Picture-536A picture that actually has to DO with today’s 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.

Our first script is a black comedy. The scene takes place in a restaurant between 30-something Ellie and 40-something Patrick. To piss off her brother, Henry, Ellie is going on a date with Patrick. But Ellie doesn’t know a few things. She doesn’t know Henry owes Patrick a lot of money. And she doesn’t know that Patrick is a actually a psychopath. Patrick is also in the dark about the fact that Ellie is Henry’s sister.

Ellie sits with Patrick. They look at menus. Patrick’s phone rings. It’s Henry calling.

PATRICK (turning off phone): This fucking guy. Sorry. You ever just wanna beat someone to death for no good reason?

ELLIE: All the time.

Waitress comes to the table –

WAITRESS: Are you ready to order?

PATRICK (pointing to menus): Does it look like we’re ready to order? Cause our menu’s are open. Look, I’m even pointing to them being open right now.

Waitress blinks and walks away.

PATRICK (CONT’D): People are so rude, you know? They don’t even observe before they speak. Terrible.

ELLIE: It’s the body you gotta worry about… The dead body that would result from the random beating of someone for no good reason.

PATRICK: Oh yeah, but that’s an easy problem to fix and frankly its a very easy problem to fix.

ELLIE: Are you a dead body expert?

PATRICK: I am the dead body expert. Definitely.

ELLIE: “Definitely”, huh? So then, how do you bury a dead body?

PATRICK: Well, it’s not hard really. Shovel, dirt to shovel dirt, garbage bags. Location is more the problem. You gotta have a good locale. It’s like opening a hotel. Same rules, except it’s dead bodies.

ELLIE: So maybe a nice beach-front property? Palm trees.

PATRICK: Well that’s the opposite of what you gotta do. You gotta go for the shit parts. The shit parts of the shit parts. Upstate. Upstate’s really shitty. Just trees there… nobody likes trees.

ELLIE: I hate trees.

PATRICK: Too many leaves.

ELLIE: Yep. Exactly right.

PATRICK (looking at surroundings): Dead bodies, dead bodies, dead bodies…

ELLIE: So what do you really do?

PATRICK: … I work at a strip club.

ELLIE: You own the strip club?

PATRICK: No, I clean shit. I’m a janitor. If I owned it, I wouldn’t be working there. What do you do?

ELLIE: I’m a debt collector.

PATRICK: A debt collector? Why would you do that? You like making people hate you?

ELLIE: It’s a job.

PATRICK: It is a job. It is definitely a job. A terrible job, honestly, getting yourself yelled at all day for a good reason.

ELLIE: And what’s the good reason?

PATRICK: Well, you know, these people are in debt and they don’t need you telling them it.

ELLIE: It’s a job.

PATRICK I know it’s a job. I said it’s a job. I’m just saying it’s a really bad terrible one.

ELLIE: You clean shit for a living.

PATRICK: And puke and piss and I hate it. I got a terrible job.

ELLIE (about to get up, leave): So you have no right criticizing my shit job when you literally have a shit job.

PATRICK: Well then I’m sorry, I really am. But frankly, what I’m saying is I’m tired of a shit life. Literally. I got dreams. Exploration. Don’t you?

That last line resonates with Ellie. She closes her menu. Patrick snaps at the waitress, points to the closed menus, signaling that they’re ready to order.

The second scene is from Silver Linings Playbook. In it, Pat and Tiffany, both mentally troubled, have their first “date” together, although Pat sees Tiffany more as a potential friend. After getting out of the nuthouse, Pat’s sole objective has been to get back together with his wife, Nikki. The scene takes place in a diner where the waitress is pissed that Pat and Tiffany have only ordered a single bowl of cereal and tea.

THE RAISIN BRAN IS DELIVERED BY THE ANNOYED OLDER WAITRESS, who also puts tea in front of Tiffany. Pat opens the little box of cereal and pours it into the bowl.

PAT PEOPLES: Do you want to share this?

TIFFANY: Are you sure?

Pat pushes the bowl of raisin bran to the center of the table. They sit eating their raisin bran in silence.

PAT PEOPLES: How’s your thing going?

TIFFANY: What thing?

PAT PEOPLES: I don’t know, your dancing thing.

She looks at him blankly. Tiffany shrugs and nods.

TIFFANY: It’s fine. How’s your restraining order?

PAT PEOPLES: I’m not sure I’d call the restraining order ‘my thing’, but getting back with Nikki is, and I’ve been doing pretty well except for a minor incident at the doctor’s office–

TIFFANY: And the so-called accident with the weights.

PAT PEOPLES (a little bugged): Yeah. I wish I could explain it all in a letter because it was minor and I can explain it.

TIFFANY: I could get a letter to her, I see her sometimes with my sister.

PAT PEOPLES: Really? Would you do that? Where does she live now?

Tiffany opens her mouth to say, then stops.

TIFFANY: I’d be breaking the law.

PAT PEOPLES: I get it, it’s cool. Is it in this part of town?

TIFFANY: I have enough problems as it is.

PAT PEOPLES: No problem, I get it. So you go to her place?

TIFFANY: With my sister. She’s friends with Veronica.

PAT PEOPLES: Does Ronnie go?

TIFFANY: No, he feels weird about it and he’s super scared of anything to do with the law. Or you.

PAT PEOPLES: It would be so awesome if you could give her a letter from me.

TIFFANY: I’d have to hide it from my sister. She’s not into breaking the law, which the letter would definitely be doing.

PAT PEOPLES: But you’d do it?

TIFFANY: I have to be careful. I’m on thin ice with my family, you should hear how I lost my job.

PAT PEOPLES (CONT’D): How did you lose your job?

TIFFANY: By having sex with everybody at the office.

PAT PEOPLES: EVERYbody?

TIFFANY: I was very depressed after Tommy died. It was a lot of people.

She looks him in the eye, and then down, embarrassed.

PAT PEOPLES: We don’t have to talk about it.

TIFFANY (nods, looking down): Thanks.

PAT PEOPLES: How many people was it?

TIFFANY: 11.

PAT PEOPLES: Wow.

TIFFANY: I know.

PAT PEOPLES: Did you get any diseases?

TIFFANY: No, thank God. [She knocks on the table].

PAT PEOPLES (knocks wood also): What was it like?

TIFFANY: I thought we weren’t gonna talk about this.

PAT PEOPLES: We don’t have to.

TIFFANY: Do you really wanna know?

PAT PEOPLES: Absolutely.

TIFFANY: The good part felt very good, very free, very fun, very alive, and the bad part felt hot at first then lonely, then even more depressed, but I couldn’t stop and it turned into a pattern.

PAT PEOPLES: And you stopped.

TIFFANY: Yeah, I got fired, they put me on some meds, made me go to therapy. I moved home. Things are more steady now. But still lonely.

Pat nods sympathetic, doesn’t want to go there, looks away, changes gears.

PAT PEOPLES: Let’s go back to the letter. What if you secretly gave it to Nikki when your sister was in the bathroom?

TIFFANY: That works.

PAT STANDS ABRUPTLY.

PAT PEOPLES: This is great, I have to go home to write the letter.

TIFFANY: Can I at least finish my tea?

PAT PEOPLES: WAIT. Did Veronica tell Nikki about the dinner we had? Why did your sister invite me? Was it a test?

TIFFANY: I kinda got that feeling, yeah.

PAT PEOPLES: I did a great job. Didn’t I?

TIFFANY: She said you were cool, basically.

PAT PEOPLES: What does ‘basically’ mean, that I’m some percent not cool?

TIFFANY: She said you were, cool but also, you know –

PAT PEOPLES: No, I don’t know.

TIFFANY: How you are. Relax, it’s OK.

PAT PEOPLES: What does that mean, ‘how I am?’

TIFFANY Sort of like me.

PAT PEOPLES: SORT OF LIKE YOU?! I hope to God your sister didn’t say that!

TIFFANY (stung and hurt): Why?!

PAT PEOPLES: Because we’re different people, Tiffany. We can’t be lumped together, Nikki won’t like that.

She looks at him, STUNNED AND HURT.

TIFFANY: You think I’m crazier than you are?!

Pat tilts his head and stares at her, like ‘Come on, it’s obvious.’ TIFFANY’S JAW DROPS, HER FACE TURNS RED, SHE IS FURIOUS. SHE THROWS HER NAPKIN DOWN.

TIFFANY (CONT’D): YOU COCKY, JUDGEMENTAL SON OF A BITCH! [Patrons look] Forget I offered to help, it must be a CRAZY idea because I’m SO MUCH CRAZIER THAN YOU ARE, HA, HAA, HA, HAAA, I’M A CRAZY SLUT WITH A DEAD HUSBAND!

People stare as Tiffany gets up, grabs her purse, and heads for the door as Pat SCRAMBLES to his feet in a panic.

PAT PEOPLES: WAIT! I’m sorry, Tiffany –

HE STARTS AFTER HER, BUT THE WAITRESS STEPS INTO HIS PATH.

OLDER WAITRESS: Slow down, Raisin Bran, we got the check. All $3.79 of it.

SHE TEARS THE CHECK FROM HER PAD AND HANDS IT TO HIM AS HE WATCHES TIFFANY WALK OUT THE DOOR.

PAT PEOPLES: (searches his pockets) Dammit, where is it? I have the money, I swear.

THE WAITRESS WATCHES, DOUBTING HIM. HE PULLS OUT THE TWO TWENTIES.

PAT PEOPLES (CONT’D): Ta-daa! Keep the change.

OLDER WAITRESS Really?! You’re the best tipper I ever met!

PAT PEOPLES (rushing out): Tell that to Nikki.

OLDER WAITRESS: Who the hell is Nikki?

If the posts this week were a competition, today’s entries would’ve finished the closest. Whenever you’re writing a “get to know you” scene, the trick is to do them a little differently. They’re SUCH common scenes that if you don’t find a fresh spin on them, they can die a long boring death on the page.

Which is no problem for these two scenes.  Both give us an offbeat intro. Patrick yells at the waitress for asking them if they’re ready to order. And Pat makes the kooky choice of sharing his small bowl of raisin bran with Tiffany. Unexpected choices at the outset of scenes tell me we’re going to get unexpected choices throughout the scene. So in both cases, I was in.

But I think I liked Silver Linings’ a little better. It was easier to read, and a lot of that had to do with its crisp short dialogue lines. Crisp and short leads to a quick rhythm, and I noticed that the chunkier lines in the first scene gave the scene a herkier-jerkier feel.

Plus, I encountered a few of those dreaded “hiccups” in the first scene. Early on, Ellie says, “It’s the body you gotta worry about… The dead body that would result from the random beating of someone for no good reason.” This line had me rubbing my eyes. I’d forgotten we were talking about dead bodies. I don’t know why because when I looked up above, I saw that the first line indeed mentioned dead bodies, but for some reason it didn’t stick, leaving me confused about what Ellie was talking about.

The line itself is also a classic “trip-up” line. “The dead body that would result from the random beating of someone for no good reason.” It’s hard to tell where the word-groupings start and stop in this sentence, making it unclear what exactly’s being said until you sound it out. It’s the writer’s job to identify these hard to read lines and figure out a way to simplify them.

This is followed by “Oh yeah, but that’s an easy problem to fix and frankly it’s a very easy problem to fix.” This is another trip-up line. I think the writer’s trying to be funny here, having the character repeat himself. But I’m not positive. Part of me thinks it’s a mistake. So again, I’m getting “tripped up.” And that’s twice in two lines.

But from there, the dialogue improves. And I generally like how both characters speak, especially Patrick. He doesn’t talk like someone whose every line has been carefully primped and preened for its big moment in the sun. He kind of stumbles over his words, speaks in fragments. “Well that’s the opposite of what you gotta do. You gotta go for the shit parts. The shit parts of the shit parts. Upstate. Upstate’s really shitty. Just trees there… nobody likes trees.” That sounds imperfect and therefore real to me, which is one of the reasons the scene works.

As for as the Silver Linings scene, like all good dialogue, there’s something going on underneath the surface (Tiffany likes Pat and is trying to get him). There’s also conflict, but it’s not as obvious as what we’re used to. Tiffany wants Pat, but Pat isn’t interested in Tiffany. He still loves his ex-wife.

If you look closer, you realize that this conflict drives the scene. We like Tiffany. We want her to get what she wants (Pat). So we stick around to see if she succeeds. In many ways, this becomes a mini-script. Once we know Tiffany’s goal, we can add obstacles to that goal, and those obstacles become the drama that keeps the scene interesting.

For instance, everything’s going well for Tiffany at first. Pat shares a bowl of cereal with her. Score! But then he finds out she can get a note to his wife (obstacle!) and success is in doubt. But Tiffany wisely realizes she can use this this note to her advantage, as a way to spend more time with Pat. But then Pat calls her crazy and she goes ballistic.

I think that’s another reason this dialogue works so well. The scene isn’t a straight line. It has highs and it has lows. Drama IS highs and lows so chances are, if you have these extremes in your scene, we’re going to keep reading.

But the real reason this scene works has nothing to do with the scene itself. It has to do with a decision that was made long before the scene was ever written. The scene works because these two characters are wackadoodles. They’re both “dialogue-friendly” characters. And when you write dialogue-friendly characters into your script, you’re guaranteed to have more instances of good dialogue, especially if they’re the leads in your film. That was the genius of Silver Linings Playbook. It gave us two mentally offbeat characters who naturally say a lot of weird and entertaining shit.

I’m interested to see how you guys call this one. Silver Linings is good but the amateur entry isn’t chopped liver. Weigh in in the comments section!

What I learned: In a “get to know you” scene, one (or both) of your characters will inevitably talk about their past. These stories HAVE TO BE INTERESTING. If you give us some boring shit about how they used to be a first grade teacher but decided to quit and go back to school, you’re better off not mentioning their past at all. Give us something interesting or zip it. Tiffany’s backstory is that she banged 11 guys at work and got fired for it. That’s the kind of story that makes the reader sit up and go, “Whoa.” It’s the kind of backstory that’s WORTH bringing up.

  • sotiris5000

    Best amateur dialogue of the week so far. Both are really good considering both scenes are people sitting in a restaurant talking.

    • carsonreeves1

      As much as I complain about sit-down-and-talk scenes, my research into finding comparable pro scenes this week has led me to find there are a lot more sit-down-and talk scenes than I thought.

      • Casper Chris

        I was trying to tell you that yesterday ;)

        • klmn

          Maybe you two should sit down and talk about it.

          • Casper Chris

            I see what you did there.

  • Ambrose*

    No Thursday article today, Carson?
    I am really disappointed.
    Nothing against these You vs. Pro comparisons but two or three of them prove the point, in my opinion.
    I always look forward to the Thursday articles and the weekly reviews and discussions of pro scripts.
    Alas, it’s not to be this week.

    • carsonreeves1

      lol, I know you love them Ambrose. Alas, just one more week. I’ve been thinking of some good topics too. :)

      • NajlaAnn

        Oh goody. The more examples discussed the better. :)

      • Ambrose*

        I wasn’t dumping on all of your hard work, Carson. I know it takes a lot of time and hard work to put up topics everyday.
        Yeah, you know how much I enjoy your Thursday articles each week. So I was disappointed to not get one today.
        I’m glad to see that you knew where I was coming from.
        I’m looking forward to what the future brings at Scriptshadow.

    • leitskev

      Prove the point? There’s no point. It’s an exercise, and each one has the potential to give us something to learn from.

  • Andrew Parker

    The first one was pretty solid. Could be tightened up a bit and have a little better flow.

    Silver Linings though encompasses all the lessons learned so far:

    1. Write like actual human beings talk. And make it consistent with the character. (Pat always tries to shrug off his past troubles, Tiffany has a certain bluntness)
    2. Use memorable specifics both in action lines (small bowl of raisin bran) and dialogue (“by having sex with everybody at the office”)
    3. Give each character a goal (Pat wants to get a letter to Nikki, Tiffany wants to impress Pat with the power she wields with access to Nikki)
    4. Vary the sentence length and structures. Create a rhythm between the two, like it’s a dance (apropos for Silver Linings).
    5. End on a strong button (“Ta-daa!” & “Tell that to Nikki” when he massively overpays)
    6. Set up the transition to the next scene (he’s going to run after her)

  • leitskev

    Second scene(Silver Linings) has two hinges: when Tiffany offers to bring the letter, an then when Pat pisses her off by insinuating she is more crazy than he is. The great thing about the scene…and it’s kind of unique in this film…is that even by this early point in the story, we don’t want to the protagonist to achieve his goal of getting back with his wife. Rather, we want him to get together with Tiffany. We see they both have tremendous need and are perfect for each other. The antagonistic force is internal: Pat is focused on his wife. But already by this scene we want to see their relationship develop. Ironically, Tiffany uses the one thing that matters to Pat(getting back with Nikki) to try to get closer to him. That is irony which is particularly clever and tasteful.

    As far as the first scene it’s really a hard one to comment on without knowing more. Certainly it stands testament to the ability if the writer. It flows well, and Patrick feels distinct and more real than most amateur scripts. It’s clearly a set up scene that will pay off further down the road in the story. Patrick does have certain psychopathic qualities in that he doesn’t care what anyone thinks. And the end seems to suggest that Ellie is the protagonist, and her meeting with Patrick will ultimately spark change within her own life. The dialogue is well enough done that I would be inclined to keep reading the work, and that’s an achievement in itself, to get the reader to be willing to continue.

    It’s hard to know from this what the overall goals are of the characters, or even what they are in the scene. Like Silver Linings, it is also a two hinge scene, though the hinges are more subtle. Ellie gets pissed off by Patrick’s criticism and is about to leave(first hinge)…but then his brutal honesty finally succeeds in getting her to reconsider her own life and dreams. Before she can leave, he points out her closed menu to the waiter and now she’s in for the meal(second hinge).

    We don’t know what the character’s goals are…but I am assuming the writer wants the audience to want these two characters to develop a relationship. Very much like Silver Linings(so excellent choice by Carson). And there is also some irony at play here. The very thing that threatens the development of this relationship is Patrick’s brutal honesty…but this brutal honesty becomes the very thing that draws her in at the end. So the scene is very well crafted on close inspection.

    All of this is a reminder of how we read amateur scripts: too quickly. When I glanced through this scene, my initial impressions were that it showed talent and had a nice flow, but I wasn’t sure of the purpose. But after only a moment’s thought, I was able to figure out the purpose. A lot of amateur writers are very clever and sometimes we have to give the benefit of the doubt that there is a purpose to the scene. Especially if we see talent on display. Then it’s just a patter of taking a moment to look for the purpose, because it’s usually there.

    • mulesandmud

      A scene is only as good as its hinges.

      • leitskev

        Lol, good call, and a great scene too!

  • Logic Ninja

    The amateur scene has so many things going for it. It takes the SILVER LININGS scene to school for dramatic tension and irony.

    But the amateur scene falls flat because it has no goal. Neither character really wants anything out of the exchange. Ellie’s just there to piss off her brother, a goal she’s accomplished by showing up. No clue why Patrick’s there, unless it’s to eventually kill Ellie–but he doesn’t get any closer to that goal in the dialogue.

    Since there’s no goal, we can’t root for anyone. By the way–irrelevant tangent–could that be the whole sum of moviegoing? Rooting for someone?

    In the SILVER LININGS scene, as Carson pointed out, both characters have goals. Tiffany wants to get with Pat; Pat wants to get a letter to Nikki. Better yet, the goals oppose each other. The conflict that follows is natural.

    • http://apairoftools.wordpress.com/ Sebastian Cornet

      More than rooting for someone the essence of moviegoing (and storytelling in general) is to throw somebody in a maze packed with monsters and booby traps, and see how the hell they make it out.

      • Logic Ninja

        True! I suppose I’m thinking of the audience’s perspective more than the filmmaker’s. So long as the audience has someone on the screen to root for, it seems they’re usually happy.

        But maybe that’s only part of the picture. Audiences also enjoy learning new information, being reminded of their own lives, and seeing cool visual effects.

  • Scott Strybos

    I think the second, professional scene is more polished and overall better than the amateur scene. But one thing the first scene has that the professional doesn’t is the DRAMATIC IRONY. Which I think elevates the scene.

    Ellie, I assume from the intro paragraph, thinks they are just having a quirky, off-beat, first-date conversation. What the audience knows that Ellie doesn’t is that Patrick is being literal, speaking from experience, when he talks about killing people and burying dead bodies.

    (Silver Linings has a little Dramatic Irony, we get the feeling that Tiffany doesn’t know Nikki, and this is a ploy, but we don’t know for sure.)

  • GoIrish

    I agree. I think the beginning of the first is a little off. Patrick comes off too aggressive to start, which makes me think Ellie would be turned off/leave sooner. Maybe delete Patrick’s first reference to beating someone to death. When the waitress stops by, have her say something that Ellie finds rude. Patrick could then offer to kill the waitress, which Ellie interprets as joke-chivalry.
    “You would do that for me?”
    “Sure.”
    “How would you do it?”
    “Do you want her to suffer?”
    Ellie gives a smile.
    “Maybe a butcher’s knife.”
    “Is that messy?”
    “It can be.”
    “What about the body?”
    “Not a problem.”
    “Are you a dead body expert.”

  • carsonreeves1

    yeah, the “a good reason” tripped me up too. Another hiccup I assumed. But then I thought, “maybe he meant it that way?” Even if he did, it was probably the wrong choice since it makes the reader stop and wonder if they read it correctly.

    • klmn

      I think the scene needs editing. “For a good reason” could be cut without hurting the scene. It reads like a first draft. But it does show talent.

  • carsonreeves1

    Man, My Two Cents comes to play.

  • murphologist

    Both scenes are good, but Silver Linings is the vastly superior exchange because it leads to a dramatic crescendo that the amateur scene just doesn’t have. It probably has something to do with the possibility that the first scene only exists to set up and establish the characters while the Silver Linings scene feels like a climactic moment. So I suppose the lesson here is that every sequence of a story needs to have a strong conflict that leads to a mini-catharsis, the effects of which echo throughout the remainder of the script.

  • G.S.

    My biggest takeaway (so far) from this series of case studies has been the importance of establishing organic, plot-progressing conflict in every character interaction. Each character should have a goal, and at least two of those character goals should be in opposition to one another. Without that INTERNAL story-driven foundation, the writer is left with only EXTERNAL story elements to push the scene, i.e. narrative goals, exposition.

    While there are certainly significant differences in stylistic approach that lends itself to good or bad dialogue (cliches, ‘hiccups’, etc.), I think even those things are exacerbated by the absence of goals/conflict. When dialogue wanders, is stilted, jumps from one subject to another, is too exposition-heavy, it’s because we’re seeing the results of either an undirected character interaction, or characters that are only serving what the writer feels she just HAS to do – tell this backstory, show how quirky the character is, introduce characters to audience/one another, talk details about the world. In doing so, the writer shows her hand and in our heads we say, “These aren’t real people.”

    • G.S.

      Another thing I’m getting is a sort of new (general) rule to live by: The weaker the conflict, the shorter the scene should be. Or have I gone too far?

      • klmn

        I think you’re right. Of course you might be trying to do other things as well. Perhaps foreshadowing. Perhaps setting up the dominoes that will topple in the third act.

        That’s why it’s so difficult.

  • Michael

    What is interesting about today’s amateur scene is that Carson gave us some very important backstory about the characters that we didn’t get with the earlier amateur scenes this week (either because Carson deemed it unnecessary or the backstory didn’t exist). The Pro scenes have all been iconic and well known, butting the amateur scenes at a slight disadvantage as far as backstory is concerned.

    Imagine if the scene from Basic Instinct in Monday’s example was an amateur scene we knew nothing about, without any backstory. We wouldn’t know Detective Curran was investigating a murder using an ice pick. The ice pick in the scene would just be an ice pick to chip ice. We wouldn’t be on the edge of a seats wondering if she’s openly taunting him with the murder weapon or is going to stab him with it. There would be no dramatic irony and the scene would seem a lot flatter than it is.

    Likewise, Patrick in today’s amateur scene, being a psychopath (most likely having killed with ease) and discussing beating someone to death, with Ellie taking the conversation to be a joke when she could easily be Patrick’s next victim, is a delicious piece of backstory and dramatic irony that drivers the scene. Great job on the part of the writer.

    What I learned: Something more important than what is being said in dialog has to be going on in the scene. The scene has to be about something and it is best expressed when that something is layered under the scene in backstory, dramatic irony or some other devise, over having it stated directly in the dialog. Letting the reader/audience put two and two together is more engaging than the on-the-nose default of amateurs to discuss “four” is the answer.

    • klmn

      Speaking of ice picks…

    • ArabyChic

      Great point. I think the amateur scene is great. It’s not as telling about the characters, but in many ways it’s much funnier. All the things Carson thinks are hiccups I think are great lines of dialogue. Way to go writer!

  • klmn

    In the first scene, the two are being rude to the waitress for no good reason. That would lose points with the audience.

    But it started out well. I like this exchange:

    PATRICK (turning off phone): This fucking guy. Sorry. You ever just wanna beat someone to death for no good reason?

    ELLIE: All the time.

    If they’re going to murder someone, it would be more effective if they make an effort to appear nice. Like Ted Bundy, for instance.

    • mulesandmud

      Being rude to servers is a cinematic tradition!

      • klmn

        I hate when I get a snotty waitress. When I have to spank one and unleash my inner Adrian Peterson, it just ruins the whole meal.

      • S_P_1

        I didn’t scroll down prior to making my post but I got the same impression.

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

    Despite her motivation, I’m not sure how many women would bother sitting with someone who treated a waitress the way Patrick does, though there’s irony there in that he’s projecting his rudeness onto others.

    What’s lacking is Ellie’s reaction, or lack thereof. Rather she picks up on their conversation pre-interruption like nothing happened which just doesn’t ring true – not to mention she delves into what to do with a dead body which – and perhaps I’m missing some context though I get it’s a black comedy – doesn’t feel like it has any relevance to the scene at hand, yet it goes on…and on…digging the hole its in deeper and deeper (the comment about location and opening a hotel didn’t make any sense whatsoever other than an attempt to be offbeat, I suppose.)

    From the set-ups, I really don’t get much out of the scene itself. Ellie has motivation: to piss off her brother. Her methodology in doing so is go on a date with Patrick. But I’m not sure what GOAL pissing off her brother actually serves, so there’s nothing in the scene that really resonates with the set-up because nothing is paid off.

    I guess you could say there’s a slight twist in that Ellie’s the one who ends up being ticked off by Patrick’s comments that she takes personally, but I’m “told” the last line resonates with Ellie, but don’t understand why (at least with regards to the scene itself.) It’s like there’s supposed to be some element of truth to Patrick’s words, but if that’s the case, it seems as though it should be pertinent to her own motivations, desires and actions which aren’t particularly clear (which may have nothing to do with the writing – just a by-product of analyzing a scene without much of anything to support it, sort of like reading it in a vacuum).

    The dialogue itself, particularly Patrick’s, isn’t bad at all, per se; it has a directness and edge to it – I just think that the mechanics of the scene, its underpinnings, don’t feel as fleshed out as they could be, leaving the dialogue somewhat there for the sake of having dialogue. With two characters having “hidden agendas” and not realizing certain elements about one another that the audience should be privy to, there’s all sorts of room for dramatic irony to play out – but again, perhaps it’s because I’m NOT privy to everything else some of that may feel lost…not sure.

    It’s never really clear what Patrick wants in this scene and that’s half the picture, so to speak, that’s missing. Also, when Ellie starts to leave, but changes her mind and sits back down, it’s because she’s offended – not because she doesn’t want to (apparently) go through with pissing her brother, Henry, off. So when she sits back down, it’s unclear whether (or why) her motivation has changed: does she suddenly see something worthwhile in Patrick? That’s the feeling that’s conveyed, but as mentioned before, it seems as though anything Patrick says that gets her to sit back down should have something to do with her motivation for being there in the first place…and I don’t think it does.

    • http://apairoftools.wordpress.com/ Sebastian Cornet

      So, really, the biggest flaw of the amateur scene is it lacks strong goals for both characters so the scene never comes truly alive.

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

        Right, or at least my perception (I can’t speak for everyone else.) That’s the challenge of doing these single scene breakdowns – so much of understanding depends on what comes before (and after) as that’s where the actual set-up and payoffs are (while this one might be setting something else up or paying something else off.)

        Without that clear goal, there’s no way to determine motivation (hence, why is Ellie furthering the discussion about bodies?). Methodology is covered: she’s attempting to piss off her brother by going on a date with Patrick, but we don’t know what purpose that serves (which is likely the real goal). As a result, there’s also no means for evaluating her progress – does the scene accomplish anything to that end or not? Does it change her motivation, push her in a new direction, give us new information? If not, it’s “flat” and stagnant.

    • Scott Strybos

      Unless Ellie turns out to be a psychopath too. The stars aligned for a match made in heaven.

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

        I started to reply with the same thing elsewhere, but deleted it. For her to bring up the bodies topic organically, Patrick could/should ask for advice when it’s revealed she’s a debt collector. That would cut a bit of the dialogue and bring it full circle.

        “So how do you go about collecting on those who won’t pay?”

        (sarcastic) “We have our ways…we just don’t tell anyone where we bury the bodies. But that wouldn’t work for you.”

        Patrick recoils as if she knows his secret.

        “Why’s that?”

        “It’d be a reason, of course!”

        Patrick takes the thought in with a smile.

        “And a good one at that.”

        “Well you can’t just go around beating people to death for no reason. Only psychopaths do that. Just sayin’.”

        The problem is, and I didn’t point this out before, if Patrick is owed money, why would he take such a stance to a debt collector of all people? He should be milking that because of the position he’s in. That would give him a goal in the scene. Be even “blacker” for a comedy if Patrick were wanting to go straight on this one and do it the right way, hence his asking for advice.

      • klmn

        There are Mom and Pop teams of serial killers. It’s not as common as lone wolf men, or teams of men, but it happens and the cases are usually interesting.

        One case that comes to mind is Kara Homolka and her husband Paul Bernardo. Evidently there was a movie made about the case, titled Karla. I haven’t seen it, so I have no idea of its quality or accuracy.

        • Scott Strybos

          I live in Ontario—not too far from where these two hunted. Karla and Bernardo are well-known to every Canadian. As for the film, I have never seen it and it would be difficult to find any Canadian who has.

          • klmn

            There are others I’m aware of. There is one other, the subject of a book that I’d love to adapt. But unless I can break in with something else, I think it would be a waste of time and money (to acquire the rights).

    • leitskev

      Hard to know without the rest of the story, but I interpreted the scene in this way: Ellie wants to get along with Patrick. She wants to connect. She plays along with the body stuff conversation. She thinks it’s just fun conversation, playful sparring. But then Patrick turns his attack on her by insulting her work. It’s hard to know what Patrick wants, but it’s certainly not to impress Ellie. Maybe he wants to enlist her for something. Insulted by his brutal honesty, Ellie is about to leave. But then his honesty breaks through and actually makes her think: “Maybe I’m really not happy with my life, my job. Maybe I do want more.” So she stays. It’s the beginning of a catalyst that changes her life’s path.

  • Randy Williams

    I was thinking as I read the first scene if the circumstances surrounding this date as described in the preface were taken advantage of?

    Beating someone to death – according to the preface, and the telephone call, we know that Henry is Ellie’s brother and that Patrick isn’t against beating him to death. Yet, Ellie immediately says she thinks “all the time” about beating someone to death and Henry doesn’t really respond to that. Despite his assurance that getting rid of a body is easy, upstate (Loved that!), he should be trying to dissuade her from those thoughts and she won’t give in. That way, we think, OMG, she’s signing her brother’s death warrant!

    The debt- discussing Ellie’s job as a debt collector, Ellie seems content with people hating her all day and Patrick tries to convince her that’s not the way to go and yet he wants a debt repaid himself from her brother. Ellie should be adamant about squeezing people until they pay instead of just saying “It’s a job”?

    Men are often redeemed by their lovely sisters. Some are condemned.

  • mulesandmud

    Must say, I was equally entertained by both scenes almost until the end. What Carson saw as hiccups in the first scene, I saw as mannerisms. Well done.

    The end of the first scene, in which Patrick talks about his dreams and Ellie has a moment of connection with him for a moment, seems to develop their relationship a little bit, and hint at more to follow. Slightly disappointing, though, to have these oddball characters resolve themselves into such conventional aspirations (though I guess that’s the point…they may be odd, but they’re still people). That moment actually echoes the first scene of the week, with the cop talking to the prostitute.

    The Silver Linings scene keeps our players satisfyingly weird all the way to the end. Also, in terms of plot development, it pushes the ball of their relationship downfield in a slightly more concrete way (specific obstacles versus vague emotional connection).

    It’s interesting that Carson discussed the Silver Linings scene so completely from Tiffany’s perspective. JakeMLB has really nailed the importance of scene POV a few times this week, but I do think it’s a credit to the Silver Linings scene that we can feel equal value in both his and her perspectives.

    • JakeMLB

      Yeah I didn’t think it was a hiccup at all. In fact that was my favorite part of the exchange. It was a nice callback and showed that Ellie actually has some edge to her.

      Good point about the scene POV too. SL is obviously a dual-protagonist film so it’s important to feel equal weighting in each scene which this scene does perfectly.

      I didn’t really too much fault with the amateur version outside of the lack of clear goals, a few uses of italics missing (which could be Carson’s fault) and a few examples where words could be cut to improve flow:

      ELLIE: It’s the body you gotta worry about… The dead body that would result from the random beating of someone for no good reason.

      ELLIE: It’s the body you gotta worry about. The dead body from the random beating of someone for no good reason.

      The later bit about the “no good reason” / “a good reason”: regardless of the typo that bit of exchange is a bit messy and confusing. But overall the dialogue is interesting, the descriptive text is kept to a minimum, you can feel the differences in characters, there’s the use of a prop (menu), some good use of echoing and progression, and so on. What the scene lacks for me is a strong goal and hinges as leitskev calls them (dynamic shifts in direction or obstacles really).

      What I’m noticing about these hinges is that they tend to test the characters’ goals so again they’re like second act obstacles in our three act scene structure. The offering of the letter tests Tiffany’s goal of wanting Pat to like her while the “we can’t be lumped together” bit tests Pat’s goal of delivering the letter. It’s not like the first is free of goals but the SL’s scene is stronger given the clear and conflicting goals though in the amateur scene the characters are meeting for the first time so the cards are somewhat stacked against it.

      And man, “tell that to Nicki” made me laugh out loud which is rare. It’s brilliant on so many levels and does so well to hammer Pat’s character and goal in that he’s so oblivious to Nicki and still so obsessive over his wife. That right there is genius.

    • leitskev

      I’m not sure, maybe the writer will chip in, but I think the scene is supposed to show that Patrick at first horrifies Ellie, but then his brutal honesty challenges and intrigues her, and it begins a relationship which will ultimately change her(for good or bad I have no idea).

      • Random Comment Guy

        Hey, guys. This is the writer. I think my scene works, but isn’t as good as it should be. The idea of hinges is interesting. I think the scene already has hinges, but they aren’t clarified enough. I’ll work on it. And leitskev I agree with you except on the horrifying part. Ellie is a misanthrope who enjoys joking about death. She thinks he’s joking like she does. Though I like the idea of her being unsure if he’s joking… maybe that could be a hinge? Anyway, I appreciate all the feedback.

        • leitskev

          Thanks for joining in. A hinge is just a turning point, something that changes the direction. When Patrick starts insulting her job, she decides to leave. That’s a change in direction. The hinge is his insulting her work. Then he turns her direction again, getting her to stay by making her realize maybe he’s right, maybe she should want more. Good luck with it!

  • NajlaAnn

    Excellent discussion and examples. Even with the hiccup, I really enjoyed the Ellie/Patrick dialogue. It came across as interesting, fun and crisp.

  • bluedenham

    SLP is way better than the first scene, because in the diner scene both Pat and Tiffany have goals. And there is conflict. What are the goals of the characters in the first scene? To order dinner? Yes, the dialogue is pretty good, but the scene goes nowhere. After the first few lines, it became boring.

    I’m loving these comparisons, though.

  • Matteo

    I was bored so did a pass of the scene, mostly for my own amusement. Here’s where I’d have gone with it…
    Ellie and Patrick share a booth. Ellie studies her menu, whilst Patrick stares at his vibrating
    phone. It’s Henry calling.

    PATRICK (turning off phone): This fucking guy. You ever just wanna beat someone to death for no good reason?

    ELLIE: All the time.

    Patrick waves his menu in the direction of a Waitress .

    PATRICK: I can’t get this Waitress to notice me…

    ELLIE: I’m not ready to order yet.

    Patrick remains fixed on the Waitress.

    PATRICK: It’s like she’s doing it deliberately… Now she’s fixing her hair…

    ELLIE: What about the body?

    PATRICK: What are you kidding?! She’s like 60!

    Ellie looks up from her menu.

    ELLIE: I mean the dead body… from the person you beat to death… for no good reason.

    PATRICK: Oh that. Well, a dead body isn’t such a big deal.

    ELLIE (mocking): What are you a serial killer?

    PATRICK: Actually,I’m a janitor at a strip club. But you spend your nights cleaning up beer, puke and cum – dead body ain’t nothing special.

    Grossed out, Ellie returns to her menu.

    ELLIE: You’re not helping my appetite.

    PATRICK: You brought it up.

    ELLIE: And boy did you roll with it.

    PATRICK: So what do you do?

    ELLIE: I’m a debt collector.

    PATRICK: Debt collector?! Oh, fuck you! For a second there I was feeling bad. You’re the worst of the worst!

    ELLIE: It’s a job.

    PATRICK: A job, sure. That what you tell the poor sucker pulling out his last gold tooth to pay you off?

    Ellie breaks from her menu, offended.

    ELLIE: Excuse Me?! For your inf–

    PATRICK: Wait. Don’t move! She just noticed us. She’s coming over.

    ELLIE: Well I’m not ready.

    PATRICK: Don’t worry, it’ll take her five minutes to drag herself over here and we’ll be lucky if she doesn’t die at the table.

    ELLIE: Well at least we’ll have you to clean her up if she does.

    PATRICK: And you to snatch her jewelry.

    Ellie smiles and shuts her menu as the waitress arrives at their table.

    WAITRESS: Hi. Are you ready to order?

    ELLIE: I’ll just have a coffee.

    WAITRESS: And for you, sir?

    PATRICK: Huh? Me? Oh…

    Patrick opens his menu.

    PATRICK: I have no idea.

    Ellie instinctively laughs. The waitress shifts awkwardly. They both wait for Patrick.

    • klmn

      I like this.

    • Kirk Diggler

      ELLIE: “Well I’m not ready.”

      PATRICK: “Don’t worry, it’ll take her five minutes to drag herself over here and we’ll be lucky if she doesn’t die at the table.”

      —————
      Good one!

  • GoIrish

    Not 100 percent certain, but I dont think the two twenties made it into the film.

  • Kirk Diggler

    “It is slightly contrived; and I’m not crazy at the flip (when Tiffany gets all mad, etc.)”

    It works perfectly in the film. And it’s not uncommon for bi-polar individuals to flip on a dime like that. Jennifer Lawrence pulled it off.

  • Cfrancis1

    I like the dialogue of the first scene. I agree it’s a little clunky at times but it is fun. Having said that, it feels like a first draft-not-sure-where-this-is-going-so-I’ll-just-keep-writing-and-hope-something-good-comes-out-of-it scene. Which is fine! I do that a lot. Just have characters start talking and see where it goes.

    At the end of the day, though, you have to go back and actually craft the scene. To me, there were no stakes in the first scene. They were just having a wacky conversation. I din’t know what the objective was for either of them. There was a little conflict later on when he insults her but that was born out of the aimless wacky dialogue that preceded it.

    Whereas in the Silver Lining’s scene, there is loads of subtext and conflict. And, yes, I agree that the terse wacky dialogue reads better and sounds more natural.

  • Poe_Serling

    You vs. Pro week…

    An somewhat interesting experiment so far. For me, it’s been hard to get a handle on the amateur scenes. And it’s not an issue of being good or bad… just sorta difficult to get a feel for the essence of any scene when it’s plucked out from the middle of an unknown storyline.

    Like commenter Michael pointed out, all ‘the Pro scenes have all been iconic and well known’ and if you’re familiar with the film… then you have the knowledge of how it plays out in regard to the overall plot – and that’s a huge advantage in understanding and appreciating the thrust of any story being told.

    One quick note on approaching the above amateur scene. Commenter Jim also touched upon this in his excellent post…

    A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a
    nice person.

    — Dave Berry, “25 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years”

    Another take on the scene is to have Patrick treat Ellie really nice, but have his true colors show by the way he mistreats the waitress.

    ***Still looking forward to klmn’s Corridor of Freaks going up against one of the pros.

    • leitskev

      It’s definitely hard to pluck a scene out. Some scenes more than others. Some scenes have a structure that is much more self contained, other scenes are more intrinsically connected to the larger story structure. As an education exercise this is helpful, though, if not entirely fair to the amateur writer.

      I assume the writer has a reason he wants Patrick to come off as kind of a jerk here. From that perspective it’s not like the Silver Linings scene, maybe that is affecting people. I think the point of all this was that Patrick is so brutally honest he is hard for anyone to tolerate…but his unusual frankness eventually has an unanticipated affect on Ellie by confronting her with whether she really is satisfied with her life. That would not work if Patrick was a nice guy. She needs to be confronted in order for her to confront herself.

      I don’t know the writer or the story, just guessing.

      • Poe_Serling

        “I don’t know the writer or the story, just guessing.”

        Yeah, you’ve definitely gleaned a lot more insights from that particular scene than me. Nice job. ;-)

        • leitskev

          I’m probably way off. And I didn’t conclude that until giving it a second read. Hopefully the writer jumps in.

          • Poe_Serling

            “Hopefully the writer jumps in.”

            Unless I missed it, have any of the scene writers chimed in this week?

          • leitskev

            At least one did. I think Tuesday.

          • Poe_Serling

            Oh right… tailmonsterfriend.

  • ripleyy

    This was so unfair – of course the “Silver Linings” scene would win! It’s an instant classic in my opinion, and very difficult to beat. I’ve yet to read a “get to know you scene” / “date scene” that comes even CLOSE to that.

    Still, the amateur script was good but it didn’t quite catch me quite as much and that comes from Patrick. I don’t have the context but I didn’t like Patrick the moment he yelled at the waitress. I think that was rude, and therefore I wasn’t interested in what he was saying. The dialogue was unusual, sure, but it didn’t really offer anything other than in-your-face exposition that Patrick is a psychopath (though, it DOES add subtext!)

    The scene is good, as Ellie is oblivious to Patrick’s real intentions but I feel context would have been much, much better and not a standard scene.

  • S_P_1

    Both scenes rang out unrealistic to me.

    The first scene is a black comedy, do people honestly talk about burying dead bodies in a public restaurant? I also get the sense in the first scene Patrick was written to imitate Jack Nicholson’s character in Five Easy Pieces diner scene. I’m also not sure what the previous scene description has to do with the actual scene. At what point does Henry get brought up or is relevant. The only way Patrick wouldn’t know Tiffany and Henry were siblings is if this were the first few dates. But the topic of conversation implies a longer term relationship.

    The second scene was long winded and pretentious. Why in the script is he listed as Pat Peoples do other characters in the movie or script refer to him as Pat Peoples? Would a woman realistically have sex with 11 men in the same office building outside of the porn industry? That sounds like a male fantasy derived to create some pseudo level of a pathological dysfunction. All the prior conversation was filler so the writer could frame and put on a pedestal TIFFANY: By having sex with everybody at the office.

    PAT PEOPLES: Because we’re different people, Tiffany. We can’t be lumped together, Nikki won’t like that.

    She looks at him, STUNNED AND HURT.

    TIFFANY: You think I’m crazier than you are?!

    Pat tilts his head and stares at her, like ‘Come on, it’s obvious.’ TIFFANY’S JAW DROPS, HER FACE TURNS RED, SHE IS FURIOUS. SHE THROWS HER NAPKIN DOWN.

    TIFFANY (CONT’D): YOU COCKY, JUDGEMENTAL SON OF A BITCH! [Patrons look] Forget I offered to help, it must be a CRAZY idea because I’m SO MUCH CRAZIER THAN YOU ARE, HA, HAA, HA, HAAA, I’M A CRAZY SLUT WITH A DEAD HUSBAND!

    People stare as Tiffany gets up, grabs her purse, and heads for the door as Pat SCRAMBLES to his feet in a panic.

    That entire sequence is FAKE. Tiffany is claiming some sort of moral indignation for announcing she was a office slut.

    I also don’t buy you would give a $16 tip for a $4 meal and snarky service.

    • JakeMLB

      The thing with Silver Linings is that you really have to see it to understand it or at least read the script several times. When you first read the script, it reads quite bizarre and at times feels almost unfinished and off-kilter. Once you understand the script and the characters, you start to see the genius behind it. These are both mentally deranged characters, not your run-of-the-mill Dick and Jane, so it can read fake if you’re not visualizing the characters as intended.

  • Erica

    I’m trying to go through all the comments so I’m not sure if it’s been pointed out yet.

    The first scene reads flat and void of emotions. I’ve seen this discussion before about how to give emotion to a script and when you should. Some say yes, some say wait till the actor gets the script or do two different versions. I don’t know which is right but I would prefer to see some emotions in the lines where there should be.

    PATRICK: No, I clean shit. I’m a janitor. If I owned it, I wouldn’t be working there. What do you do?

    ELLIE: I’m a debt collector.

    PATRICK: A debt collector? Why would you do that? You like making people hate you?

    ELLIE: It’s a job.

    This just seems like it’s monotone. No excitement. Now this could be on purpose here, but here I would think more emotions would be warranted.

    ELLIE (about to get up, leave): So you have no right criticizing my shit job when you literally have a shit job.

    PATRICK: Well then I’m sorry, I really am. But frankly, what I’m saying is I’m tired of a shit life. Literally. I got dreams. Exploration. Don’t you?

    I would put
    (Frustrated)
    ELLIE (as she get’s up to leave): YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO CRITICIZE my SHIT job when (walks away) LITERALLY you have a shit job.
    (beat)
    I’m going to powder my nose.

    The other scene has some emotion. The scene comes alive.

    PAT PEOPLES: Because we’re different people, Tiffany. We can’t be lumped together, Nikki won’t like that.

    She looks at him, STUNNED AND HURT.

    TIFFANY: You think I’m crazier than you are?!

    Pat tilts his head and stares at her,
    like ‘Come on, it’s obvious.’ TIFFANY’S JAW DROPS, HER FACE TURNS RED,
    SHE IS FURIOUS. SHE THROWS HER NAPKIN DOWN.

    TIFFANY (CONT’D): YOU COCKY, JUDGEMENTAL SON OF A BITCH!
    [Patrons look] Forget I offered to help, it must be a CRAZY idea
    because I’m SO MUCH CRAZIER THAN YOU ARE, HA, HAA, HA, HAAA, I’M A CRAZY
    SLUT WITH A DEAD HUSBAND!

    People stare as Tiffany gets up, grabs her purse, and heads for the door as Pat SCRAMBLES to his feet in a panic.

    PAT PEOPLES: WAIT! I’m sorry, Tiffany –

  • Gman

    Wow, I find myself in the unusual position of disagreeing with virtually everybody today regarding the first scene. For me the dialogue was horrific. I mean NOBODY talks that way on a date. Especially not a guy who’s trying to make an impression. Get laid even. And especially not a psycho. A psycho would do everything possible to hide that fact he’s a psycho. He would speak in exaggerated banalities in a forced attempt to appear normal. Here, they talk about burying a dead body like this is fun get to know you conversation, and it’s just weird. Saying “shit” all the time around your date pushes the boundaries of believable behavior in a bad way. I don’t know. Perhaps in context of the entire script the tone here makes sense. I’m having a tough time seeing how, though. I assume this is a first date, which makes the scene even more off kilter. I didn’t read this and think this was a black comedy.

    • Midnight Luck

      I agree.
      In the Amateur scene there is no “Truth” in the dialogue. The scene is completely forced and doesn’t ring true in almost any way.

      In the second scene, the Pro’s, it IS a date, yet his character isn’t interested in her, and while he is a bit kooky, we also “buy” him not caring one bit about impressing her, or trying to impress her or any of that. We understand he is still so wanting of his ex’s interest that he would only be thinking of her, not this girl right in front of him.

      The Amateur scene misses out on creating a Reason for him to be this way, and even for her to be the way she is. It misses that Truth in the scene. It ends up just being a bunch of dialogue and description which We don’t buy, therefore we just aren’t in bed with either of them.

      • Gman

        Yes, the second scene takes place after we’ve both established the two characters and they’ve built some kind of rapport. We know they are kooky and insecure going in.

  • Midnight Luck

    I know everyone has their own perspective on if this is a fair fight.

    I have to say, for me, it is incredibly difficult to read the Pro scenes without hearing the actors voice, seeing their face as they say their dialogue. It becomes difficult to tell if we respond to how they say the line, how they have been blocked and the way the Cinematographer has shot them. The way the light hits them, the music overlaid, the noise all around. All these things are incredibly powerful, even in the brains memory of having seen this some time before. The Amateur’s has absolutely Zero of this to benefit from. Yes I have an incredibly creative mind and am very good at picturing the people in the Amateur scene, I can create all kinds of things in how the scene looks, the way the light hits them, even ambient sound, and sometimes will drop in my own soundtrack if something sparks. But even with the most intense visualization, it still is missing that extra magic that happens with real people, real noise, real celluloid inside our visual cortex and memory.

    That being said, I do my absolute best to read both from a completely detached place. Just read the words and see how I feel about them.

    From this perspective, I still found the Playbook read much better. It made me laugh out loud while reading at many points in the scene. It surprised me over and over, even thought I’ve already seen it, twice. I wasn’t actually picturing either of the leads, the actually Dialogue is hilarious. Just odd speech patterns, and twists of thought. Yet it totally works.

    The Amateur scene, doesn’t work for me. It has nothing moving it. It trips itself up over and over. There was little flow. Dialogue like “for a good reason” absolutely stopped me. I did have to really consider if this was a typo or if it was meant that way. The next line “And what’s a good reason?” tells you it was meant that way, and is correct, but it doesn’t matter. It made me go back and read it like three times to see if I had misread it, or to make sense of it. There were so many times something like that happened to trip up my read.

    Then there is the problem that the two don’t feed off each others words in a real way. They don’t play off the others dialogue realistically. There doesn’t seem to be a reason one person says THIS after that person says THAT. No logic. No form. No reason.
    It just felt like a bunch of “stuff” being said. With no future purpose. It doesn’t lead us toward a direction for the story. Where it might go. Possibilities. It doesn’t give us a puzzle or make us ask questions, besides; ‘What the hell was that?’ Like when Patrick says “They don’t even observe before they speak. Terrible.” and Ellie says “It’s the body you gotta worry about…” and all I can think is “What? what the hell is she talking about? Why did she say that? Was it an earlier conversation? No he was talking about the Waitress, what is she talking about? A body? Who’s body?”-I thought all this, and more, in a blip of a second, my mind confused and mixed up. I had to go back and reread it a few times.
    I think the writer was trying to play off the fact Patrick was saying no one observes before they speak, but it was lost, and it was confusing.

    Once they got to her talking about being a Debt Collector it, briefly, picked up. But only for a sentence or two, then it lost me completely again. The back and forth there was interesting, and Almost funny, but it still didn’t catch. Him saying “You like making people hate you?” was a great response, but I didn’t laugh out loud like I did in the Pro script. Like I said, it was Almost there, but not quite.

    I believe, ultimately, it was because there wasn’t a proper setup in the scene, the dialogue, or anywhere else. It wasn’t Building properly, to then have that dialogue LAND correctly.

    • JakeMLB

      Yeah it’s really difficult to remove the actor’s performance when you’re reading a scene you’re quite familiar with. But even then, if you do try to separate yourself you can still see the difference on the page. As you said, the scene from Silver Linings reads exceptionally well. I mean it’s hilarious even on the page. Going back a few days: I haven’t seen Basic Instinct in decades so I had no recollection of that scene but the professionalism was still there in spades. The deck might be somewhat stacked in that the professional examples are for the most part hallmark scenes of their respective scripts but it’s still easy to see what’s missing from each of the amateur scenes even if they aren’t necessarily the best examples from their respective scripts.

    • Kirk Diggler

      Good points. And I think it’s worth pointing out and I think it’s more or less implied when you talk about the way actors read a line, is that these scripts are fully vetted before a foot of film is shot. I wonder if this is from the SL Playbook shooting script or whether it’s an earlier pre-production draft. Either way, this script is very close to what ends up on screen, It no doubt had the benefit of both Cooper and Lawrence either giving notes or rehearsing the scene until it flows correctly. Who knows what dialogue was changed by either of them or David Russel during rehearsals to make it work. Amateurs don’t have the advantage of professional creative types to help the process along, so we should cut ourselves a break.

    • Random Comment Guy

      This is the writer here. You probably didn’t laugh because I’m not funny :)

      I agree with your comments regarding the line “It’s the body you gotta worry about…”. However, in an earlier draft, I had Patrick respond, commenting on how confusing she made that line. Unfortunately his response had to go because the scene was six pages and I needed to get it down to three in order to submit to carson. I hope this doesn’t come off as an excuse. What I’m asking is this: Do you think it’d be better if i put back in Patrick pointing out how confusing ellies line is, or should I just get rid of the whole thing?

  • bex01

    I really liked the amateur scene today! Interesting characters… I would totally read this script. If the writer is ever in need of some fresh eyes…?

  • Logic Ninja

    OT:

    Does anyone have a copy of one of the Nicholl finalist scripts? I know at least two were out as specs before the contest. Jaybird1092 at yahoo.com, if you have anything. Thanks!!

  • Kirk Diggler

    “As opposed to burying a live body which is much more difficult, or so I’ve heard.”

    Ha.

  • Random Comment Guy

    This is exactly what I was going for and your predictions are accurate. You could say that Patrick is the bomb in a way. We know all about the bomb, but Ellie is unaware.

  • Random Comment Guy

    This is the writer here. I’m noticing you all discuss Patrick as if he is from american psycho. I didn’t intend it as an homage to Patrick Bateman. My Patrick is of irish descent. While he is a psychopath who has killed people, I worry that me calling him a psychopath only pigeon-holes him as a caricature or rip off of other psychopaths. Patrick Bateman is practically a cartoon already. What do you all think I should do? I’m considering doing a name change and not calling him a psychopath in say the logline of character descriptions.

    • LV426

      Maybe say that Patrick is a ‘disturbed individual’ or something like that.

  • grendl

    Every scene could be better. I enjoyed your writing and thanks for providing more context.

    And I would never tell you what to write, but I just wanted to show how she could expound on what he says, taking it a little bit further, then having her hit this wall of emotional ice with his final line.

    There, at that moment she realizes her game has just become a lot more interesting.

    Good luck with it.

  • grendl

    More proof that a movie is more than just its blueprint ( the screenplay ).

    Check out Chewbacca’s screaming. Hilarious.

  • Gman

    I feel ya. I’ve seen all of Silver Linings so I know exactly how that scene presented here fits in context. I have no such advantage when it comes to your scene. It may be that your scene is smashing with respect to the whole. But how am I (or others) supposed to know that without knowing the entirety of your script. That’s why I’m beginning to think that these amateur vs. pro comparisons are a fool’s errand.

  • Random Comment Guy

    I wasn’t being clear when I said that. I think the way Patrick talks is natural, but what he says isn’t necessarily realistic. But realistic doesn’t always equate to good writing in my opinion. Also, thank you for noticing the rhythm! I’ll check out that book as well. Elmore Leonard is a beast.

  • Thunk24

    Not that it has anything to do with script comparisons, but I actually watched Silver Lining’s last night, and I remember this scene vividly. Amazing how much of that dialogue changed or was cut from the finished film. The essence is still there, but it’s a nice reminder that the script is really just a blueprint. Ultimately, it’s about making movies.