I liked what writer/director Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud, Take Shelter) said in this interview:
My stated goal as a story teller is to transfer an emotion to the audience.Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've heard that many, many times.
But what does it MEAN? What does it LOOK LIKE? How do you DO IT?
I carried those questions in my head as I read this famous David Mamet script.
What about this script transfers emotion to the audience?
Is it his well loved, often quoted dialogue? Well, yes, in part.
It's also the action that often contrasts with the pitter patter of dialogue.
In the scene below:
- Levene is an older co-worker, scraping by to pay for his daughter's care.
- Roma is younger co-worker on a winning streak.
- They are at their local watering hole.
ex. "Levene takes out his large appointment book, puts it up on the bar. Roma turns to the man on his other side (JAMES LINGK, a man in his thirties, nursing a drink) and begins talking to him.
ROMA (cont'd): They say...they say it was so cold downtown...grown men on the streetcorner were going up to cops begging the cops to shoot them. (to bartender) Thank you.
INSERT OF LEVENE'S APPOINTMENT BOOK
"MONDAY, FEBRUARY SIXTH.
2 p.m.: hospital
4-6 p.m.: Hendersons, Ralph and Marie V 2242 Logan, Lincolnwood
7:30 Sales promotion conference, H-Inn
9 p.m.: hospital
Call Doctor Lewenstein!!!"
ROMA (O.S.): And they say alcohol is the wrong thing to combat the cold.
LINGK (O.S.): Why says that?
ROMA (O.S.): Something I read, like the St. Bernards.
LINGK (O.S.): ...uh huh...
ROMA (O.S.): That they're not supposed to carry brandy, you know, because it's a depressant.
LINGK (O.S.): Uh huh.
ROMA (O.S.) But I subscribe to the Law of Contrary Public Opinion...
ANGLE - ROMA, LINGK, LEVENE AT THE BAR
Levene sighs, folds up his appointment book, starts to down his drink."
Why do we feel such empathy for Levene?
Because we SEE that he is burdened with work and an ill loved one, yet all the small talk also shows us that no one is paying attention.
Levene's action + unimportant small talk (dialogue) = No one sees him.
I know that feeling, don't you?
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I'm thinking a lot more now about how to best use images + dialogue (contrasting or complementary) to convey specific emotions.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)(1st draft)
by David Mamet
Adapted from his play