May 17 2019

“Nobody Talks Like That”

Pulp-FictionThis was an ongoing note from producers I had on a particularly difficult project. They became extreme micromanagers on almost every creative decision, which finally came down to analyzing every line of dialogue in the script. The crux of our disconnect finally came to a head one day when my producer said to me, “Your dialogue is just not realistic. Nobody talks like that.”

Nobody talks like that. Hmm.

This issue went on for many months.  It was crucial to these producers that my characters — characters in an animated movie, in a fantastical situation — always use vocabulary and phrases that EVERYONE would use. The dialogue had to be  “natural” and “common” and “relatable.” I’ll be honest — when I write, I never really think about this. I just go with my instincts and let things flow. So maybe I’m the one who doesn’t talk like everyone else.

Then so be it.

I take real issue with this note. So it’s worth talking about. My goal in writing dialogue is clearly different than these producers. If my dialogue makes my characters speak in a way that is different from everyone else, I wear that badge with honor. Because that means that not only are my characters unique and heightened and interesting, but so is my voice as a writer.

Ask Quentin Tarantino. Or John Hughes. Or Wes Anderson. Or Kevin Smith. Or Diablo Cody. Or Mindy Kaling. Or Judd Apatow. Or Tina Fey. Or Jordan Peele. Or Spike Lee. I COULD GO ON AND ON. These people are known for — and yes, accused of — making their characters talk in a unique way that “no one else does.”

And they. Are. Icons.

Liz LemonBut let’s set that aside and go even deeper to ask: Why do we go to the movies? What do we want from the people on screen? We want a heightened experience. We want profound speeches. We want fast wit. We want to be surprised by memorable, quotable words that WE NEVER HEAR FROM EACH OTHER IN REAL LIFE. Sorry I shouted that last part, but I feel strongly about it.

So yes, of course I strive to write natural dialogue. But no, I will NOT force my characters to talk like “normal people talk” by eliminating an interesting word choice, a clever punchline, or a more elegant turn of phrase. Because “normal” is boring. And that makes a writer’s voice flatline into something that has no punch at all.

I worked with these producers for months to find a middle ground, but we never really found it. It was an exhausting, frustrating process. And it resulted in what I would call very “middle of the road” scenes. Until producers allow writers and directors to truly be their strange, unique selves, they’ll never get “the good stuff” that they can’t quite put their finger on. They’ll never create the films we want to watch for years to come.

Marvel Studios' AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR..Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) w/ Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Wong (Benedict Wong) in the background L to R. ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018


another site by
DIGABYTE