Spice up your movie dialogue with the list technique


Did you know that a flat movie dialogue is one of the Top 7 Deadly Flaws of a Bad Screenplay?

And it's one of the main reasons for a screenplay to get tossed instead of read ?

One of the 13 rules to write original dialogues talks about the use of dialogue techniques.

Today, the list technique.

How it works, and when to use it.

Erin Brockovich character about the juxtaposition dialogue technique

List movie dialogue technique - 101

Whatascript interviews an expert to get to the bottom of this movie dialogue technique.

Meet Erin Brockovich, the main character of the screenplay of the same name, written by Susannah Grant.

What a script!:
First, many people say that writing movie dialogue cannot be taught. What do you say to these people?

Erin:
Bullshit. Fuck if I'll help these jokers spread that lie... Yeah, I'm real glad you brought that up.

You see - I don't know shit about shit, but I have kids. Learned a lot right there... 'cause they use a lot of these movie dialogue techniques: repetition, unexpected response, interruption, juxtaposition, exclamation, exaggeration, avoidance, put down, you name it.

And I'm extremely fast learner. I mean, you show me what to do, and I've got it down. Anyway, that's how I got to this list dialogue technique.

What a script!:
Can you tell us what's this movie dialogue technique about?

Erin:
It's about building a series of words, one after the other to express frustration and make a point.

What a script!:
You for sure very good at it ..

Erin:
Yeah, one of my many talents. Believe it or not, I was Miss Wichita once - Miss Wichita, for Christ sakes. I still got the tiara... I don't know what the hell I was thinking. Anyway... The list movie dialogue technique ...

What a script!:
Right. When do you use it?

Erin:
When I'm pissed off. When I really could nail people's asses to the wall.

What a script!:
How often is that?

Erin:
Let me tell you. There's very few people in the world who don't piss me off 90 percent of the time.

What a script!:
Got it. You've got an example of how you use this movie dialogue technique?

Erin:
Sure. That's the first time I meet my neighbor, George, one of those Zen gods of motorcycle maintenance. And he asks for my phone number. So I say:

                               ERIN
            You want my number?

                               GEORGE
            I do.

                               ERIN
            Which number do you want, George?

                               GEORGE
            You got more than one?

                               ERIN
            Shit, yeah.  I got numbers coming out of
            my ears.  Like, for instance, ten.

                               GEORGE
            Ten?

                               ERIN
            Sure.  That's one of my numbers.  It's how
            many months old my little girl is.

                               GEORGE
            You got a little girl?

                               ERIN
            Yeah.  Sexy, huh?  And here's another: five.
            That's how old my other daughter is.  Seven
            is my son's age.  Two is how many times I
            been married and divorced.  You getting all
            this?  16 is the number of dollars in my
            bank account.  454-3943 is my phone number.
            And with all the other numbers I gave you,
            I'm guessing zero is the number of times
            you're gonna call it.
     

And then, there is this meeting with this California power company's legal team, Miss Sanchez and Mr Buda. And they come to our office with their lame settlement proposal. That's when I knew we started to get those P & G fuckers by the balls.

                                SANCHEZ
            Let's be honest, here.  Two million dollars
            is more money than these people have ever
            dreamed of.

     Erin has no patience for this today.

                               ERIN
            Oh, see, now that pisses me off.  First of
            all -- we got more'n a hundred plaintiffs.
            They may not be sophisticated, but they do
            know how to divide, and two million dollars
            isn't shit when it's split between them.

     Mario and Anna exchange a look.  This is getting interesting.

                               ED
            Erin --

     But there's no stopping her.

                               ERIN
            And second of all -- these people don't
            dream about being rich.  They dream about
            being able to watch their kids swim in a
            pool without worrying they'll have to have a
            hysterectomy at age 20, like Rosa Diaz -- a
            client of ours -- or have their spine
            deteriorate like Stan Bloom.  Another client
            of ours.  So before you come back here with
            another lame-ass offer, I want you to think
            real hard about what your spine is worth,
            Mr. Buda -- or what you'd expect someone to
            pay you for your uterus, Miss Sanchez --
            then you take out your calculator and
            multiply that number by a hundred.  Anything
            less than that is a waste of our time.
    
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What a script!:
I notice that you use this movie dialogue technique with your boss Ed too ...

Erin:
Yeah. He pisses me off too. At the beginning of the story, I phone him, again and again. And he never returns my calls. So I say - and this is the scene you see in the picture above -

                               ERIN
            You never called me back.  I left messages.

                               ED
            You did?  Wow, sorry about that.
                        (beat)
            Listen, Mario's a little not so bright.  He
            seems to think that you said --

                               ERIN
            There's two things I can't stand, Mr. Masry.
            Being ignored, and being lied to.  You did
            both.
   

What a script!:
To conclude, there is one line, which made us think of an interview we had with Prem Kumar, from the script Slumdog millionaire on the put down dialogue technique.
You ask your boss to give you a job. You stop at some point and say to his secretary who stares at you:

                              ERIN
               You getting every word of this down,
               honey, or am I talking too fast for you!?
      

I was wondering, do you know, Prem Kumar?

Erin:
Yeah, I met him in Dudetown, a real shmuck.


Other movie dialogue techniques:


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Credits:

Picture and screenplay extracts:
-- "Erin Brockovich" - Julia Roberts, Albert Finney; Susannah Grant (screenplay), Edward Lachman (cinematography), Steven Soderbergh (director)


Tell her you're not gonna be home for supper.*:

Go from List Movie Dialogue Technique to Whatascript! Home page

* The Departed, screenplay written by William Monahan

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