Theme & Creating Real Dialogue

Theme can give your script deeper meaning under the surface.

Watch “Minority Report”, “All the President’s Men” “Shakespeare in Love” or anyone of a hundred more great movies and you’ll find that what sets them apart from each other as well as mediocre films is one simple theme. Theme is what a movie is about under the surface.

Two rookie reporters chase down a minor burglary in Washington, DC that ultimately leads to the resignation of a President. All that is on the surface, but under the surface, All the Presidents Men is about Silence.

As mentioned in the last On Location report, China Town is about water, but under the surface it’s about money and if one has enough of it, they can get away with murder and incest.

Determine the theme of your story and watch it grow from a sentence or two occurring in the opening pages of your script to encompass entire scenes and characters by the climax.

“Who knows what goes on with the Marines down in ‘Gitmo?”, asks a character in A Few Good Men. When the credits roll, we find out that intimidation, cruelty, coercion, fraud and lies go on.

Make sure you know what your story is about on the surface and under the surface. The tendency is to think that there are many themes in a particular script. Jealousy, betrayal, revenge, hypocrisy. These could very well be TOPICS in one movie, but there will most likely be just one Theme.

Why Movie Dialogue sounds real, but isn’t.

Perhaps you have written a few scripts and you hope that it gets read and recommended. I hope so too. But too often, new writers create dialogue that is ‘on the nose’ or dialogue where each character sounds the same. Often we think dialogue is there to ‘tell the story’. Movie dialogue does sound real. No doubt! What makes movie dialogue different is that each word has a purpose.

Dialogue has multiple purposes.

It can reinforce or contrast the theme – Thematic dialogue.

Dialogue may contain ‘moral argument’ where characters give reasons why they act in a certain way or do certain things.

It may have a deeper or different meaning under the surface – Subtext Dialogue

It may contain subtext markers such as a warning, prediction or contain sarcasm.

The dialogue may advance the story or reveal character, but please note, that this is the least of its purposes.

Design dialogue with these purposes in mind and I believe you will be on your way to becoming great with the spoken ‘movie’ word.

Next time: What Independent Producers must find in your script!