Writing/Shooting Dialogue: What's your take?

wolfkinara Website User Posts: 1

Hi all!

Excited to be in the works for my next short film! I am currently wrapping up my screenplay, but I seem to be constantly changing the dialogue. I seem to be always thinking of better ways of how the dialogue should play out, but otherwise, I'm very settled with the story. I know there are directors out there who do last minute changes to their script and sometimes even let their actors/actresses improvise their dialogue in some instances. I have a few questions:

-I was wondering how everyone else's experience with dialogue was? Any tips?
-Did you ever have the talent improvise and how did it go?
-Did you have the actors/actresses rehearse before the shoot or had them go right there on the spot?

I do want to mention that my main lead has no acting experience, but has experience dancing both on stage and on camera so he at least has a sense of space.

I'm still casting my supporting talent, but it's most likely going to be someone with community theater experience and also has been a therapist for 20 years as her main job, which is awesome because that character is a therapist.

Thank you all in advance!


  • rutxer
    rutxer Website User Posts: 176
    edited December 2019

    Disclaimer: purely hobbiyst here, doing a couple short films a year with other hobbyists, many of them first time on camera, ever.

    My tips:

    • Less is more (few humans are great with long sentences)
    • Coach the actors on how you want them to react, especially if they aren't actors. Most of them will be worried about their own next line, forgetting that half of acting is reacting
    • Try to make the characters speak with their own voice (whether its phrasing, pace, choice or words, etc)
    • Coverage, coverage, coverage, coverage and then, some more coverage :) Maybe you can build something that makes sense in post

    Did I ever let them improvise?

    • Yep. Worked better than the empty script we had but... wouldn't do it again.
    • Normal people when improvising (speaking) we have a ton of hmmmms, eeerrrs, aaaaand, unfinished sentences, that (unless intented) become useless when you try to edit them. Good improvisers are a gold mine I imagine, but I haven't been so lucky
    • We don't quite rehearse, but we have full table reading with the "actors". It's then when they get tangled in words, or some sentences sound weird for some of them. At least, make them read their lines aloud for you, and adjust them together.

    Oh, and you can catch my new short film on Friday this week, and decide then if you want to listen to my advice or steer clear from it  :D:D

  • triforcefx
    triforcefx United StatesModerator, Website User Posts: 1,267 Moderator
    edited December 2019


    I'm hardly a pro, but here's some of my thoughts and opinions.

    Improvisation- I believe improvisation is generally a good thing. In fact, some of the greatest lines in cinema history were improvised lines. I have found that I've gotten the best results by allowing improvisation, or even on set rewrites of the script.

    Occasionally, there will be scenes and dialogue that have little to no room to bend (for instance, important plot details might be missed if not properly executed). In this case, let them know the level of exactness you need.

     Rehersals- I would send everyone a final (or near final) version of the script as far in advance as I could. If you're a week from your shoot date, but the script still isn't done, at least get them what you have to that point and keep them up to date with any major revisions. Let them know their input and questions are welcome.

    Shortly before the shoot, (depending on schedules, this could be a few days before or the day of) do a readthrough of the script with all your actors. Have them say it as if they were saying it on set. Allow them to do a bit of acting if they like. Allow people to suggest changes and additions (you may find that a line that looks good on paper doesn't sound right when it's being performed).

    On set, you might have a quick dry-run rehearsal, HOWEVER, most of your "rehearsals" will actually be your individual takes. This is where you adjust lighting, camera, sound, etc., as well as further adjustments to the script and screenplay. Sometimes you'll find that your best takes are the "rehearsal" takes, so the camera should be running during EVERY take. In some cases, it may be appropriate to get multiple versions of the same scene- for instance, one where the actor is allowed to take creative liberties, and one where the script is followed exactly. You want to do everything in your power to avoid reshoots, especially on a small scale, so get as many takes as time allows... Try to get at least 2 or 3 you'd be happy with. Get as much B-roll as possible. During a break, be sure to review things and imagine how it will come together in post. If you find anything that's missing, doesn't look right, or something that needs adjustments, do everything you can to make it right.

     General tips- KEEP YOUR ACTORS HAPPY!!!!!!!! I can't stress this enough. Make sure there's food and other things to do during downtime. Don't be an A-hole. Make sure they have everything they need to be comfortable and to succeed. Be a positive motivator. Even if you're mad, do everything you can to be positive and make it a learning experience. If someone messes up, laugh it off and kindly suggest improvements if needed.

    Don't bind your actors to a specific set of rules and other things. Let them improv. Let them adjust. Arguably, the actor is not only becoming your character, your character is becoming a part of the actor. Let them do what they feel is right for the character. If a scene has emotional beats, let the actor figure out how they're going to portray those emotions. Occasionally, especially with new actors, they may "overact" a bit... Let them know that they don't have to "act" they just have to be themselves.

     There's plenty more that could be said. I'll let others weigh in. Hope this helps!

  • WhiteCranePhoto
    WhiteCranePhoto Website User Posts: 924 Enthusiast
    edited December 2019

    A great way to polish your dialog is to do read through sessions with the actors, where you can get their help crafting the dialog. You'll be able to hear it then, which helps, but you'll also have your actors getting into character so they'll usually have some insight into how they think that their character would say what you want them to.

  • CosmicOutpost
    CosmicOutpost Website User Posts: 5

    From me I'd say:

    Dialog - lock the script. If you've got the head of a writer on the day of the shoot rather than a director then you may concentrate on lines rather than camera, performance or sound. Once you have a usable shot, and if time allows, you can suggest to the actors  relax a little, drop tricky lines or mix things up. 

    Improvise - My scripts tend not to have any spare words in them. Riffing on what is supposed to be said might lead to a story plot being missed. Get the scripted lines first, then see if an improve works for you but don't let it eat up your time,

    Rehearse - My better projects allowed for full read through and rehearsals with cameras framing. I did a project where I was shooting around 8mins a day in one off locations so no rehearsal was possible so I only used experienced actors and crew on that shoot.

    And word on stage actors - they act with their body so explain the frame to them and tell them not to move too much! They will want to watch each take to improve performance so be nice but don't let it become a habit!