Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The Great Purge, Day 4: Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?

We’re still looking for questions we can snip out of checklist:

On trial: Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?

Why it was added: I think that focusing on tradecraft is important and little-recognized, and it’s one of the most marketable skills a writer-for-hire can have. As I pointed out in the original piece, this is what makes you the “go-to writer” for jobs in your wheelhouse.

How do the checklist movies answer this question?
  • Alien: Yes, lots of talk about shares, quarantine procedure, etc.
  • An Education: The “stats” scam, for instance.
  • The Babadook: NA. Other than those snippets of dialogue, there’s no real profession being portrayed.
  • Blazing Saddles: Yes. He’s a real sheriff: he puts up wanted posters, dries out drunks in his cells, etc. The rail-laying is also believable.
  • Blue Velvet: No. Almost everybody is an amateur, and the dialogue is oddly stylized.
  • The Bourne Identity: Very much so.
  • Bridesmaids: Not really. Professions don’t play a big role in this movie.
  • Casablanca: Yes, for each profession: “Round up the usual suspects.”
  • Donnie Brasco: Very much so, the difference between friend of mine / friend of ours, etc.
  • Do the Right Thing: Not really. We don’t learn very much about the pizza business here.
  • The Fighter: Very much so. “Stepping-stone” “Head-body-head” etc.
  • The Fugitive: Very much so, with both doctors and marshals.
  • Groundhog Day: Yes, we see how travel weather segments are produced and how “the talent” is managed. It all feels right.
  • How to Train Your Dragon: Believably re-creates the feeling of basic training.
  • In a Lonely Place: Yes, in many ways. For example: Dix’s monologue about how the breakfast scene is the ideal love scene, not suspecting that she no longer loves him, shows how the false omniscience of the screenwriter has blinded him to reality.
  • Iron Man: A good portrayal of how research and development of new technology actually works, and how corporate takeovers happen.
  • Raising Arizona: Somewhat: committing crimes with an unloaded gun because the sentences are so much shorter, banks putting in paint packets, etc.
  • Rushmore: Max’s expertise in theatre, caligraphy, etc
  • The Shining: Yes, a long description of the duties of caretakers.
  • Sideways: Of the vineyards, yes.
  • Silence of the Lambs: Very much so. This is a masterclass in FBI techniques.
  • Star Wars: Good smuggling tradecraft. Believable structure of the rebellion (hiding behind the cover of a phony diplomatic mission, etc.)
  • Sunset Boulevard: Yes, very much so.
Deliberations: It’s useful for some movies but very un-useful on a lot of others. This is one of those questions that I sigh when I get to and find myself twisting the material to answer it if it doesn’t seem to fit the movie. (Does Blazing Saddles really capture the tradecraft of track laying or sheriffing, and does it matter?) Nevertheless, this is a good thing to keep in mind, and it elicited some interesting answers. I think I have a solution:

The verdict: Combine it with the previous question to become “Does the dialogue capture the jargon and tradecraft of the profession and/or setting?”


Brian Malbon said...

I prefer the question that asks about the "metaphor family" used by the characters. If the characters are career-focused their metaphor family will reflect the tradecraft and, in cases where a job is not the focus will likely reflect whatever else it is that matters to them as people. Either way you win, and your dialogue sounds believable.

Steve said...

I agree with the earlier comment about the metaphor family.

Otherwise, cut/combine it.

Fred Salmon said...

Just a quick thought on this... have you looked at all of the examples given? Because I feel like some or most of them aren't describing dialogue, they are describing action or understanding. It feels more like the point of this is less about the dialogue and more about the overall characterisation. For example, I am not sure how a has anything to do specifically with dialogue, but it says a lot about that character and the world he inhabits.

Also, just preordered your book here in the UK. Can't believe I have to wait until November though!

Matt Bird said...

Yeah, metaphor family is more important and that definitely stays.

I agree that this doesn't fit entirely within dialogue, but I had to shoehorn it in somewhere. It could have gone under character, but I think it works slightly better here, especially if I combine it with jargon.

Thanks so much for pre-ordering!

Emily said...

Maybe something like 'Does the dialogue reflect 'insider knowledge' about the setting or profession?'