13 movie dialogue rules to write great dialogues (part 5)

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 ?

So, if you wonder if YOU broke any of these 13 rules, or how you can write an original dialogue, check this series of articles.

It's practical and full of movie scripts and video examples.

Brill confronts Robert Dean in this scene of Enemy of the State

Movie dialogue rule #10. Fire Bob, his family and friends

We asked our dialogue expert, David, aka Blablator, to lead us through the 13 movie dialogue rules.

If you missed the first four parts of this series, you may want to check them out first.
Here is the link to Part 1, where it all started.

What a script!:
Forgive my ignorance, but who's Bob?

Bob is one of the most used characters in screenplays written by beginners.

What a script!:
What makes him so popular?

He has 2 talents:

1. He's always there when a screenwriter wants to provide backstory or technical information to the audience.

2. He's a great listener and doesn't say much while being litterally "bombarded" with data

What a script!:
A bit like me, actually ...

As a matter of fact, yes!

The movie dialogue goes typically like this:

		                              BOB                  I met Barbara the other day ...                               TOM                  You don't mean Barbara, my ex                    wife, with whom I had 2 kids, one                  who leaves abroad on a scholar-                  ship and the other one who does                    not want to speak to me?                                BOB                  Yes, Barbara.       
or like this:
		                              DOCTOR                  This patient has a very rare                   tumor.  ...                               BOB THE INTERN                  How rare?                                                 DOCTOR                  Only 0.5 per mille of the white                   population having brown eyes and                   a cell phone with a pre-paid                   subscription gets it.      

We call this movie dialogue practice - that you must avoid at all costs: "As you know, Bob".
Sounds familiar?

What a script!:
I remember Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham making jokes about "Bob" in their screenplay "Spaceballs".

Dark Helmet Correct.
In their script, Dark Helmet has been given the order to replenish the supply of air of the Spaceball planet by taking every breath of air away from their peace-loving neighbor, Planet Druidia.
Only Lone Starr can prevent this evil plan to happen.
There is a moment when Spaceball Colonel Sandurz explains the plan:

		                              SANDURZ                  Once we kidnap the princess, we                   will force her father, King Roland,                   to give us the combination to the                   air shield. Thereby destroying                   Planet Druidia and saving Planet                  Spaceballs                               DARK HELMET                        (turning to the camera)                  Everybody got that. Good!       

Later on Dark Helmet faces Lone Star for the first time:

		                              DARK HELMET                  Before you die there is something                   you should know about us, Lone                   Star.                                                LONE STAR                  What?                                DARK HELMET                  I am your father's brother's                   nephew's cousin's former roommate.      

What a script!:
If you fire Bob, how do you deal with movie dialogue exposition then?

The best way is through conflict and/or action. This way, you give information to the audience without having them notice it.

Here is a great example of the application of this movie dialogue rule of firing Bob, and using conflict and action instead.

It comes from the film Enemy of the State, written by David Marconi.

The life of Robert Dean, a succesful young lawyer gets upside down when an old friend gives him - without his knowing - a tape containing the assassination of a politician.

In this scene Dean (right) and Brill, an ex NSA agent, argue about the listening devices that Brill discovered on Dean. While they talk on the rooftop of a hotel, the NSA rushes into the hotel lobby. Brill and Robert Dean on the roof in this scene of Enemy of the State

                          DEAN             Is this all about Pintero?                           BRILL             Do you think the mob uses devices              like this?              ...              You are followed with a GPS              sidetracker. It pulses at 24              Giga-Hertz.                          DEAN             I don't know what that means.                          BRILL             It's like a LowJack, only two generations             better than what the police have.                           DEAN             And what does that mean?                          BRILL             You speak English?                          DEAN             Obviously not that well.                                       BRILL             What kind of jerk are you?              It means the NSA can read the time             off your fucking wristwatch. 
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What a script!:
If I follow this movie dialogue rule, I should fire Bob. But you said that his family and friends should be fired too. Who are they?

In Bob's family we find some variances of the "as you know Bob..." practice. For example:
- let me get this straight, or
- tell me again, or
- are you saying ...?

Bob's friends are made of these reminders or information to the audience that do not sound natural or logical. A few examples:

  • "Bob, are you enjoying my cake? - Yes, Susan. - And you, Peter?, not as much as Jenny if I look at her plate".

    Screenwriters do that sometimes when introducing new characters

    "Are you the cop who saved little Jenny from the fire?"

    or when being afraid we forgot the name of a character introduced a long time ago

    "Tell me again, Jenny, how's your brother Mark doing?"

  • "Remember, the bomb will explose at 11 a.m. You need to get out of the building before."

    I believe you'd remember the time of the explosion if your life was at stake, wouldn't you?.

  • "We are so pleased to welcome you at our school, here in downtown Los Angeles".

    If you made it to the school, you would know it is in downtown LA. A simple "We are so pleased to welcome you at our school" would be enough. And you could even reduce it to "We are so pleased to welcome you" if it was obvious for everyone you are in a school.

Aright guys uh.. Lets start sharing. Don?*

* Hancock - screenplay written by Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan

Find out about the next 3 movie dialogue rules


Pictures and screenplay extracts:

-- "Spaceballs" - Mel Brooks (Dark Helmet), Mel Brooks (director), Nick McLean (director of photography), Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham (screenplay)

-- "Enemy of the State" - Will Smith (Dean), Gene Hackman (Brill), Tony Scott (director), Dan Mindel (director of photography), David Marconi (screenplay)

The journey home*:

Go from 13 Movie Dialogue Rules (part 5) to Whatascript! Home page

* "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King", screenplay written by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson

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