kind of peaceful. The boyfriend comes back with his kids, it gets a bit tense as he meets Bourne, but then it cools down when he agrees to let them spend the night. They sleep, and everything SEEMS calm and peaceful, when SUDDENLY Jason knows something isn’t right. He tells the Ex to get his kids and go into the basement. Everything changes. The Stakes are Raised. During the night he wasn’t able to sleep, he was up before everyone else, there was still drama, tension, all kinds of things going on in what was acting as a cooling down scene.

    So many scripts seem to take an opposite approach, and I honestly can’t figure why. They LOAD their scripts with people sitting around chatting, spout DEEP dialogue about anything, or have some stoners sitting around smoking bongs firing off inane thoughts about the world, the universe, life, etc, and imagine it is Stellar, mind blowing and intriguing dialogue and storytelling. It isn’t. Without an underlying CURRENT of ENERGY and POWER in the scene, it will just lie there lifeless and cold.

    • Kirk Diggler

      People love referencing Tarantino on this site. So I’ll point to Tarantino as the answer to your statement here.

      “So many scripts seem to take an opposite approach, and I honestly can’t figure why. They LOAD their scripts with people sitting around chatting, spout DEEP dialogue about anything, or have some stoners sitting around smoking bongs firing off inane thoughts about the world, the universe, life, etc,”

      The first scene in the first film Tarantino directed. This is what writers are trying to emulate and failing badly. It’s all Quentin’s fault!

      • Midnight Luck

        yes I know. That is exactly what I was talking about.
        people fell all over it when it came out. It became uber-famous overnight. The table scene where he refuses to tip, the table scene where they discuss Madonna.
        Suddenly everyone wanted to write like Tarantino, and everyone tries. And everyone fails.
        It is amazing that it seems a huge majority of amateurs are STILL trying to emulate him, all these years later. And not any of his films from current times, but usually Reservoir Dogs, and sometimes Pulp Fiction.
        The thing that made Tarantino huge was that he had his own style and he made it a brand. People need to find their own style. That is the ONLY way to stand out and possibly be noticed.
        Yes he picked and referenced all kinds of other artists, but in the end, he created his own thing, and had a clear, distinct, and incredibly interesting voice. He was, and is, one of a kind.
        Trying to be like him is one of the dumbest moves a writer can make.

        And it is all his fault. If Tarantino had never appeared, we ALL would be rich and famous and working writers by now.
        Damn Tarantino.

  • jgrey

    How about this for a rewrite of the first scene (apologies to the author if I am taking the story off track).

    A busy evening at a popular Italian restaurant. Johnny, Tony, and Paul are sitting around a table eating and drinking dinner. Each is wearing a red tie to signify their allegiance to the gang.

    JOHNNY: There’s nothing wrong with robbery. Stealing is a gift handed down to us by our forefathers.

    TONY: Yeah?

    JOHNNY: Yeah. Do you know how much we paid the fucking Indians
    for Manhattan Island?

    PAUL: Yeah, wasn’t it like–

    JOHNNY: it was—well it was a very, very tiny amount for the whole fucking Island.

    TONY: So. At least they got something.

    JOHNNY: (to Tony) What do you mean?

    TONY: It—it just seems like we’re not really getting what we
    deserve, that’s all.

    JOHNNY: Who cares about what we deserve? What the Indians got was probably not even enough to pay our fucking bar tab.Did they get what they deserved?

    Johnny glances outside and sees Tony’s Jaguar in the parking
    lot. It gives him an idea.

    JOHNNY (CONT’D): (to Tony) Your Jaguar out there. Imagine you
    just sold it to me for a bar tab not knowing what the potential of what that car is going to be worth in the future. Are you going to be mad at me for making the deal?

    Johnny looks around the table. Nobody has an answer.

    Johnny holds out his empty hand to Tony.

    TONY: What?

    JOHNNY: Your pink slip.

    Tony glances nervously around the table.

    JOHNNY: Congratulations Tony, you just sold me your car for a bar tab.

    TONY: What the—Come on Johnny,

    JOHNNY: Look, a deal’s a deal. Right Paul?

    It’s all in Paul’s hands now. He glances helplessly to Tony,
    then drops his head.

    PAUL: Yeah, a deal’s a deal.

    JOHNNY: Then it’s done. Tell you what boys, I’ll get the check because I got such a great deal on the Jag. Paul, you and Tony meet me at the car. Tony, you can ride shotgun.

  • Erica

    Okay with today’s lesson, I’m going to try and do my take on the scene from what I’ve learned.

    JOHNNY, TONY, and PAUL are sitting around a
    table. Johnny’s suit jacket is slung over the back of his chair. They are all
    enjoying a small meal. Each man wears a red tie to signify their allegiance to
    their gang.

    JOHNNY singles a WAITER who is dressed in black
    pants, a white shirt and vest serving a MAN who sits punching commands into a
    laptop while music plays.

    To the WAITER

    MAN: fine, another coffee. (beat) And water too.

    The WAITER looks over at JOHNNY finally and
    begins to walk over.

    Johnny attention back on Tony.

    JOHNNY: You’re a fuckin’ moron aren’t you?

    TONY: That’s a little harsh don’t ya think?

    JOHNNY: No I think it’s the right word. There’s
    nothing wrong with robbery. Stealing is a gift handed down to us by our
    forefathers.

    Tony answers sarcastically.

    TONY: Is that fucking so?

    JOHNNY: Yes, Tony, it’s fucking so. And if you
    don’t shut your lips for a second I’m gonna sew ‘em up.

    PAUL: Hey, hey, Johnny, calm down.

    WAITER arrives at the table.

    JOHNNY: Hey Paulie relax. Don’t make this
    fucking personal. Anyway, do you know how much we paid for Manhattan Island?

    Tony doesn’t answer.

    Johnny looks up to the Waiter finally.

    JOHNNY (CONT’D): Five bucks. That’s what.
    We spent five bucks on this ashtray and now it’s one of the biggest
    commerce centers of the entire world.

    WAITER: I’d say you got a deal. Can I get you guys anything else.

    TONY: So what,

    To the Waiter.

    JOHNNY:
    Another round. Oh and have that
    asshole turn of his Fucking music in here.

    The Waiter glances over to the Man with the
    Laptop.

    WAITER:
    I’ll see what I can do.

    Johnny glares at the Waiter. The Waiter leaves the table and walks back to
    the Man with the Laptop. The two have a
    quite conversation.

    The MAN with the laptop looks back on Johnny and
    his table. With his hand he makes a gun,
    and pulls the Trigger.

    Johnny almost jumps out of his chair, but Tony
    stops him.

    JOHNNY:
    That little FUCK! HE’S A DEAD
    MAN.

    PAUL: Hey, HEY, Johnny, CALM THE FUCK down. You talk about a job and now you wanna blow
    some punks head off in here. THINK ABOUT
    IT.

    Tony who is just ignoring what’s going on
    carries on.

    TONY: at
    least they got something. I never left a five spot in a safe I just robbed.

    Johnny rubs his ears, then his eyes.

    JOHNNY: Tony, Tony, you fucking idiot.

    Johnny turns to the window behind him.

    JOHNNY (CONT’D): Tony, you see your fucking
    Jaguar out there.

    A Jaguar rests in the parking lot.

    JOHNNY (CONT’D): Now imagine not knowing what
    the potential of a car was then being offered a buck for it. You don’t know any
    better so you take the offer, then I turn around and make a fortune, I’ve just
    stolen your fortune.

    TONY: Yeah but if I didn’t know–

    JOHNNY: It doesn’t matter. (stern) In the
    constitution it says that I am guaranteed life, liberty, pursuit of F’n
    happiness. And how…

    PAUL: ..Money.

    John rubs Paul’s head.

    JOHNNY: That’s right Paul, and if I have to
    steal to get the money that makes me happy then I’m gonna steal my mother
    fucking ass off.

    Johnny turns and looks over at the Man with the
    Laptop.

    JOHNNY: What
    is his fucking problem.

    The laptop MUSIC gets louder.

    TONY: All I was sayin’ is the plan better be
    tight.

    JOHNNY: And just how long have you been doing
    this?

    Tony looks at Paul.

    TONY: No, no I was just sayin’.

    JOHNNY: What
    was it that you just so happened to say?

    TONY: I just wanted to make sure that everything
    was accounted for. That all things were taken into consideration.

    JOHNNY: So you’re the fucking Don now?

    WE HEAR in the background the sound of Police
    Sirens.

    TONY: That’s not what I’m sayin’.

    JOHNNY: Alright was there another ceremony? Are
    you a made man now?

    TONY: No.

    JOHNNY: But I am so everything I say goes. If
    you have a problem with that I can get you a nice pair of cement boots and you
    can take it up with a flounder.

    Johnny pulls a folded piece of paper out of his
    jacket and opens it.

    Two POLICE OFFICERS enter the room and look
    around.

    JOHNNY just stares at the OFFICERS.

    The OFFICERS scan the room, then walk over to the MAN with the LAPTOP.

    TONY: Alright, but Johnny…

    PAUL: Tony just shut up.

    TONY: What I was just sayin’…

    PAUL It don’t matter.

    The OFFICERS arrest the MAN with the LAPTOP.

    • https://thebarkbitesback.wordpress.com/ Jim

      Good call on the lack of emotion. I stated there was a lack of reaction by Ellie, which is what the audience really relies on for interpretation (I’m working on a couple of articles regarding this myself, particularly with farce). That’s one of the contributing factors as to why the scene felt stagnant.