Monday, September 19, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Night and the City (1992) - Improvisation & Editing in Dialogue

[Quick Summary: A fast talking lawyer wheels and deals his way into his dream job of being a boxing promoter.]

This is the last script* in the three published screenplays of writer Richard Price.

I think Price has a great ear for snappy dialogue. 

I found his explanations very helpful (from the book's introduction):
I love writing about fast-talkers. I like wheeler-dealers. I love the art of the yackety-yak. I love that because what keeps me fresh as a writer is improvisation. I've got to create scenes in which my characters has got to improvise because then I have to improvise for him....
Good dialogue is not somebody's ability to write authentic speech as heard in real life....Good dialogue on the page is the illusion of reality. It's the essentialization of how people talk. You've got to know how to edit what people say without losing any of the spirit.
So the keys are: 1) Characters improvising, and 2) Editing.

Watch how Harry improvises in the moment, and how the words are edited for impact:

ex. The scene below is at an ATM machine. (My thoughts in italics.)

"Abruptly two male voices slide up on either side of Harry - young, menacing.

VOICE #1 (OS): Pull four hundred, bro. That's the daily max, right?
VOICE #2 (OS): Citi lets you pull five.
VOICE #1: Take out five.
[This Q & A is abbreviated, but realistic. Do you know what the limits are? I don't.]

The camera holds on Harry's hands, his card, the screen asking:

"What can I do for you?"
[Time for Harry to improvise.]

HARRY: (fingers paradiddling on the counter) Jesus Christ
(disguted) Here,
(drops the card on the counter) do it yourself, my secret number is 382741. Be my guest.
[Pretty bold move to confuse the robbers.]

VOICE #2 (OS): Just do it.

HARRY: (softly singing) Hey baby, won't cha take a chance...
[Singing is an odd response to such a stressful situation. Good improv.]

Harry pushes "balance information." All three wait, Harry humming.

Screen lights up:

BALANCE: $00.00

HARRY: Know what I mean, chief?
[The visual carries the scene. No need to explain.]

Voices #1 and #2 sigh and hiss...

Harry's hands lay still on the counter as we hear the muggers exit.

Hands lay still for a beat longer. Silence. Then Harry starts humming "Let's Dance" again. He digs into his pockets with one hand and reaches for a deposit envelope with the other.

He stuffs a thousand in hundred dollar bills into the envelope.

We see Harry's face as he turns to the street, sticks out his tongue and licks the envelope shut. It's a gleeful, animated gesture of childish triumph."
[The payoff for the scam is that he wins against the robbers.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When your dialogue drags, make your characters improvise.

Also, dialogue isn't realistic. It needs to be edited for the core of what people mean.

Night and the City (1992)(2nd draft dated 1985, revised w/ comments from Scorsese)
by Richard Price
Adapted from the novel by Gerald Kersh

*It is a 1985 second draft (includes comments from then-attached director Martin Scorsese), not the final 1991 shooting draft (for director Irwin Winkler.) I'm assuming Price liked the 1985 draft best.

1 comment:

AL said...

Nice characterization!

Love how you followed the character's actions and reactions through to the end.

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