The "Truth" about the 5 Movie Dialogue Functions (Part 2)

Flat and unintentional movie dialogue is one of the Top 7 Deadly Flaws of a Bad Screenplay.

And it has the power to get your screenplay tossed, instead of read.

How do you write an effective dialogue, a dialogue that REALLY contributes to your story?

Make sure it fulfills these 5 dialogue functions.

Colonel Jessep

Movie dialogue function #2: Revealing character

We asked the Colonel Jessep from the screenplay "A Few Good Men", written by Aaron Sorkin, to lead us through the 5 movie dialogue functions.

Why? because he's an extraordinary character who uses one or more of these functions every time he speaks.
And he has no issue letting us know the "truth" about what they are and how to use them.

Colonel, in the previous article about the first movie dialogue function, "Moving the action forward" you covered the 5 movie dialogue functions as well as their purpose and gave your views about "on the nose dialogue".

Can you let us know about the second movie dialogue function, "revealing character"? what do you mean by that?

Col. Jessep:
What people say and how they say it, defines them. Their way of speaking reflects their background, education and values.

A marine will speak differently from a lawyer, a priest or a politician in Washington.

Look at me. I live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. I have a great responsibility. I am in the business of saving lives. That gives my speaking.

Colonel, could you give us an example?

Col. Jessep:
No problem, son. I'll give you three. And then I'll ask you what it says about me.

Example #1: these are the first lines I say in the screenplay to Lt Kendrick about the Private Santiago who wants to be transferred off the base.

                                 JESSEP                     Who the fuck is PFC William T.                      Santiago.                                                           KENDRICK                     Sir, Santiago is a member of Second                      Platoon, Delta.                                  JESSEP                     Yeah, well, apparently he's not very                      happy down here at Shangri-La, cause                      he's written letters to everyone but                      Santa Claus asking for a transfer.                      And now he's telling tales about a                      fenceline shooting. 

Example #2: I speak to Lt Daniel Kaffee about commander Galloway (in her presence).

                                 JESSEP                     I want to tell you something Danny                      and listen up 'cause I mean this:                      You're the luckiest man in the world.                      There is, believe me gentlemen,                      nothing sexier on earth than a woman                      you have to salute in the morning.                      Promote 'em all I say. 

Example #3: I have a conversation with the late Captain Markinson about the transfer of private Santiago.

                                  JESSEP                     Transfer Santiago. Yes I suppose                      you're right. I suppose that's the                      thing to do. Wait. Wait. I've got a                      better idea. Let's transfer the whole                      squad off the base. Let's -- on second                      thought -- Windward. The whole                      Windward division, let's transfer                      'em off the base. Jon, go on out                      there and get those boys down off                      the fence, they're packing their                      bags.                          (calling out)                     Tom!            The ORDERLY cones in from the outer office.                                  ORDERLY                     Sir!                                  JESSEP                     Got me the President on the phone,                      we're surrendering our position in                      Cuba.                                  ORDERLY                     Yes sir!                                  JESSEP                     Wait a minute, Tom.            The ORDERLY stops.                                  JESSEP                          (continuing)                     Don't call the President just yet.                      Maybe we should consider this for a                      second. Maybe -- and I'm just spit                      balling here -- but maybe we as                      officers have a responsibility to                      train Santiago. Maybe we as officers                      have a responsibility to this country                      to see that the men and women charged                      with its security are trained                      professionals. Yes. I'm certain I                      once read that somewhere. And now                      I'm thinking that your suggestion of                      transferring Santiago, while                      expeditious, and certainly painless,                      might not be in a manner of speaking,                      the American way. Santiago stays                      where he is. We're gonna train the                      lad. You're in charge, Jon. Santiago                      doesn't make 4.1 on his next fitness                      report, I'm gonna blame you. Then                      I'm gonna kill you.      

So, looking at this second movie dialogue function, "revealing character", what do all these dialogues say about me?

Permission to speak freely, Sir!

Col. Jessep:
Permission granted, son.

You've got a sense of humor - borderline sarcastic, are theatrical, mysoginist, arrogant, full of yourself, enjoy dominating and humiliating others, and nobody should ever f.. around with you - excuse my French.

How am I doing? Sir!

Col. Jessep:
I'm gonna tear your eyes right outta your head and piss in your dead skull. You f.. with the wrong marine.

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Want more examples about this function?

Check the movie dialogue rule #7 (knowing your characters intimately).

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The 5 movie dialogue functions - Find out about Part 3 of this interview:

It's all about Communicating information.


Pictures and screenplay extracts:

"A Few Good Men" - Jack Nicholson (Colonel Jessep), Tom Cruise (Lt Kaffee); Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), Rob Reiner (director), Robert Richardson (director of photography), Columbia Pictures and Castle Rock Entertainment

Looks like somebody's home*

Go from 5 movie dialogue functions (part 2) to Home page

* Memento, screenplay written by Christopher Nolan

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